The recently released ASER-2022 report has revealed that there has been a fall in the dropout rate in schools in rural India despite the Covid-19 pandemic across almost all the states. At the same time, there was a sharp increase in the enrolment rate of children in government schools — perhaps because of Covid.
The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), conducted by the non-profit organisation Pratham Educational Foundation every two years, provides information on enrolment, attendance, basic reading and arithmetic skills, and other indicators of the state of education in rural India.
ASER-2022 covered almost 7,00,000 children in over 19,000 villages across 616 districts in the country.
The lockdown forced schools to shut down during the pandemic. Despite this, the share of children between the ages of 6–14 in government schools has improved by 7.3 percentage points from 2018 to 2022.
West Bengal, Odisha, and Gujarat have an enrolment rate of above 90 percent.
Among the southern states, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have registered a rate above the national score of 72.9 percent. Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Kerala found themselves below the national average.
Bleak to better
While the picture looked bleak between 2006 and 2014 when enrolment rate in government schools registered a steady decline, the period between 2014 and 2018 was pretty much stagnant.
However, almost all states have seen an improvement since.
According to Rukimini Banerjee, the CEO of Pratham, the rise in government school enrolment can be attributed to several possible contributing factors.
“A loss or uncertainty in family income may have made private school education unaffordable. Another reason could be that most ‘budget’ private schools in rural areas could not cope with the financial stress induced by the pandemic, forcing them to shut down or to do away with vital teaching staff,” she explained.
Kerala has improved its enrolment rate by 16.5 percentage points, the highest among all the states. Uttar Pradesh (15.3 percent) and Telangana (12.7 percent) stood in the top three. Mizoram (-7.7 percent) and Jammu & Kashmir (-2.8 percent) are the only two states that saw a decrease in enrolment rates.
“It is also conceivable that thanks to the efforts of many state governments (ranging from availability of mid-day meal rations, teaching-learning materials being sent via phone, worksheet and textbook distribution), families saw the benefits of remaining connected to, or attaching their children to government schools, so as to be able to access entitlements,” Rukmini added.
Drop in dropout rate
Nationally, 7.5 percent of children aged 15–16 have not been enrolled in any school in 2022. While Chhattisgarh (13.6 percent), Madhya Pradesh (14.9 percent), and Uttar Pradesh (12.3 percent) performed poorly, the southern states did well with scores less than 2.5 percent with Kerala (0.4 percent) topping the national charts.
Nationally, the proportion of girls aged 11–14 not in schools saw a steady decline from 2006. In 2022 it stood at 2 percent, a drop from 4.1 percent in 2018. This figure is around 4 percent only in Uttar Pradesh and is lower in all other states.
Among girls aged 15–16 years, the national figure stood at 7.9 percent in 2022. It has declined sharply from 20 percent in 2008 and 13.5 percent in 2018. Only three states have more than 10 percent of girls in this age group out of school: Madhya Pradesh (17 percent), Uttar Pradesh (15 percent), and Chhattisgarh (11.2 percent).
“There are a variety of reasons why young adolescent girls may drop out of school in India. Some of the most common reasons include poverty, the need to contribute to household income, early marriage, lack of access to education in rural areas, and societal attitudes that prioritise the education of boys over girls,” Shravya Mallavarapu, an ex-consultant with ASER Centre, who is currently working with the state education department (SCERT) in Telangana, told South First.
“Additionally, lack of sanitation facilities, bullying, and harassment can also contribute to girls dropping out of school,” Shravya added.
In terms of improvement in the number of children aged 15–16 attending school, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh performed well.
Among the southern states, the dropout rate in Andhra Pradesh fell by 6.9 percentage points, while the remaining states, which were already performing well, showed a marginal improvement.