Free and compulsory education to all children up to the age fourteen is the constitutional commitment in India. Keeping in view the educational facilities available at the time of independence in 1947 in the country, the goal of universal enrolment was far too ambitious to achieve with in a short span of ten years. Since then the country has made significant progress in all spheres of elementary education but the goal is still a distant dream and far out of the sight.
The Indian education system is perhaps the second largest in the world, which is catering more than 190 million students of different socio-economic ground. The total population of the country is about 978 million. Till 1960, the emphasis was on quantitative expansion of educational facilities, which later diverted to enrolment and retention. It is the quality of education that is at present in the focus in all the programmes relating to elementary education in general and primary education in particular.
Of the 1060 thousand habitations of the country in 1993-94, about 84 per cent are accessed to primary schooling facilities within a distance of 1 km. as against 73 per cent having accessed to upper primary schools within a distance of 3 kms. About 94 and 84 per cent of the total rural population is accessed to primary and upper primary schooling facilities. The country has more than 0.56 million primary schools of which about 21 thousand are the single teacher schools.
Availability of a school need not guarantee that adequate infrastructure facilities are available in schools and the children are fully utilizing the available facilities. A large number of schools do not have minimum infrastructure, such as, drinking water, toilet facility, school boundary, play ground, buildings, teaching-learning aids, electricity etc. In addition, adequate number of instructional rooms and teachers are also not available in a good number of schools. Even if the teaching aids are available that need not guarantee that teachers are well equipped to utilize available teaching learning aids and equipment.
The gross enrolment ratio at present is about 90 per cent at the primary and 60 per cent at the upper primary level that suggests that a large number of children of school age population be still out of school. Of those who are admitted in schools only about 65-70 per cent are attending schools. This is also reflected in the high incidence of drop out, which is as high as about 45-50 per cent at primary and 60 per cent at the elementary level. It may also of interest to note that the admission/intake rate is also very high but about two third children of those who take admission in grade I dropped out from the system before they reach grade III. This severely affects the efficiency of educational system. The primary education system is efficient to the extent of only 60 per cent and children are taking much more time than ideally required to become primary graduates.
A large number of projection exercises have been undertaken both at the state and national level all which suggest that the goal of universal enrolment is not right in the sight in most of the states. However, a few states are in a position to attain the goal of universal primary enrolment by the year 2007 but the same in case of the elementary education is not likely to be realized in the next ten years.