Access and Retention: The Impact of DPEP

By Yash Aggarwal, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, Published by Educational Consultants India Limited, 1998, New Delhi

The DPEP was initiated in 1994 in 142 districts spread over seven states, to support the state governments in their efforts to improve access and retention, increase learning achievement and decrease dropout rates in a manner such that social and gender inequities are reduced to the minimum. Therefore, considerable priority is given to interventions aimed at improving access, retention and achievement especially of the girls, SC and ST students through targeting and special strategies with a focus on participatory processes of planning and management. A situational analysis was conducted to assess the access and retention in DPEP districts, especially in the light of concerns for equity and quality of education. The analysis also made an attempt to compare the performance of DPEP ones in the selected states. The analysis was based on secondary sources of data obtained from the state Directorate of Education and also from the EMIS established under the DPEP.

The analysis of enrolment trends was seen in the context of national and state level trends. At the national level, the primary stage enrolment is witnessing a declining growth rate. It fell from about 6.2% per annum in the fifties to 5% in seventies with a peak of 7.5% per annum during the sixties. The eighties registered a sharp decline in the growth rate (2.65% per annum) and the trend continued with a growth rate of 2.06% in the early nineties. The latest trends indicate a near stagnation of enrolment in primary stage with 0.67% growth rate (per annum) between 1993-94 to 1996-97. The long term declining trend and the recent stagnation in enrolment at primary stage is a matter of concern as the country is still far away from the threshold of universal primary education. It is in this context that the performance of DPEP districts in terms of enrolment, retention and other qualitative indicators has to be viewed.

The DPEP districts outperformed the non-DPEP districts as far as enrolment gains were concerned (1993-94 to 1996-97). The differential increase in enrolment between DPEP and non-DPEP in four of the seven DPEP states, namely Assam, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra was in the range of 3.7 to 16.8 percentage points. In Kerala, where enrolment decline was discernible for the last two decades, the decline in DPEP districts was far lower than that of the non-DPEP districts (3.9 percentage points). The data for Tamil Nadu indicates that enrolment growth in DPEP and non-DPEP districts is not statistically significant. The data for Karnataka showed inconsistent behavior for the last few years, and hence was not analysed.

In 39 of the 42 DPEP districts, for which data was available, the enrolment increased by about 630,000 children amounting to an increase of nearly 8.5% in one year alone (1995-96 to 1996-97). Among the DPEP states, the maximum increase was recorded in Assam. Although, the sources of data were not the same, the enrolment increase in DPEP was far more impressive as compared to the all India scenario, where the enrolment increase was only 600,000. There were many states in India, where decline enrolment has been observed during the last few years. This trend is somewhat disturbing, as none of these states has reached the threshold of universalisation of primary education.

Under DPEP, the girl#s enrolment increased faster than that of boys. Consequently, the Index of Gender Equity (IGE) has now reached a stage of near absence of gender based inequities in 20 of the 39 districts for which data was available. Another 14 districts had IGE in the range of 85-95 and may soon attain near perfect equity. There was only one district in Madhya Pradesh for which IGE was less than 75. Similarly, the Index of Social Equity (ISE) for SC population was more than 90 for all the districts for which data was available. This shows the near absence inequities between SC and other population groups. However, the inequities between ST and others have nor narrowed down to the same extent and a more focused strategy will be required to overcome the constraints in participation and retention of the children in tribal dominated areas of Madhya Pradesh. One reason for the persistence of inequities was the low base and high inequities at the beginning of the programme. It is, therefore, expected that within the next few years, it may be possible to overcome gender and caste related inequities in DPEP districts one of the major objectives of the programme.

The increase in enrolment also requires a commensurate increase in other inputs such as classrooms, teachers, books and availability of other instructional materials. The analysis shows that there was a shortage of about 13,000 classrooms if the average norm of one classroom for every 40 students is adopted. The actual requirement may be somewhat different when the assessment of additional classrooms is made at the school level.

The improvements in the quality of infrastructure and access are also accompanied by a significant reduction in repeaters rate in various grades. The average repeaters rate for the DPEP districts declined from 8.5% in 1995 to 7.9% in 1996. Similar data for non-DPEP districts was not available. The decline is highest in the case of Assam, where the repeaters rate declined by about 50%. The persistence of significantly high repeaters rate in the first few years of schooling need to be investigated as it has some implications for the no-detention policy. Nevertheless, it is important to focus on areas with high concentration of tribal population and ward pockets in other districts, where the incidence of dropout continues to be high. Efforts will also have to be made to maintain the tempo and sustain the gains and ensure that all those children admitted to grade-I complete the primary education in the stipulated time frame.

The low levels of GER and NER in the DPEP districts show the immensity of the unfinished task that lies ahead in terms of improving the intake as well as retention and quality of education. The task of additional enrolment will become more and more difficult when efforts are made to reach the children in difficult situations such as working children, street children and children with disabilities. Formal schooling strategies may not necessarily provide the answer in such situations. Viable models of alternative education have to be experimented and replicated on a large scale in a time bound manner. The success of such efforts will considerably influence the success of DPEP in the coming years as far as and retention are concerned.

In some states, the differences between the data obtained from various sources are not only significantly large but also underline the fact that a sound monitoring system is vitally needed to generate reliable performance indicators. Similarly, sample studies should be carried out to estimate participation rates for different social and economic groups, attendance rates and to identify the nature and type of mismatch between the demand and supply of school infrastructure and other inputs. Concerns for improvements in the quality of infrastructure needs to be addressed in the coming years. As long as the repetition rates and dropout rates are not brought within control, the achievement of universal primary education will remain in illusion. Additionally, it will also result in wastage of scarce financial and manpower resources. Therefore, the success of recent interventions like alternative modes of imparting education, curriculum renewal, continuous and comprehensive package of teachers# training, improvements in the classroom teaching-learning practices improving the relevance of primary education for the masses and school based management with active involvement of the stakeholders, will be vital for the sustainability of the programme of universal primary education.

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