One in three children does not complete his or her schooling in India. In other words, one third of our population turns out to be not adequately educated and skilled to realize their true potential.
We have made significant progress in raising enrolment rate in primary education, but schools have been less successful in preventing dropouts during this critical learning phase. As reported by Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), out of an initial enrolment of 100 students, on an average, only about 70 finish schools in India. While the number of students in the elementary education level is high, many drop out during their way to the secondary level.
According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2018, “No more than 2.8 percent of children are out of school in India. Data put out by the MHRD (2017-18) reveals that the dropout rate in Assam was the highest at the primary level (10.1 per cent), followed by Arunachal Pradesh (8.1 per cent), Mizoram (8 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (8 per cent) and Tamil Nadu (5.9 per cent). But the question is how far these reports are true on grounds?
There is no such thing as a national picture when it comes to school dropouts. If we create a national picture by mathematical aggregation, that picture is meaningless since regional variations are far too big. The numbers we get may be the result of schemes like Right to Education, Mid-Day Meal, etc., but the hard fact is that these numbers are only on papers, not of true learners in schools.
On any usual day, if we visit a government school located in an urban slum or in a backward village, the first blow is the shabby and inadequate structure considered as a school. And then hardly a few students would be found in the school premises, forget the actual teaching-learning process happening within. The question is why children should be attending such schools?
There could be several reasons why children drop out from school, but what emerges as the most common reason is that parents do not value education. They do not think that education would make any difference to the child’s life as an adult. Some of the other reasons found to affect retention of children in school are schools being distant and inaccessible, poor infrastructure, inadequate toilet facilities, absence of teachers, migration of families and child marriage. Due to all these prevailing issues, girls are found to be more vulnerable and receive the maximum adverse impact on their schooling and education.
After Class V, as the child is required to move to an elementary or a middle school, distance to school tends to increase, and parents deem it unsafe for a child, especially girls, to travel far. For every 100 primary schools, there are only 8 secondary schools, which is a huge disadvantage in the system. Hence the rate of dropouts progressively increases as the students go to higher classes. Another factor for higher dropout rate after V standard is that the children are engaged in labour or domestic help. The role of teacher is also critical, as untrained or under trained teachers adopting a dull teaching methodology, makes a child disinterested in studies. The challenges are more for poor and rural families, than the other segments of population. When a family is not financially secure, prioritizing a child’s education takes a backseat.
Dropping out of basic education has its own consequences for the child, for the adult as he grows up, his family and the nation. Studies have shown that school dropouts are more irresponsible than non-dropouts. They have higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and fall into criminal activities more often than those who complete their schooling. As an adult, dropouts are likely to earn less, and do more menial and labour -oriented jobs. In general, it is a proven fact that an educated adult leads a more secure life, morally, socially and financially.
To address the problem of drop outs and to improve attendance and retention of children in school, at AROH Foundation, we conceptualized a programme called “Padho aur Badho” (PAB) which catered to urban slum communities. PAB also focused on improving learning outcomes and promoting holistic development in marginalized children to augment their competency for facing the world. A large percentage of slum children covered under the programme were those facing educational exclusion, being engaged in paid or unpaid labour as sibling care, domestic servants, rag pickers, mostly engaged in petty income jobs or remain educationally deprived because of poverty or parent’s ignorance.
PAB centers were strategically located in the hearts of these slums so that access to children shall be easy and reach is deep. An innovative Project Based Learning (PBL) pedagogy and curriculum was designed and developed by educational experts in simple to understand style correlating with day-to-day lives. PBL was disseminated through well-trained, compassionate educators belonging to the slum itself. The programme successfully addressed the issue of dropouts and all schools reported a considerable improvement in attendance of covered children. The programme has received wide recognition and acclaim from all concerned and has since been replicated at various other locations in association with country’s leading corporate partners and PSEs. Such programmes can be scaled up to help in reducing dropout rates in disadvantaged populations.
