Educational Development in the North Eastern Region of India

An analysis of the literacy rate & dropout rates in North-Eastern India & potential solutions for improvement

NIEPA, New Delhi – 11 00 16 (INDIA)

The Present Paper and Data Sources

The demographic and educational development in north-eastern states has been briefly analyzed below. While analyzing educational development in North-eastern states, data has been obtained from the Selected Educational Statistics: 1997-98 of the MHRD, Sixth All-India Educational Survey: 1993-94 of the NCERT and household sample survey conducted by the NSSO on students attending schools, 52nd: Round, 1995-96. It may be noted that school is the basic unit of collection in the MHRD data while it is the habitation from which information is collected in the NCERT data. However in the NSSO the information is collected on household sample basis, the respondent being the head of the household.

Demographic Scenario

The total population of seven north-eastern states, namely, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura in 1991 was 31.55 million which constituted about 3.73 per cent of total population of the country (846.30 million). Of the total population of the seven north-eastern states, Assam constituted the highest chunk of population (71.05 per cent) followed by Tripura (8.74 per cent), Manipur (5.82 per cent), Meghalaya (5.63 per cent), Nagaland (3.83 per cent), Arunachal Pradesh (2.74 per cent) and Mizoram (2.19 per cent). All these states had higher percentage increase during 1981-91 than the all-India average of 23.85 per cent. In case of Nagaland, the percentage increase was of the tune of 56.08 per cent.

Demographic Indicators: North-Eastern States

State Population (‘000) % to Total Population 1991 % Change, 1981-91 % SC Population
1991 2001* 2011*
Arunachal Pradesh 865 1066 1168 2.74 36.83 0.47
Assam 22414 26492 30468 71.05 24.24 7.40
Manipur 1837 2250 2446 5.82 29.29 2.02
Meghalaya 1775 2174 2366 5.63 32.86 0.51
Mizoram 690 851 933 2.19 39.70 0.10
Nagaland 1209 1508 1669 3.83 56.08 0.00
Tripura 2757 3379 3676 8.74 34.30 16.36
North-East 31547 37720 42726 3.73
All India 846303 1012386 1178889 23.85 16.33
% ST Population Density Sex Ratio IMR BR DR
Arunachal 63.62 10 859 47 21.4 5.8
Assam 12.82 286 923 76 28.2 9.9
Manipur 34.41 82 958 30 19.7 5.9
Meghalaya 85.52 79 955 54 30.2 8.8
Mizoram 94.72 33 921 19 15 4.8
Nagaland 87.74 73 886 NA NA NA
Tripura 30.95 263 945 18.3 6.8
All India 8.01 274 927 71 27.2 8.9

*: Projected.

It is estimated that the population of north-eastern States will rise to about 37.72 million in 2001 and will further rise to 42.73 million in year 2011. The population of age-group 6-11 and 11-14 indicates that it was 4.63 and 2.04 million respectively in the North-eastern states which is 3.97 and 3.85 per cent of the total 116.71 and 53.00 million of the respective age-group population of the country. It is estimated that both the 6-11 and 11-14 years population in north-eastern states will increase during 1991-2001 but is expected to decline during 2000-11. Assam had the highest population and Mizoram, the least which is true for both 6-11, and 11-14 years and is likely to remain same in the years that follow.

Projected Population: 6-11 Years

(In ‘000)
State 1991 (Actual) 2001 2011
Boys Girls Total Boys Girls Total Boys Girls Total
Arunachal 63 60 123 77 80 157 73 90 163
Assam 1700 1655 3355 1760 1715 3475 1341 1271 2612
Manipur 119 116 235 144 155 299 136 175 311
Meghalaya 131 128 259 159 173 332 150 195 345
Mizoram 44 44 88 53 59 112 50 66 116
Nagaland 87 83 170 105 112 217 99 126 225
Tripura 203 196 399 247 263 510 234 297 531
North East 2347 2282 4629 2545 2557 5102 2083 2220 4303
All India 60313 56397 116710 60421 57835 118256 56040 53091 109131
% N-E 3.89 4.05 3.97 4.21 4.42 4.31 3.72 4.18 3.94

Note: In view of the 2001 actual population, the projected figures may slightly change.

North-eastern states are practically tribal states. Except Tripura (16.36 per cent) and Assam (7.40 per cent), all other states have a meager SC population. Except Assam (286/ sq. km.), the density of population is far below than the national average of 274/ sq. km. It was only 10 per sq. km. in 1991 in Arunachal Pradesh. Tripura had a density of 263 per sq. km. The sex ratio in case of Manipur, Meghalaya, and Tripura was higher than the national average. It has been noticed that Mizoram, which had the highest literacy rate also, had the lowest infant mortality, birth and death rate, all, which shows positive impact of literacy on these vital events.

