Latest data released by the Government of India’s District Information System for Education (DISE), which claims to be the basis for assessing the progress under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the status of implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, suggest that primary education remains an area of much concern in Gujarat, despite wide-scale efforts made by the Gujarat government through its Kanya Kelavni school enrolment drive. Provisional flash statistics published in the just-released book, “Elementary Education in India: Progress towards Universal Elementary Education (UEE)”, go to show that Gujarat is strong in education-related infrastructure and can claim to doing much better than most states on this score, but when it comes to human resource development, which is the primary aim of education, it is one of the worst performers.
Indeed, whether it is number of classrooms, number of kitchen sheds for midday meal scheme, number of computers in schools, drinking water facilities or girls’ toilets, Gujarat has been able to create a much better infrastructure, thanks to huge funds available with the state coffers. Not without reason, these infrastructure facilities are being used quite often by the state officialdom to propagate how well has Gujarat done in implementing RTE, indeed much better than other states, and how much does it care for primary education. Of course, there is little realization in the process that spending funds on education is one thing, while going the hard way to invest in human resources is something totally different, which is where Gujarat remains lagging in implementing the RTE.
First about how well has Gujarat done in developing infrastructure by spending funds on the state’s primary schools. DISE data suggest that a large number of classrooms have been constructed in Gujarat in order to ensure that children have enough space to study. There are on an average 6.2 classrooms per school in Gujarat, as against the national average of 4.7. Only three out of 20 major states – Kerala (10.4), Haryana (6.5) and Punjab (6.3) – provide more classrooms that Gujarat does. All other states do not match up to Gujarat. While constructing class rooms, a large number of schools also got kitchen sheds to serve midday meal to children in Gujarat. Gujarat’s 44.83 per cent of schools having kitchen sheds is higher than the national average of 40.95 per cent, and is worse than only few states.
If DISE data are to be believed, the situation is quite good with regard to drinking water facilities for children and girls’ toilets, too. Thus, the data suggest that 99.55 per cent of the schools have drinking water facilities, which is much better than the national average of 92.71 per cent of schools. Tamil Nadu and Punjab are the only two states which have covered nearly all schools for providing drinking water. The situation is quite good for toilet for girls, a major reason considered necessary for ensuring that girls become equal partners with boys in primary education. Thus, DISE data say, 97.80 per cent of the schools in Gujarat have toilet facilities for girls, which is better than the national average of 84.68 per cent of schools. Only one state performs better than Gujarat here – Karnataka with 98.58 per cent of schools having toilet facilities for girls.
Further, Gujarat’s primary schools have three times more computers than the national average. As many as 60.01 per cent of the schools have computers in the state, as against the national average of 20.53 per cent, and here only one state, Kerala, surpasses Gujarat, with 87.72 per cent schools having computers. Even net-savvy Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are very poor performers here – the respective number of schools with computers in these states is 27.05 per cent and 33.16 per cent. But as one scans through DISE data, clearly, beyond class rooms, kitchen sheds, drinking water, toilets and computers, however, Gujarat has little to offer vis-à-vis other states.
No doubt, the Gujarat government, by constructing more class rooms and schools has ensured that there are fewer number of single teacher schools in the state. In fact, it recently undertook a massive recruitment drive for primary school teachers, appointing ad-hoc teachers at a very low pay for five years. This has led to a situation where the proportion of schools with single teachers in Gujarat has come down a mere 0.81, lower than any other state. The all-India average is 8.31 per cent of schools being run by one teacher each.
However, data suggest that there is a clear imbalance in Gujarat on this score. There are as many as 19 districts in Gujarat out of a total 218 in India in which the number of students in a single classroom is more than 30, the norm fixed by the RTI for student-classroom ratio. Only two states – Uttar Pradesh with 56 districts and Bihar with 38 districts – are worse performers than Gujarat on this score. Worse, average student-teacher ratio in Gujarat is 31, which is better only than four “backward” states — Bihar (59), Uttar Pradesh (44), Jharkhand (40) and Madhya Pradesh (34). Does it mean that despite recruiting so many teachers, Gujarat would need to do more? DISE data have no answers.
Now towards the gloomier picture. While Gujarat may be having proportionately more midday meal sheds than other states, the number of schools serving midday meal is much lower than the all-India average. It is 89.94 per cent in Gujarat as against the all-India average of 92.06 per cent. The states which are worse performer here are Punjab (87.49 per cent), West Bengal (86.82 per cent) and Rajasthan (75.41 per cent). Midday meal was introduced in Gujarat way back in mid-1980s, when the state became the pioneer of the scheme for the country to ensure that poorer sections of children attend school. The state policy makers may have to do some explaining as to what has gone wrong.
Much against the Gujarat government claim that cent per cent children are enrolled in the state’s primary schools, DISE data suggest there is clear discrepancy. In fact, Gujarat’s net enrolment ratio is one of the worst in India. While at the lower primary level (classes one to five) is a poor 85.73 per cent, it plummets further to 48.77 per cent at the upper primary level, as against the national average of 61.82 per cent. Even states such as Bihar with 52.70 per cent enrolment are a better performers at the upper primary level; other backward states which have performed better than Gujarat are Jharkhand (69.65 per cent), Rajasthan (54.97 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (47.13 per cent), to mention a few.
What should be even more worrisome to the policy makers is the fact that Gujarat has a higher percent of school dropouts than most Indian states. While at the lower primary level the dropout ratio, worked out on the basis of the data given by the Gujarat government, is not much (a mere 2.69 per cent), at the higher primary level it reaches a whopping 29.33 per cent. It is not known how those who run the enrolment drive would explain their failure here. Only one state has a worse upper primary level dropout than Gujarat’s – Karnataka (36.45 per cent). The national average dropout at the upper primary level is just about 9.08!
It seems from the DISE data that the Gujarat government is not “showing” higher dropout rate at the primary level, hiding it under the guise of very high repetition rate. The children who would be potentially dropouts are, apparently, re-enrolled in the same class. One can only see DISE data to prove this. Gujarat’s “repetition rate” at the lower primary level is a whopping 6.67 per cent as against the national average of 3.17 per cent, which is twice lower. Except for West Bengal, which has the highest repetition ratio of 10.90 per cent, all other states show a much lower repetition rate. In fact, Bihar has almost the same repetition rate as that of Gujarat, 6.68 per cent. Even while providing these data, there is very little that DISE has to reveal on girl child education. As against every 100 boys enrolled at the lower primary level, 87 are girls, which is almost equal to the sex ratio of Gujarat, but this becomes worse at the higher primary level, where girls’ enrolment drops to 84 as against 100 boys. This is against the national average of 95 per cent girls.
— Rajiv Shah