Out-of-School Children in the Context of School Education in India (2023)

Executive Summary

The issue of  Out-of-School children in India poses significant challenges to achieving universal education.  Out-of-School children refer to those who are not enrolled in any formal education system, including those who have dropped out or never enrolled in school.

The Government of India has recognized the importance of  Out-of-School children and implemented various initiatives and policies to tackle it. The Right to Education Act (free & compulsory education for children aged 6 to 14) aims to increase enrollment and reduce dropout rates. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA)  and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) programs focus on improving infrastructure, teacher training, and community participation to enhance access to elementary and secondary education.

The Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan integrates efforts from different educational programs to provide holistic education from pre-primary to senior secondary levels, with a focus on inclusive education, digital learning, and skill development. The Mid-Day Meal Scheme provides students with free meals, addressing nutrition issues and encouraging enrollment and retention.

Efforts to address gender disparities in education and promote girls’ education have also been a top priority, given their unique challenges. The Government has implemented measures to provide equal opportunities and support for girls’ education.

Despite the efforts, many challenges still remain. Access to education, especially in remote areas, poverty and economic factors, gender disparities, and the quality of education are significant challenges that need to be overcome. Adequate data collection and monitoring systems are essential to track progress and target interventions effectively.

Addressing these challenges requires a multi-faceted approach involving government initiatives, community engagement, targeted interventions, and stakeholder collaboration. By prioritizing education as a fundamental right and implementing comprehensive strategies, the Government aims to reduce the number of  Out-of-School children and ensure inclusive and quality education for all.


India, as one of the World’s largest and fastest-growing economies, faces significant challenges in its education system, including the issue of Out-of-Schoolchildren. Despite the country’s progress in the recent past, a good number of children may still not have access to formal education. This comprehensive note explores the issue of  Out-of-School children in the context of school education in India, examining the causes, consequences, and initiatives to address this pressing concern.

Definition & Magnitude of Out-of-School Children

  Out-of-School children refer to those who are of age to attend school but are not enrolled or attending any educational institution. The magnitude of this issue in India is substantial, with estimates varying across sources. According to the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) 2021-22, around 3.5 percent of children aged 6 to 13 were out of school. However, this number may not capture the full extent of the problem, as some children may be enrolled but irregular in attendance. In addition, a few children may attend non-formal schools/learning centers, which are not covered in administrative surveys such as the UDISEPlus.

Causes of  Out-of-School Children

Several factors contribute to the number of  Out-of-School children in India:

  1. Socio-economic Factors: Poverty, inadequate infrastructure, and lack of clean water, sanitation, and electricity in rural areas make access to education difficult for many children.
  2. Gender Disparity: Gender bias, prevailing social norms, and early marriages disproportionately affect girls’ access to education, leading to higher dropout rates and a more significant number of Out-of-Schoolgirls.
  3. Child Labor: Economic pressures often force children, primarily from marginalized communities, into child labor to contribute to their family’s income, limiting their ability to attend school.
  4. Inadequate School Infrastructure: Insufficient schools, especially in remote areas, lack of safe transportation, and inadequate teaching staff and facilities discourage enrollment and contribute to high dropout rates.

Consequences of  Out-of-School Children

The existence of a good number of  Out-of-School children in India has far-reaching consequences, a few of which are listed below:

  1. Limited Opportunities: Without education, children face limited prospects for employment and economic advancement, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and socio-economic inequality.
  2. Social Issues: Lack of education contributes to issues like child marriage, child labor, and susceptibility to exploitation & trafficking; and
  3. Reduced Human Capital: The loss of human capital deprives the country of the potential benefits an educated population can bring to economic growth and development.

Initiatives & Government Interventions

Recognizing the severe issue and gravity of the situation, the Government of India has implemented several initiatives to address the problem of Out-of-Schoolchildren:

  1. Right to Education Act (RTE): The RTE Act, enacted in 2009, guarantees free and compulsory education to children aged 6-14 years and prohibits discrimination. It emphasizes the inclusion of marginalized communities and economically weaker sections.
  2. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA): SSA is a flagship program to universalize elementary education by providing infrastructure, teacher training, and learning materials. It focuses on enrolling Out-of-School children and reducing dropout rates.
  3. Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDM): MDM provides free meals in schools, encouraging enrollment and regular attendance while improving the nutritional status of children.
  4. Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (BBBP): This initiative promotes girls’ education and addresses gender-based discrimination through awareness campaigns, advocacy, and incentives.

