Time to invest in quality education

At least 50 percent of the children in government schools are poor in reading


Jasleen Kaur | January 17, 2012

When I visited a youth resource centre run by an NGO in Trilokpuri in east Delhi a few months ago, I saw many children from nearby localities attending free Math and English tuition classes. These children studied at government schools in the area. Their families were poor and therefore could not afford the English-medium private schools.

Thirteen-year-old Leela explained the situation to me. She had come for English tuitions. "At school, the teacher just reads fromthe textbook and asks us to do the same. We do not undertsand a thing," she said, adding that most of her friends from school also came for the classes at the resource centre.

There are hundreds of thousands like Leela who have to look for tuitions to learn what they should ideally have learnt at school. The increased dependence on tuitions and private schooling is prevalent even in rural India. Leela was lucky to have the centre close to home and the classes free. But thousands in rural and urban India end up paying for education while they should have got it for free in the government schools.

The latest Annual Status of Education (ASER) report by Pratham, which surveyed some 650,000 primary school children across rural India, found that dependence on private schools and private tutors had increased.

The government made primary education free and compulsory for all. It promised to open more schools and recruit more teachers. Through programmes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and the mid-day meal scheme, it successfully brought children to the classrooms. And the enrolment increased to 97%. But all this while, not much attention was paid to the deteriorating quality of education in schools. It has been nearly two years after the RTE act was implemented but the learning has actually worsened in of quality. And this has resulted in more dependence on private schools and private tutors. The Pratham report says 25 percent of the schoolgoing children are in private schools and 22 percent pay private tutors. 

In some states like Kerala and Manipur, private school enrolment was 60 percent. This is an indication that government schools have failed to provide access to quality education to children.

Madhav Chavan, one of the founder and CEO of Pratham, says there is a large difference between the examination results of children studying in government schools and of those in private school or receiving private tuition. This has played an important role in influencing parents to choose private schools over government ones despite the free education, uniforms and mid-day meals in the latter. The real deliverable of schools has now become the quality of education as reflected in the child's grades. In rural Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, the private enrolment ratio is in the range of 30-60 percent. Between 20 and 25 percent of all children attended paid tuition classes outside school.

So, when nationally, 25 percent of the schoolgoing children are in private schools and 22 percent are taking private tuitions, then it can be said that at least 50 percent of the children are not learning at government schools.

It does not matter how much the government spends on creating new buildings, on improving the infrastructure or on giving free food. It is the time for the policymakers to understand that it also important to spend on improving the quality of education that is being imparted to children.



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