Projected Population: 11-14 Years

(In ‘000)

State 1991 (Actual) 2001 2011
Boys Girls Total Boys Girls Total Boys Girls Total
Arunachal Pradesh 27 25 51 37 35 72 34 45 79
Assam 740 709 1449 1092 1058 2150 751 711 1462
Manipur 59 58 117 80 83 163 76 106 182
Meghalaya 58 57 115 79 82 161 74 105 179
Mizoram 25 25 51 35 36 71 33 46 79
Nagaland 41 38 79 55 55 110 52 70 122
Tripura 92 87 179 125 125 250 118 160 278
North-East 1042 999 2041 1503 1474 2977 1138 1243 2381
All India 27876 25128 53004 38495 35973 74468 32104 30418 62522
% of North-East 3.74 3.98 3.85 3.90 4.10 4.00 3.54 4.09 3.81

Note: In view of the 2001 actual population, the projected figures may slightly change.

Literacy Scenario

During the period 1991-97, the north-eastern states have shown a significant improvement in the literacy rates (7+ and 15+ population). It may be noted that 1991 literacy rates (census) are based on complete enumeration while the 1997 rates are generated by the NSSO based on the household sample survey i.e. 52nd round. During the period, both the rural/urban and male/female differential in literacy have declined. In 1997, Mizoram recorded the highest literacy (95 per cent) followed by Nagaland (84 per cent), Meghalaya (77 per cent), Manipur (76 per cent), Assam (75 per cent) and Tripura (73 per cent). The literacy rate (7+) was the lowest in the state of Arunachal Pradesh (60 per cent). The rural/urban differential was lowest in Mizoram (5 per cent) as against the highest 23 per cent in Arunachal Pradesh. The male/female differential is also lowest in Mizoram (1 per cent) and highest in Arunachal Pradesh (21 per cent). Quite a similar trend has also been noticed in case of 15 + literacy rate. Not a single district of north-eastern states in 1991 had literacy below 30 per cent against which 16 district had the same in case of female literacy. About 40 districts had literacy rate above 50 per cent against which only 13 districts had the same in case of female literacy, all which suggests that female literacy though improved significantly but one North-eastern states has to go a long way to attain the status of universal literacy. The NSSO 1995-96 data further shows that except in case of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Assam, the majority of literate (15 + population) had never completed primary level.

Literacy Rate (7+)
State Literacy Rate (7+), 1991 Literacy Rate (7+), 1997 R/U Differential M/F Differential
Rural Urban Total Rural Urban Total 1991 1997 1991 1997
Arunachal Pradesh 37.02 71.59 41.59 58 81 60 35 23 22 21
Assam 49.32 79.39 52.89 73 89 75 30 16 19 16
Manipur 55.79 70.53 59.89 72 88 76 15 16 24 20
Meghalaya 41.05 81.74 49.1 75 93 77 41 18 8 5
Mizoram 72.47 93.45 82.27 93 98 95 21 5 7 1
Nagaland 57.23 83.1 61.65 81 90 84 26 9 13 14
Tripura 56.08 83.09 60.44 70 91 73 27 21 21 12
All India 44.69 73.08 52.21 56 80 62 28 24 25 23

The Literacy rates for 2001 has since been released by the Census of India authorities.

Access to Schooling

Percentage of habitations and rural population having access to primary and upper primary schooling facilities within a distance of 1 & 3 km. are the basic indicators of access. During 1986-87 to 1993-94, the total number of habitations in north-eastern states have increased from 50,904 to 63,742. Mizoram had the lowest number of habitation (705) against which Assam (41179) had the highest number in 1993-94. Manipur (82.26 per cent), Mizoram (94.30 per cent) and Nagaland (92.36 per cent) had provided primary schools to a large number of habitations even within the habitation. Except Arunachal Pradesh (77.87 per cent), all other north-eastern states have provided a primary school within a distance of 1 km. However, compared to primary schools, upper primary schools are not easily accessible. In Assam and Tripura, more than 85 per cent of the total habitations are provided upper primary schools with in a distance of 3 km. which is above the national diverge. Only 54.39 per cent habitations in Arunachal and 74.54 per cent in Nagaland have been provided with this facility. However, number of habitations having population of 300 and more when analyzed, it has been noticed that the facilities improved to a significant extent both in case of the primary and upper primary schools. But Arunachal (73.22 per cent) and Nagaland (70.15 per cent) still had lower percentage than at the all-India average (87.91 per cent).