Challenges & the Way Forward

Despite the efforts made, the following challenges persist in addressing the issue of  Out-of-School children in India:

  1. Implementation Gaps: Inadequate infrastructure, lack of qualified teachers, and bureaucratic inefficiencies hinder the effective implementation of educational policies and programs.
  2. Socio-economic Barriers: Poverty, discrimination, and cultural norms hinder children’s access to education, particularly for girls and marginalized communities.
  3. Quality of Education: Ensuring a quality education for all children remains challenging, as the focus has primarily been on enrollment rather than learning outcomes.

Multi-dimensional approach is required to address the challenges with regard to out-of-school children, which may include the following:

  1. Strengthening Infrastructure: Expanding the reach of schools, improving facilities, and providing safe transportation options.
  2. Empowering Marginalized Communities: Addressing socio-economic Disparities and empowering marginalized communities through Targeted Interventions.
  3. Teacher Training and Recruitment: Enhancing teacher training programs and ensuring adequate recruitment and retention of qualified teachers.
  4. Awareness and Sensitization: Conduct awareness campaigns to promote the importance of education and challenge social norms that hinder access.

The issue of  Out-of-School children in India continues to pose a significant challenge to the education system. While progress has been made through various government initiatives, there is a need for sustained efforts and a multi-faceted approach to ensure universal access to quality education. Addressing the underlying causes, empowering marginalized communities, and improving infrastructure and teaching standards are crucial for reducing the number of  Out-of-School children and unlocking the potential of India’s future generations.

                                             Enrolment Ratio: 2021-22



2020-21 2021-22 2020-21 2021-22 2020-21 2021-22 2020-21 2021-22
Primary  103.3 103.4  92.7 88.6  98.6 99.1  98.6 99.1 (6-10 years)
Upper Primary  92.2 94.7  74.1 71.3  84.4 87.3  91.6 92.2 (11-13 years)
Elementary  99.1 100.1  92.1 90.5  96.0 96.5  96.0 96.5 (6-13 years)
Secondary  79.8 79.6  52.5 47.9  61.8 64.7  73.4 72.8 (14-15 years)
Higher Secondary  53.8 57.6  34.7 34.2  –  –  46.3 42.4 (16-17 years)

Source: UDISE+ 2020-21& 2021-22

*ASER: Age-specific enrolment ratio.

Meaning of Out-of-School, Dropped-out & Never-Enrolled Children

Out-of-School and dropout children are related terms but represent different educational situations. The main differences are as follows:

  1. Out-of-School Children: Out-of-School children refer to those who are of age to attend school but are not enrolled or attending any educational institution. These children have never been enrolled in school or have never started formal education. They may have never had access to education for various reasons such as poverty, lack of infrastructure, social barriers, etc.  Out-of-School children can include those who have never been to school and those who have dropped out.
  2. Dropout Children: Dropout children, on the other hand, are those who were previously enrolled in school but have left before completing their education. These children have started their formal education journey but, for various reasons, discontinued attending school. Dropout children may have faced challenges such as financial constraints, family obligations, lack of interest, poor academic performance, or personal circumstances that led to their decision to leave school.

The key distinction between  Out-of-School children and dropout children is that they have never been enrolled, while dropout children were enrolled but left school before completing their education. Both groups represent significant challenges in achieving universal education and require targeted interventions to ensure their access to quality education. However, no data is available in India regularly on the number of Out-of-School.

On the other hand, the never enrolled children refer to those who have never been enrolled in any formal educational institution. Therefore, these children have never started formal education and have not attended or received formal schooling. They have not had the opportunity or access to education for various reasons, such as poverty, lack of infrastructure, cultural barriers, or limited awareness of the importance of education.

However, never-enrolled children are considered part of the  Out-of-School children population. They represent a significant challenge in achieving universal education because they have not had the chance to benefit from formal schooling and the learning opportunities it provides. Ensuring access to quality education for never enrolled children is crucial for promoting their overall development, well-being, and prospects. Sincere efforts must be made to identify & reach out to these children, remove barriers to education, and provide appropriate educational opportunities to help them break the cycle of educational disadvantage.

