Education For All in India: Myth and Reality

Arun C. Mehta


The article gives specific details about the policies on `Education For All’ and certain flaws in implementing these policies. It encompasses the education scenario from school level onwards. The author while examining the enrolment sources highlights the discrepancies in official estimates and those collected by the quasi-official agencies. He also studies pattern of over-age and under-age children in different age groups and calculates refined enrolment ratios. Further, the author examines and revises the Eight Five-Year Plan target of additional population needs to be enrolled. He also works out the number of years and corresponding calendar year a State/U.T. would take to achieve UEE and to attain total literacy status.

Do the recent official pronouncements imply that the target of UEE will be achieved by the turn of the present century? Or these targets will be further revised on a later date, if past trend is any indication. The official estimates of enrolments give reasonably sound reasons to believe that India will achieve the UEE as the exercises of enrolment projections and additional population needs to be enrolled are based on past trends and present status of elementary education in India. Also, it is interesting to note that in 1986-87 (NSSO 42nd Round), except for the age groups 0-5 and 6-11, the proportion of illiterates steadily goes on increasing with age. This also certainly indicates that there is an increasing trend over time in the children getting access for learning. However, if the Official estimates are corrected with respect to the children out side the prescribed age-group and the age-specific population is also corrected, there are enough indications to believe that the stipulated targets cannot be achieved by the turn of the present century.

It has been observed that multiple data collecting agencies found to have created problems for data users and educational planners. The Department of Education enrolment figures at Primary level have been found to be over-estimated by 1.22 million compared to Fifth Survey figures. In some states, the variation obtained is large and significant. Even the Age- specific enrolment ratios (Fifth Survey) at the Upper-primary level (Tripura and Karnataka) have been found to be more then hundred per cent.

It has been noticed that there was a significant difference between the age-group population used in computing enrolment ratio in Official and Census of India/Standing Committee estimates. The official estimate of age-population, especially in 6-11 age-group, have been found to be under-estimated. By under-estimating the child population and thus reducing the denominator in calculating enrolment ratios, part of the educational progress in recent years is merely illusory, this has been done deliberately or inadvertently is a moot question. However, it is revealed that in the recent years, the discrepancy in population estimates have been reduced to a significant extent.

In a number of states, the GER at the Primary level has been found to be more than hundred per cent and it ranges between 146 per cent in Lakshadweep to 60 per cent in Chandigarh and states having small base population in a age-group are found to have high amount of over-age and under-age children. The Working Group (1989) and Eighth Five Year Plan document while estimating additional number of children needs to enrolled used 22 per cent and 15 per cent estimate of over-age and under-age children at all the levels of education as against found more than 30 per cent elsewhere.

When Official enrolment ratios are corrected on the basis of over-age and under-age children and the age-specific population, the difference obtained between Official and Corrected ratios has been found to be significant and alarming. As against the 95.30 per cent Official enrolment ratio at Primary level, the corrected ratio was only 73.30 per cent. The corrected enrolment ratio at the elementary level showed that it has increased from 48.00 per cent in 1980-81 to 65.00 per cent in 1991-92. On the other hand it has been revealed that at the Upper- primary level, the discrepancy noticed is negligible and insignificant.

The Working Group and Eighth Five Year Plan targets of additional population needs to be enrolled at the mid (1994-95) and at the end (1996-97) of Eighth Plan period are examined and found to be under-estimated. The methodology used in Working Group estimates is not conventional and generally being used. Instead of adjusting enrolment figures, population estimates itself at the flat rate of 22 per cent have been adjusted which is by logic incorrect. At the Primary stage, working group estimates of additional requirement of enrolment is 2.45 crore ( 24.5 million)as against 3.48 crore calculated in the present article. During 1992-97, about 3.20, 4.21 and 7.36 crore additional population needs to be enrolled compared to 2.02, 3.59 and 5.61 crore estimated in Eighth Plan and the number of girls needs to be enrolled during the same period is more than boys by 0.97, 1.80 and 2.73 crore respectively at Primary, Upper-primary and Elementary levels of education.

Based on the actual progress of enrolment at different levels of education during 1989-90 to 1991-92, it has been observed that Eighth Plan targets for Primary, Upper-primary and elementary classes would have to be revised upward. The revised targets would be 2.25, 6.47 and 8.72 crore as against 2.02, 3.59 and 5.61 crore which are 11.39, 80.22 and 55.44 per cent higher than the previous targets, which needs more rigorous efforts in the plan period.

To achieve these additional targets during 1992-97, attention would have to be focussed on educationally backward states and there districts, as all but two of the 100 and four of the 150 and nine of the 200, most backward districts are from the educationally backward states. It has also been revealed that except West Bengal which has no district in first 100 and only two in 200, the educationally backward states still uniformly lag behind. Also enrolment campaigns similar to total literacy campaigns at the grassroots level would have to be launched for which community support would have to be mobilized through Village Education Committees.

It has been further revealed that the State and Union Territory level enrolment targets provided in the Eighth Plan document when added together did not match with the targets at the national level and the deviation found is significant, hence pro-rata adjustment is needed. Unless the children outside the education fold, especially those from educationally backward states are brought under the education fold, the dream of UEE. cannot be realised. For out- of-school and dropped-out children, non-formal education system would have to be strengthened and all the educational programmes would have to be coordinated. Not only this, compulsory education through strict law enforcement would also have to be thought upon and also internal efficiency of education system would need to be improved to a significant extent by covering all the schools under Operation Blackboard and also by providing access to remaining uncovered habitations.

When Official estimates are corrected, there are enough indications to believe that the stipulated targets of UEE cannot be achieved by the turn of the present century. However it is interesting to note that except for the age groups 0-5 and 6-11 years, the proportion of illiterates steadily goes on increasing with age. This indicates certainly that there is an increasing trend over time in the children getting access for learning.

Based on the corrected enrolment ratios and exponential rate of growth during the period 1981-82 and 1989-90, it has been found that the goal of UEE cannot be achieved before the year 2006. Assam, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal are the only three states where the goal of U.P.E might have already achieved. Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh would take a number of years to achieve UPE. It is likely taht Haryana and Bihar will attain UPE some where in year 2015 and 2037. More reliable projections can be obtained if enrolment are projected on the basis of Grade Transition method rather than based on exponential rate of growth.

Recently, for the first time literacy rates have been calculated for population aged-7 and above but a large number of children in the age-group 0-5 years have been found to be literate and the percentage of literacy was 12.63 and 17.96 per cent respectively in rural and urban areas. Based on the exponential rate of growth of literacy (aged-7 and above), it is likely that India would attain 85 per cent literacy status some time near the year 2018 and 100 per cent by the year 2027. Kerala has already attained 85 per cent literacy status. Of the educationally backward states, only Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal would be able to achieve the target by the year 2009, all other states would achieve 85 literacy status some where between the years 2031 to 2034. Thus the momentum and awareness which has been generated through total literacy campaigns in different districts would have to be sustained otherwise the neo-literate will very soon relapse into illiterates for which more facilities for continuing education would have to be provided.