The coverage of NFE centres in these states also do not indicate that alternate schooling facilities have been provided to unserved habitations. Only a few NFE centres have been opened in north-eastern states. The analysis of villages served by primary and upper primary schooling facilities also suggests that a large number of villages in north-eastern states are yet to be provided schooling facilities. The distribution of schools further suggests that majority of schools, except in Meghalaya, are government run schools. However, private (aided and unaided) schools are also plenty in the states of Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram, which is true for both primary and upper primary schools. Meghalaya had more than 92 per cent upper primary schools managed by the private organisations. The enrollment distributed according to school management however indicates that more students are in government schools than their share to total number of schools. Unrecognized institutions have only a meager percentage of enrollment at the primary and upper primary level of education. The ratio of primary to upper primary schools though improved but still not as envisaged in the policy directives, only Mizoram has provided almost one upper primary school for every two primary schools it had in 1993-94. In rest of the north-eastern states, the ratio ranges between 3 to 5. The NSSO data further reveals that only a few students of age 5-24 years pursuing general education were receiving scholarships, free or subsidized books and stationery and mid-day meals. The highest percentage of students receiving mid-day meals was in Tripura (30.4 per cent), followed by Assam (25.1 per cent), Mizoram (8.7 per cent), Meghalaya (8.5 per cent) etc. which is far below than the national average of 17.9 per cent. In Arunachal and Assam, more than 70 per cent of students were receiving free or subsidized books which is far above the national average of 25.6 per cent.


A few primary schools in Assam and Tripura function either in open space or in tents. The percentage of schools having pucca (permanent) buildings across north-eastern states is far below than the national average (65.07 pre cent). The percentage was as low as 9.63 per cent in Manipur, 2.44 per cent in Mizoram and 4.00 per cent in Nagaland. About 5 per cent schools in Assam and 2 per cent in Tripura did not have instructional room in 1993-94. However, average number of rooms per school, except in Assam and Meghalaya, was more than two. A majority of both primary and upper primary schools still did not have either drinking water or urinal facilities in school. All the north-eastern states had more than two teachers in primary schools. The average number of teachers in upper primary schools ranges between 5 in Meghalaya to 12 in Tripura, all which suggests that more upper primary teachers are available in North-eastern states than the national average of 6.9 teachers. The pupil-teacher ratio has increased between the period 1986-87 to 1993-94, which indicates that despite the increase in enrollment, the teachers have not increased at the same pace. The percentage of female teachers between 1986-87 to 1993-94 have improved significantly but still male teachers out numbered their female counterparts. The percentage of female teachers in upper primary schools is lower than their percentage at the primary level. Unlike in other parts of the country, a majority of teachers in North-eastern states are not trained the percentage was as low as 33 per cent in Tripura and in 35 per cent in Manipur.

Selected Indicators: Primary Education, 1997-98

State Enrolment Teachers Female Trs. Trained Trs. P-T Ratio
Arunachal 149719 4295 28.59 50.3 35
Assam 3816603 82091 24.97 47.5 46
Manipur 251651 11735 34.78 34.8 21
Meghalaya 302518 10550 45.43 42.5 29
Mizoram 134091 5210 47.43 67.6 26
Nagaland 203689 9376 39.29 50.8 22
Tripura 440886 20653 21.04 33.1 21
All India 27703505 575759 35.79 87.7 48

Student Coverage: Enrollment

Availability of schools need not guarantee that adequate facilities are available. This also need not guarantee that children of different age-group are benefited and are enrolled in schools which can be known only by analyzing enrolment over time. The enrolment in primary and upper primary classes during the period 1986-87 to 1993-94 irrespective of North-eastern states have improved significantly but is not enough to attain either the status of universal primary or elementary enrolment. It may also be noted that girls’ enrolment in these states has increased at much faster ratio than the increase in boys’ enrolment.

The increase in elementary enrollment in case of Arunachal and Manipur was almost 50 per cent during the period 1986-87 to 1993-94. This is also reflected in the rate of growth in enrollment that is calculated during the same period. The average annual rate of growth in case of Arunachal and Manipur was more than 6 per cent per annum and the least was in case of Meghalaya (1.54 per cent). The enrolment ratio (except Nagaland) during the same period has also increased. However, care should be taken while analyzing enrolment ratio because corresponding projected age-specific population used in calculating ratio is based on population upto 1981 census, hence bound to change once the projections based on population upto 1991 are available.