The Data Collection: Out-of-School Children

The calculation method and data collection for determining the number of  Out-of-School children & dropout children vary depending on the specific context and the organization or agency involved. Here are some standard methods and data sources used for collecting such data:

  1. Census & Surveys: National Censuses & and large-scale surveys are crucial in data collection on Out-of-School children and dropout rates. These surveys often collect information from households, schools, and other relevant stakeholders. Census data can provide a broad overview of the population and identify the number of children out of school. Surveys can provide more detailed information on reasons for dropping out, socio-economic factors, and regional variations.
  2. Education Management Information Systems (EMIS): Many countries maintain EMIS databases to collect and manage education-related data. These systems are used to track enrollment, attendance, and dropout rates at various levels of the education system. EMIS can help identify the number of children out of school and those who have dropped out.
  3. School Records & Registers: Individual schools maintain records of student enrollment, attendance, and dropout rates. These records can be used to calculate the number of students who have dropped out at the school level. However, relying solely on school records may not capture the whole picture, as some children may have dropped out without proper documentation.
  4. Administrative Data: Government departments, such as education departments and local authorities, often collect administrative data related to education. This data can include enrollment figures, attendance records, and dropout rates. Administrative data, such as UDUSEPlus, can provide valuable insights into the number of Out-of-School children and dropout rates, particularly at the local level.
  5. Sample Surveys: Besides national censuses and surveys, surveys are often conducted to collect educational data, such as NSSO, NFHS, etc. These surveys select a representative population sample and collect information through interviews or questionnaires. Sample surveys can provide more detailed information on Out-of-School children and the reasons for dropping out within specific regions or population groups.

It is important to note that data collection methods and sources can vary across countries, organizations, and periods. The accuracy and reliability of the data depend on the rigor of the data collection processes and the extent of coverage in terms of geographical areas and population groups. Regular data collection and monitoring efforts are required to track the progress of the number of  Out-of-School children & dropout rates.

Out-of-School, Dropped-out, or Never-enrolled Children

When considering universal education in India, examining and addressing the issues surrounding dropped-out, never enrolled, and  Out-of-School children is essential. Here are some key aspects to consider:

  1. Access to Education: Ensuring access to education is crucial for all children, regardless of whether they have dropped out, never been enrolled, or are currently out of school. Efforts should focus on identifying and reaching out to children who are not enrolled or have dropped out and providing them opportunities to enter or re-enter the education system.
  2. Enrollment and Retention: Emphasis should be placed on increasing enrollment rates and ensuring that children stay in school until they complete their education. Strategies should target communities and groups with low enrollment rates, addressing factors such as poverty, gender discrimination, and social barriers that hinder enrollment and retention.
  3. Equity and Inclusion: Achieving universal school education requires addressing disparities and promoting equity and inclusion. Efforts should focus on marginalized communities, economically disadvantaged families, girls, children with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups. Particular attention should be given to removing barriers that prevent these children from accessing education.
  4. Quality Education: Universal school education is not just about enrollment numbers but also the quality of education. Efforts should be made to ensure that children receive high-quality. Improving teaching standards, infrastructure, learning materials, and curriculum relevance is essential to quality education.
  5. Multi-stakeholder Collaboration: Addressing the challenges related to dropped-out, never enrolled, and Out-of-School children require collaboration among various stakeholders. The Government, educational institutions, civil society organizations, community leaders, parents, and teachers must work together to identify barriers, implement effective interventions, and monitor progress toward achieving universal education.
  6. Policy and Implementation: Policy frameworks and interventions should be developed and implemented to specifically target the needs of dropped-out, never enrolled, and Out-of-Schoolchildren, which may include initiatives like flexible learning options, alternative education programs, scholarships, and community-based interventions. Adequate funding, strong governance, and effective monitoring mechanisms are essential for successful implementation.
  7. Research and Data: Ongoing research and data collection are crucial for understanding the factors contributing to the dropout, never enrolled, and out-of-school rates. Regular monitoring and evaluation of programs and policies can provide insights into their effectiveness and guide future interventions.

By addressing the challenges faced by dropped-out, never enrolled, and Out-of-School children, India can move closer to achieving universal education. It requires a comprehensive approach focusing on access, equity, quality, collaboration, and evidence-based decision-making.

                                              Projected child Population: 2021-22

Age 6-10 Age 11-13
Boys Girls Total Boys Girls Total
62201000 55642000 117842000 36539000
Age 14-15 Age 16-17
Boys Girls Total Boys Girls Total
25179000 23246000 48425000 25896000 23751000 49647000

Source: Expert Committee Projections. MoH&FW, July 2020.

