Free primary education has done little to attract students or retain them in the education system for long. An average Indian spends just 5.1 years in school, even below the number for Bangladesh (5.8 years) and Pakistan (5.6), shows data from the World Bank.

This, however, is an improvement over 1995, when only 3.8 years were spent studying in a school on an average. Not surprisingly, the number of average schooling years for girls was 4.1 in 2010 while it was higher for boys at 6.1 years, according to the statistics. The US reported 12.6 schooling years on average, the highest among the 162 nations covered. Other top scorers were New Zealand with 12 years and the Czech Republic, 11.4 years.

Dismal picture

Statistics from the Ministry of Human Resource Development also point towards a trend where drop-out rates are high, almost corroborating the World Bank statistics. The drop-out rate, which refers to the percentage of children opting out of the education system, was 28.7 per cent at the primary level in India, according to the Statistics of School Education 2010-2011. It increased to 40.3 per cent at the secondary level and to 50.4 per cent at the higher secondary stage.

This means, if 100 children enrol for primary schooling, only 71 make it to the secondary school and 43 to the higher secondary school. Finally, only 21 are able to complete studies till the Intermediate level. While low schooling years could also be due to the large number of older people in the country, R. Govinda, Vice-Chancellor of National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), said most children enrolled at the primary level spend only two-three years in school.

“We have done well in providing the overall support at systemic level like furniture, buildings, water supply and books. But we need to focus on schools and what happens there because a large number of children are opting out due to ‘school’ factors.”

Spending on the Rise

He pointed out that many students are not able to learn, the phenomenon of ‘silent exclusion’ where children are present in the class but not able to absorb what is taught. And this is precisely because of poor quality teaching, which is a “second or third generation problem in India,” he added. While expenditure on education as a proportion of GDP has increased from 2.59 per cent in 2007-8 to 3.31 per cent in 2012-13, removing supply chain constraints will not be enough to bring children to school.

“We don’t have a standard framework for assessing schools as yet. We should set benchmarks for assessing the holistic performance of schools and monitor it regularly,” added Govinda.

Aurobindo Saxena, principal consultant at Technopak Advisors, who authored the report on ‘Overview of Indian Education Sector’ last year, agreed that the problems in the education system were not due to funding constraints. “The education system in India suffers from a shortage of trained teachers and this is a big concern,” he said, emphasising on the need to improve quality of teachers and teacher training courses.