Amir Ullah Khan
Education, especially at the primary level, has always been seen to be the preserve of the public sector. What actually is happening is quite surprising. The latest estimate is that about 35% of children in India are studying in private schools. By next year, this should go up to about 40 per cent and in five years’ time a majority of India’s children will be in primary schools. The trend is clear then; government schools are becoming less and less popular. Despite the amount of money being spent by the government.
A significant program launched by the government has been the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) which was set up in 2001 for the Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE). This came about after the 86th amendment to the Constitution that made free and compulsory education to children of 6-14 years age group a fundamental right. The SSA covers the entire country which means a large population of 192 million children across the 640 districts in the country.
It was in the year 2004 that an education cess was introduced in India. This was a specific tax where all tax payers would pay an additional 2% that would go into funding education. Since the cess has been levied, the estimate is that the government has collected more than 65000 crore rupees through this education cess. The Right to Education Act was passed in 2009 and this has resulted in great pressure on the government run school system to provide a minimum infrastructure in educational institutions. What has also put pressure on the system is the growing levels of enrolment seen in primary schools across the country.
The largest survey done on education is titled ASER standing for the Annual Status of Education Report. The major point that the ltest survey makes is that students are increasingly opting for private schools and that attendance in government school is dropping. It underlines the fact that learning levels in government schools are declining fast and that private school enrolment is rising at about 10% per year. In the states of J&K, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, UP and Meghalaya, more than 40% children in the 6-14 year age group are in private schools. In Kerala and Manipur, the percentage is more than 60%.
Rural India is following urban Indian in terms of enrolment of students in private schools. The spurt in private school enrolment on one hand suggest that most people now have access to education and it also says that like in cities where private education is increasingly getting to be the preferred option, in villages too this trend is catching up. Only about 1 per cent of children seem to be attending alternate schooling systems, including madarsahs. And what is most fascinating is that 50 per cent of all students in India are taking private tuitions and this number has been going up consistently.