 Out-of-School Children Computation Procedure

The formula to estimate the number of  Out-of-School children is presented below:

 Out-of-School children = Total population of the official age group * (1 – Adjusted NER)

Using the data provided in the UDISEplus 2021-22 report, one can estimate Out-of-Schoolchildren:

Primary level (6-10 years):  Out-of-School children = Total population of 6-10 years * (100 – Adjusted NER for Primary), i.e., 117842000 * [ (100 – 99.1)/100] = 10,60,578

Upper Primary Level (11-13 years):  Out-of-School children = Total population of 11-13 years * (100 – Adjusted NER for Upper Primary), i.e., 7,05,50,000 * [ (100 – 87.3)/100] = 89,59,850

Secondary level (14-15 years):  Out-of-School children = Total population of 14-15 years * (1 – Adjusted NER for Secondary, i.e., 4,84,25,000 * [ (100 – 64.7)/100] = 1,70,94,025

It may be observed that the estimates calculated are based on the projected child population, and enrolment is based on administrative data, i.e., enrolment, which is collected from schools. However, the best way to obtain the information must be collected from the households where the  Out-of-School children are located. However, the same is in a position to provide information about the quantum of the unfinished task.

 Out-of-School children in Samagra Shiksha

Samagra Shiksha is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme in India that aims to provide quality education from pre-school to higher secondary levels by integrating various educational programs. While Samagra Shiksha emphasizes universal education and aims to address the issues of dropped-out, never enrolled, and Out-of-Schoolchildren, it does not explicitly define parameters for these categories. However, the scheme recognizes the importance of identifying and addressing the needs of such children to achieve its goals.

Under Samagra Shiksha, the focus is on improving access, equity, and quality in education through interventions such as:

  1. Identification and Tracking: The scheme emphasizes identifying and tracking Out-of-Schoolchildren, including those who have dropped out or never enrolled. The aim is to ensure these children are brought into the education system and provided with appropriate educational opportunities.
  2. Special Training: Samagra Shiksha includes provisions for special training and bridge courses for Out-of-Schoolchildren, including those who have dropped out or never enrolled.
  3. Alternative Education: The scheme promotes the establishment of alternative education centers, such as residential schools, non-residential learning centers, and open schools, to cater to the needs of Out-of-Schoolchildren. These centers provide flexible and inclusive learning environments for children who may not fit into the traditional schooling system.
  4. Inclusive Education: Samagra Shiksha emphasizes inclusive education and supports children with special needs or those from marginalized and disadvantaged backgrounds. It aims to ensure that these children have equal access to education and are not left out of the schooling system.

While Samagra Shiksha does not explicitly define parameters for dropped-out, never enrolled, or Out-of-Schoolchildren, it recognizes the need to address these challenges. It provides a framework for interventions and support mechanisms. The scheme’s implementation may vary across states and regions, and specific guidelines may be provided at the state or district level to identify and cater to the needs of these children.

 Out-of-School children &  RTE 2009

The Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 is a landmark act that guarantees free & compulsory education to all children between the ages of 6 and 14. The Act ensures that every child has the right to attend and complete elementary education. In the context of Out-of-Schoolchildren, the RTE Act addresses their inclusion and access to quality education through the following provisions:

  1. Compulsory Education: The RTE Act makes it mandatory for the Government to provide free and compulsory education to all children in the specified age group, including those out of school, ensuring they can enroll and complete their elementary education.
  2. Non-Discrimination: The RTE Act prohibits discrimination in admission, retention, and completion of education based on various factors such as gender, socio-economic background, caste, or religion. This provision aims to ensure that all Out-of-School children have equal access to education without any barriers.
  3. Special Provisions for Disadvantaged Groups: The Act recognizes the need to address the educational needs of disadvantaged and marginalized groups. It includes provisions for implementing special measures to facilitate enrollment, retention, and success in schools, including additional support, scholarships, and other interventions to ensure their inclusion.
  4. Monitoring & Grievance Redressal: The RTE Act establishes mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of the Act and addressing grievances related to the denial of admission or any violation of the rights provided under the Act. These mechanisms play a crucial role in identifying and addressing the challenges of Out-of-School children.
  5. Infrastructure & Resources: The Act emphasizes adequate infrastructure, teaching staff, and learning materials to provide quality education which includes provisions for additional classrooms, trained teachers, libraries, and other resources to create a conducive learning environment for Out-of-Schoolchildren.

