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Primary Education in India: Quality and Coverage Issues

Bajpai, Nirupam; Goyal, Sangeeta

An attempt is made in this paper to analyze the state of primary education in India. Using various data-sources and secondary research, we provide a description of the salient features of the public education system in India for primary schools (grades one through five) as well as educational
outcomes, both in terms of quantity and quality. Literacy rates, especially in the younger age groups, for both boys and girls are on an upward trend. This is an extremely positive outcome as historically India has suffered from endemic illiteracy. However, rising literacy rates have been
accompanied by unevenness of achievements: across Indian states and across various socioeconomic groups. States in the Western and Southern zones of India outperform those in the East and Center. Moreover, the densely populated states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan continue to lag behind the rest of India. Literacy rates for girls, rural residents, and especially members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes also lag behind those for boys, urban residents
and the upper castes. In terms of physical access to schools, more than ninety percent of the Indian population now has a primary school located within one kilometer of their place of residence. However, many schools
have only one or two classrooms and most lack running water and toilets. These features are not conducive to a learning environment. The really critical aspect of the Indian public education system is its low quality. Even in educationally advanced states, an unacceptably low proportion of children who complete all grades of primary school have functional literacy. There is a lot of ‘waste’ in the school system as evidenced by the large percentage of children who drop-out before completing primary schooling. Such inefficiency is compounded by teacher apathy,
teacher absenteeism, very high pupil-teacher ratios and inadequate teacher training. Public expenditure on education in India has been rising over time. After the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) which was launched in 1994, the federal government launched the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in 2001 with the goal to universalize primary education (grades one to five) by 2007 and elementary education (grades one to eight) by 2010. Unlike the DPEP, SSA is funded entirely by domestic resources and provides the states with a strong initiative
backed by funding to tackle illiteracy among the young members of their population. Another policy that has been very successful in increasing enrollments, attendance and retention of students in primary school is that of the provision of mid-day meals. There are lessons to be learnt from the diverse experiences of Indian states in terms of their achievements in literacy. While in Kerala, strong social intermediation by the government has proved successful, in Himachal Pradesh, social capital and community participation seem to have led to similar success.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth Institute
Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development
CGSD Working Paper, 11
Published Here
September 8, 2015