Selected Indicators: Primary Education, 1997-98
State Gross Enrolment Ratio Gross Enrolment Ratio
Total Boys Girls Total Boys Girls
Arunachal Pradesh 97.2 114.5 82.1 69.7 89.6 52.2
Assam 109.1 113.8 104.3 85.4 95.4 74.9
Manipur 85.9 99.7 74.1 77.1 92.3 64.1
Meghalaya 93.4 101.9 86.1 52.7 56.5 49.4
Mizoram 113.6 123 104.6 88.2 99.1 77.6
Nagaland 94.3 103.6 86.3 44.4 49.7 39.9
Tripura 88.4 103.4 75.3 81.4 99.9 65.2
India 90.3 98.5 81.5 60.3 71 48.8

The latest figures (1997-98) reveal that not a single North-eastern states is in a position to achieve the goal of universal enrolment in the near future. This is reflected in the NER calculated at the primary level. The lowest NER was recorded in the case of Nagaland (44.4 per cent) and highest in case of Mizoram (88.2 per cent). Further, a wide gap across the north-eastern states is noticed between the net enrolment ratio of boys and girls.

The NSSO attendance ratio (1995-96) further reveals that a large number of children of age group 6-10 and 11-13 years were not attending either I-V or VI-VIII classes. Age specific rates also suggest that a large number of children of both 6-10 and 11-13 years were either not enrolled or not attending schools, all which suggest that rigorous efforts are needed to bring all out of school children under the umbrella of education system.

The out of school children calculated for year 1997-98 further suggests that as many as 5.71 lakh children were not enrolled in any class which is just 1.63 per cent of the total out of school children at the all -India level. The highest number of out of school children (28.17 per cent) was in Meghalaya followed by Tripura (17.91 per cent), Nagaland (15.19 per cent) etc. The lowest out of school children were however in Mizoram (4.27 per cent). The projected enrolment also suggests that north-eastern states are not likely to attain the status of UPE by the turn of the century. The net additional children that would be required to enroll in 2001 suggest that Meghalaya would have to enroll 2.34 lakh children compared to about 23 thousand in Assam if these states are to attain the status of UPE. The distribution of never enrolled aged 5-24 years by reason of non-enrolment suggest that a large number of students across North-eastern states are not interested in studies or further studies. In addition, a considerable chunk of parents in these states are also not interested in studies of their wards. Participation in economic activities, financial constraints and domestic activities were found to be the other main reasons of higher incidence of out-of-school/non enrolled/never enrolled children.

Transition Rates

The analysis of entry rate suggests that a large number of children enter into the system (through Grade I) but a majority of them drop out from before the completion of primary cycle. The boys/girls differential in entry rate (gross) further reveals that except in the case of Assam, it was wide and significant in rest of the other North-eastern states, this is also true for net entry rate. The dropout rates at the elementary level suggest that it was a high as 73 per cent in Tripura compared to 71 per cent in Manipur and Mizoram. The lowest dropout rate was calculated in case of Nagaland (41.7 per cent). However, the boys/girls differential in dropout, except in Nagaland, is almost negligible, which means that both girls and boys equally dropout from the system. However, the transition rate calculated between primary to upper primary level suggests that irrespective of a north-eastern state, it was quite high. This indicates that a majority of children transited to upper primary level and only a few children dropout in process. The boys/girls differential in transition rate is also insignificant.

Thus, there is need to improve the efficiency of the primary system. Unlike primary enrollment, which is a function of 6-11 population, upper primary enrollment is not a function of 11-13 years population. Many of these children of 11-13 years age-group are still out of school or enrolled in primary classes, as they enter late in to the system. Only those children can get admission in upper primary classes those who graduate primary level. The failure of primary system will send fewer number of primary graduates to the upper primary streme and it will compel to shift the target of not only the UPE but also of the UEE. The projection exercises undertaken in the recent past also indicate that except Kerala not a single state is in a position to achieve the goal of universal enrolment in the near future i.e. up to year 2010. However, there are a few states, which can achieve the goal in case of boys earlier than projected. The goal of universal primary enrollment however is likely to be attained by the year 2007.

Efficiency of the System

It has also been noticed that despite the no detention policy in primary classes, a large number of children used to repeat a grade, this is also reflected in the NSSO data on causes of non-enrollment presented above. Across north-eastern states, the repetition rates are comparatively higher in Grade I than in other grades. This together with high incidence of drop-out severely effects the efficiency of the educational system. Except in Manipur, all the north-eastern states are taking more than 7 years to produce a primary graduate than ideally (5 years) required. The primary education system of Meghalaya is efficient to the tune of only 54 per cent. The most efficient system however is that of Manipur (97.1 per cent) where children are taking only 5.1 years to complete the primary cycle. It was as high as 9.3 years in Meghalaya and 8.3 in Arunachal Pradesh. Unless, the education system is improved, the goal of UPE cannot even be dreamed.