The RTE Act 2009 aims to address the issue of  Out-of-School children by ensuring their enrollment and retention in schools through various provisions and safeguards. It provides a legal framework to promote universal elementary education and emphasizes inclusive and equitable access to education for all children in India.

Challenges Ahead:  Out-of-SchoolChildren

Some of the main challenges include:

  1. Access to Education: Many Out-of-School children face barriers to accessing education, such as a lack of schools in their vicinity, inadequate transportation facilities, and limited availability of schools in rural or remote areas. Equal access to all children, irrespective of their location (rural/urban areas) or socio-economic background, is crucial.
  2. Poverty and Economic Factors: Economic constraints, including poverty, child labor, and the need for children to contribute to household income, often prevent children from attending school. Addressing poverty and implementing social welfare programs can help alleviate these challenges and promote education for all children.
  3. Gender Disparities: Girls, in particular, face additional barriers to education due to social norms, cultural practices, early marriage, and gender-based discrimination. Empowering girls and addressing gender disparities in education is crucial to ensure equal access and opportunities for all children.
  4. Quality of Education: Even if children are enrolled in schools, the quality of education they receive is vital. Poor infrastructure, inadequate resources, lack of qualified teachers, and outdated teaching methods can hinder students’ learning outcomes and motivation. Improving the quality of education is essential to encourage continued enrollment and retention.
  5. Inclusion of Marginalized Groups: Children from marginalized communities, including tribal communities, children with disabilities, and migrant children, face additional challenges in accessing education. Efforts should be made to address their specific needs, provide inclusive education, and ensure their full participation in the education system.
  6. Awareness and Parental Engagement: Many parents may not be aware of the importance of education or face cultural barriers that hinder their support for their children’s education. Promoting awareness campaigns, parental engagement, and community involvement are crucial to overcoming these challenges.
  7. Data and Monitoring: Accurate and up-to-date data on Out-of-School children is essential for effective policy planning and monitoring progress. Strengthening data collection systems and conducting regular surveys can help identify and target areas with high rates of Out-of-Schoolchildren.

Addressing these challenges requires a multi-faceted approach involving government initiatives, community engagement, targeted interventions, and collaborative efforts among stakeholders. It is crucial to prioritize education as a fundamental right and invest in comprehensive strategies addressing specific barriers that Out-of-School children face.

Government Response to Out-of-School Children

The Government has initiated several programs & policies to address the issue of  Out-of-School children and promote universal education. Some of the critical responses include:

  1. Right to Education Act (RTE): The Government of India enacted the Right to Education Act in 2009 for all children aged 6 to 14. The Act mandates that private schools reserve a certain percentage of seats for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
  2. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA): SSA is a flagship program launched in 2001 to provide universal elementary education. It focuses on improving infrastructure, providing quality teaching materials, training teachers, and promoting community participation.
  3. Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA): RMSA is a program launched in 2009 to enhance access to secondary education. It aims to improve infrastructure, appoint additional teachers, provide vocational education, and support the education of marginalized groups.
  4. Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan: Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan is an integrated program launched in 2018 that combines the efforts of SSA, RMSA, and Teacher Education to provide quality education from pre-primary to senior secondary levels. It focuses on inclusive education, digital learning, skill development, and teacher training.
  5. Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDM): The Government provides free meals to school children to improve their nutritional status and encourage enrollment and retention in schools. The MDM scheme covers all Government and government-aided schools.
  6. National Means-cum-Merit Scholarship Scheme (NMMSS): NMMSS is a centrally sponsored scholarship scheme that provides financial assistance to meritorious students and children from economically weaker sections of society.
  7. Swachh Vidyalaya Initiative: The Swachh Vidyalaya (Clean School) Initiative promotes clean and hygienic school environments. It ensures access to separate toilets for girls and boys, clean drinking water facilities, and proper school sanitation and hygiene practices.

These government initiatives focus on improving access, quality, and equity in education, and they have contributed to increased enrollment and reduced dropout rates. However, challenges remain, and continuous efforts are needed to tackle the needs of different regions and marginalized groups and ensure quality education for all children in India.

Education for All in India