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India: Enrolment in schools drops by 2.6 million

Mar 21, 2011

Despite the Indian government's effort to increase the number of children attending school, the country has actually witnessed a dip in enrolment in primary classes since 2007. According to data released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development , the decline in national figures has been the steepest in the last two years, with the state of Uttar Pradesh being the worst performer.

It is a lesson in misplaced enthusiasm. While the Centre has been busy tom-tomming its efforts to send more children to school, enrolment in primary classes across the country has, in actuality, dropped since 2007. Between 2008-09 and 2009-10, enrolment in classes I to IV in Indian schools dropped by over 2.6 million. 

The biggest setback was witnessed in Uttar Pradesh, where admissions plummeted by over a million in the last two years, according to the latest data released by the ministry of human resource development.

The slide in national figures began between 2007-08 and 2008-09 and became, ironically, steeper between 2008-09 and 2009-10, when the Centre cleared the Right to Education Act making education a fundamental right. 

After years of ignoring the worrying statistics, the central government has finally decided to wake up and take action. It recently pulled up state governments and demanded reasons for the decline in numbers. 

Most large Indian states, including Maharashtra, have seen student numbers come down in classes I to V, though Assam has been one of the biggest offenders. 

"This definitely cannot be just a demographic change. In fact, in Uttar Pradesh, enrolment has come down in just about seven to eight districts. The state government has been alerted and it is investigating what went wrong," said R Govinda, vice chancellor of the National University of Education Planning and Administration. Experts are at a loss to accurately explain the drop in enrolment in northern states, where birth rates have essentially remained the same. In some southern states, where population planners had predicted a slowdown in birth rate, primary school enrolments have unsurprisingly declined. 

In other states like Delhi, Tamil Nadu and in the northeast, the figures have begun to plateau. In Bihar, Rajasthan, Assam, the struggle stems from ground-level problems like data keeping, children moving out, introduction of new schools and rationalization of data, said Madhav Chavan, the founder of educational non-profit group Pratham.

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