Indicators of Efficiency: 1997-98

State Promotion Rate Dropout Rate
Boys Girls Total Boys Girls Total
Arunachal 61.6 61.6 61.6 23.4 23.3 23.4
Assam 63.1 62.5 62.8 23.6 24.7 24.1
Manipur 77.5 77.0 77.3 19.6 20.2 19.9
Meghalaya 60.7 61.3 61.0 30.6 30.9 30.7
Mizoram 63.2 63.2 63.2 25.9 26.6 26.2
Nagaland 71.4 69.5 70.5 23.4 25.9 24.6
Tripura 59.0 59.2 59.1 22.0 22.1 22.1
India 67.8 67.3 67.6 25.6 26.0 25.8

The financial indicators are positive in case of north-eastern states than at the national level. The per capita budgeted expenditure, (except Arunachal); per pupil expenditure (elementary); all are quite high in North-eastern states than the national average. Keeping in view the inefficient state of the primary system in North-eastern states, the positive financial position may be causing a lot of wastage. Despite the government expenditure, the NSSO data suggest that private cost of primary education irrespective of north-eastern states is quite high and well above (except Assam and Tripura) the national average of Rs. 501/-. Quite a similar trend is observed for other higher levels of education. A good chunk of private cost on education is imparted on tuition fee, which is true for all the north-eastern states.

State Years Input Per Graduate Coefficient of Efficiency
Boys Girls Total Boys Girls Total
Arunachal Pradesh 8.2 8.4 8.3 60.9 59.0 60.3
Assam 5.8 8.2 7.0 86.7 61.3 74.5
Manipur 5.2 5.1 5.1 96.8 97.5 97.1
Meghalaya 8.9 9.8 9.3 56.1 50.9 53.6
Mizoram 6.2 6.4 6.3 78.7 80.8 79.7
Nagaland 8.4 8.6 8.5 59.3 58.1 58.7
Tripura 7.7 7.4 7.6 65.3 67.5 66.2
India 7.2 8.0 7.5 69.5 62.8 66.6

Analysis of aggregated data has only limited use and can not be of much use in planning exercises. Therefore, there is a need to undertake a through diagnosis exercise at disaggregated levels. For developing plans at the district level, better it would be to analyze the data at the block level.

The diagnosis exercise can be divided into two parts, namely, general and educational scenarios. Under the general scenario, general information regarding district and its sub-units can be analyzed. So far as the educational scenario is concerned, it has got twin objectives of identifying blocks/areas, which are not as development as the other areas in the district/blocks. The other main objective of diagnosis is to identify a focus or target groups that is not as educationally developed as the other section/segment of the population is.

The problems, which the system is facing, should also be highlighted and identified during the diagnosis. Education of girls and SC/ST population, high incidence of dropout, low enrollment, teachers absenteeism, habitation without schooling facilities, schools without teachers, single teacher schools, building-less schools, etc. are some of the problems a district and its blocks may be facing. For diagnosis purposes, quantitative as well as qualitative, time series and cross-sectional data micro and macro data, primary and secondary data and data generated by both the governmental and non-governmental agencies can be used. Once the diagnosis exercise is over, the next important task is to review the past plans, projects and programmes that are undertaken in the district in the recent past. Experience of these programmes may be quite helpful in developing programmes of similar nature.

It is pertinent to mention here that the data users and researchers often question reliability of educational data, which is also evident, if the MHRD and the NCERT set of educational data is compared. Therefore, there is a need to develop a computerized Educational Management Information System. This can be possible, if the provisions made under the new initiative, namely, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan are fully utilised. All the districts of the north-eastern part of the country would be covered under SSA before the end of the Ninth five year plan. Many of these districts have already submitted pre-project activity plans but the activities are not picked up as per expectations. The members of the planning teams in all of these districts have already been trained by NIEPA about development of district elementary education plans. The amount to carry out pre-project activities has already been released by the Government of India. The districts have to undertake micro planning exercises, conduct household surveys to assess out-of-school children, conduct a number of studies, strengthen the existing information system and establish computerized EMIS, initiate community through mobilizations campaigns etc. Community involvement is an important component of SSA, without which the goal to achieve UEE may not be realised. Lot of expectations are envisaged in SSA from the community.

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