With the thrust of policy and practice in India slowly shifting from “schooling” to “learning”, one of the most important steps for sustainable improvement in learning outcomes is to focus at the primary level. Almost all the ASER reports were marking a red flag for low or negligible learning outcomes within children. The factors responsible for low learning outcomes in all children, such as small and inadequate infrastructure, financial constraints, untrained teachers, irrelevant and disengaging courses, and monotonous teaching-learning methodology adopted in a typical school day. As per the changing policies, demands and researches in education system in India, changes were also made in the framework of PAB and with time PAB was additionally reframed as RISE – Remedial Innovation in School Education. RISE focuses on improving learning outcomes of a child through providing remedial education at RISE centers through innovative PBLs.
As COVID pandemic disrupted the lives, digital divide in the education has further widened the gaps in education and learning outcomes. It is likely to hamper girls’ education more as the girls are getting engaged with household chores and sibling care. Girls, in this situation, may be forced to drop out of school. During COVID pandemic and lockdown, PAB and RISE centres have been doubling up as community service centres to reach out help to needy communities to help them cope up with demands of changing situation.
RISE and PAB are being hailed as good practices to improve retention in schools and learning outcomes of deprived children in the unreached pockets, even in challenging times. Since the inception in 2009-10, PAB and RISE in 2013-14, the programmes have covered more than 50,000 children in about 100 slums of Delhi/NCR and 80 villages of UP and MP, covering a wide spectrum of socio, economic and systemic deprivation and marginalisation, into the fold of education.
One of the critical factors that results in low attendance and poor performance of children is the overall infrastructure and ambience of the school. Lack of basic facilities like toilets, water, classrooms, playgrounds and recreation materials result in unattractive and uncaring environment in schools leads to higher rate of absenteeism, finally resulting into drop outs. The girl child, in such areas, suffers the most and is forced to drop out eventually.
AROH Foundation created better learning environments through a holistic school development programme that has enabled more than 500 schools with gender-distinguished toilet facilities with running water supply, hand washing stations, safe drinking water, SMART classes, computer and science Labs, libraries, playgrounds with swings, along with capacity building and training of teachers, students, SMCs, parents and communities to embed a long-lasting behaviour change and to create a conducing education system.
The Foundation has taken the holistic approach to counter all possible factors and barriers that can impact the attendance and performance of the child within and beyond the school. Best brains and resources have been applied to develop the initiatives to create a framework that deals with drop outs and learning outcomes holistically. The driving thought and belief is that it is not our children that are dropping off, but our future that is.
National Education Policy (NEP2020) is a forward-looking document an in particular focuses on drop outs and out-of-school children. 75th household survey by NSSO in 2017-18 reports that there are 3.22 crore children, in the age group of 6 to 17 years, are out of school. It should be our top priority to bring these children back into the fold of education as early as possible, and to prevent any further drop outs. NEP2020 sets out a goal to achieve 100 per cent gross enrolment ratio from preschool to secondary level by 2030.
To ensure universal access to education and that no student drops out of school, the NEP 2020 also proposes to improve the infrastructure so that each student, from pre-primary to Class 12, receives safe and engaging school education. The Policy proposes to re-establish and enhance credibility of Government schools by upgrading and enlarging the existing schools that already exist, and by building additional quality schools in areas where they do not exist, and providing safe and practical conveyances and hostels, especially for the girl children. Apart from infrastructure and participation, NEP 2020 also proposes to ensure quality education so that students, especially girls, from socio-economically disadvantaged groups do not lose interest in attending school.
With the NEP 2020, the government aims to ensure that all students are enrolled in, and are attending schools, in order to achieve universal participation in school. This, according to the NEP document, will be achieved by “carefully tracing” students and their learning levels, while ensuring that they get the opportunity to “catch up and re-enter school”.
It is encouraging to have a remarkable and forward-looking policy in the form of NEP2020, after 34 years. This signals the possibility of driving the much-needed change in our education system, provided all actors and stakeholders take up their tasks with utmost urgency and seriousness. Sustainable Development Goal 4 is also pushing all nations to achieve quality education for all an at all levels. For a new India, to mark its superior presence in the global arena, education is the key. It is the key which can open the door for our ‘young nation’ to forge ahead as an economic super power and global leader.