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Is India's backbone is in danger?

Written by shubhopriyo

In a village somewhere in Gujarat, a Primary school teacher in a government school is on her customary tri-monthly visits in one of the villages from where her students come. A specific reason for this being that exams are near and students haven’t been attending school lately. When we finally find his house, we come across his Uncle and ask for him. The child walks towards the entrance and on the very sight of the Teacher, runs away into the fields. We try to communicate our message to his brother and tell him the advantages of finishing school till eighth grade as it opens up opportunities to attain a driving license which can lead to the job of a driver. We visit another house, another girl who hasn’t been attending school lately. We counsel her and ask her to at least sit for the exams. She says her mother is sick. Standing at the entrance we see a shadow of the skeleton of a body which was trying to stand up. The girl’s mother has been suffering from Tuberculosis and she has been missing school to take care of her. Both of these children have been irregular and are probably going to drop out sooner or later.

According to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), 62.1 million children are out of school in India1. A child is said to be ‘drop-out’ when she or he discontinue their schooling at any grade after enrolment and are therefore out-of-school. As per a 2013-14 report by MHRD2 student dropouts across all categories and gender stood at 4.34% in Primary schools, 3.77% in Upper Primary, 17.86% in Secondary and 1.54% in Senior Secondary. The percentages stand to be considerably higher in the case of Scheduled Tribes during the same period with dropouts at 7.98% in Primary schools, 8.43% in Upper primary, 27.20% in Secondary, and 2.94% in Senior Secondary. But, the reality behind the numbers proves to be for grim reading. Children drop out due to reasons which are multidimensional and varies depending on their respective backgrounds. Children who come from a background of hand-to-mouth existence with extremely low structures and systems available to them for any form of social security have to age way beyond their years and their adulting life starts even before they finish Primary school. A first-generation learner may dropout due to lack of parental support and understanding. A child may drop out to become the sole breadwinner for their family because the earning member expired or has fallen sick. If the parents don’t understand the value of education, it becomes even more difficult for a child to continue the same. A child may prefer engaging in the household, farm, and other concomitant economic activities instead of attending school. For example, a child dropped out in Std 5 as he preferred rearing cattle instead of attending school. It is not the child’s fault to find cattle rearing more interesting and it even could be for the child, but inactivity on the part of parents to mentor the child to exhibit the long-term benefits of education, poor teaching practices at school etc, also play a very big role in shaping this child’s decision.

An interesting inference from the dropout numbers above would be the sudden spike in the data as children enter secondary school. The RTE covers children from 6-14 years of age and entails STD 1-8. After std 8, there is 17.86% across all categories and 27% rate of dropout in Scheduled Tribes signalling a key area for government policies to focus on. After Std 8, a lot of children go on to earn money, while girls stay back at home as marriage becomes an imminent reality for them. Interestingly, the Mid-Day Meal scheme covers children till the age of 14 which is till Std 8. The issue of Drop-outs is a huge waste of resources for a developing nation like India. Our schemes and policies have been able to achieve high levels of enrolment but we are failing to keep our children in school and it defeats the purpose of getting them there in the first place if we can’t sustain them in the trajectory of education. As we have more and more children out of school, our children are being denied the opportunity to learn, grow, become literate and access the benefits of education which could be better jobs, informed decision making, improved living standard and so on and so forth. If not addressed, it may lead to shifting of a host of jobs from our country to another. India, for example with its lower wages and an English-speaking crowd, is an attractive destination for a lot of BPOs. If we don’t address dropouts these jobs will transfer to some other country, therefore, worsening the employment crisis. What sort of workforce will our country represent if we cannot have basic literacy and numeracy skills?

As the saying goes ‘Padhega India, tab hi toh badhega India!’, India must cater to the next challenge of keeping children at school. The policies and schemes need to address the entire spectrum of stakeholder with schemes to motivate and encourage parents to send them to school even beyond STD 8, to improving teaching practices, their motivational levels, enabling school leadership, proper curriculum designing, improving school infrastructure, community engagement, etc. A multi-pronged strategy is essential to tackle this as an era looms large where India will have the youngest working population of the world. Critical would be an understatement. Thoughtful urgency in action is the need of our circumstances. References:

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