Primary Education Status

As per ASER 2016 report

  • Only 26% of enrolled students in Class V can divide 3 digit numbers by one digit number. This was 42.5% in 2007.
  • Only 47.8% of enrolled students in Class V can read a text of class II. This was 45.9% in 2007.
  • Only 20% of enrolled students in class III are at grade Level. Minimum was 10% in Utter Pradesh.
  • 3.1% of children in age bracket 6-14 are not enrolled in schools. This was 4.2% in 2007.


Let’s do a simple calculation here – in the 2014-15 total expenditure of both Center & State government on primary education was 208989 crore. As per Census 2011, there are 351,031,984 children in the age bracket of 0-14 years. Say 70% of these are in the age bracket of 4-16 years and goes to school. Assuming 100% enrollment and further 20% going to private schools. Therefore, children who go to government schools is 56%. Then in 2014-15 government expenditure on each child was approximately Rs. 900 per month.

Student enrollment has increased, government expenditure has increased in nominal terms but the performance of students has deteriorated. Now question is – Why there is deterioration in Quality? Does this much expenditure is justified for such poor performance?

Quality Issues

In 2009, came the Right to Education Act under which free primary education was to be given to all. Though the Act was an accomplishment in itself it failed to provide the desired result. The problem is not with the Act but with the Implementation. With the act came the targets, but as India has the habit, authorities had chosen shortcuts. Emphasis shifted from quality to quantity. No accountability has been assigned so far. Instead, the focus remains on other things. For example – As per Centre for Budget Governance and Accountability (CBGA) and Child Relief and You (CRY) report, states have gone for contractual teachers to maintain the desired level of fiscal deficit. Bihar has close to 50% of its primary teaching staff on the contractual basis, which doesn’t have any formal training for teaching.

Such contractual staff hiring includes corrupt practice in recruitment and further leads to many other corrupt practices. Under such system, we should not be surprised with incidents of Ruby Rai who topped Bihar Education Board in 2016. No state has spent more than 1% of their Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan budget to improve the functioning of schools through SMCs. According to NBER report, 23.6% of teachers in state run schools were found absent during surprised inspections, calculated monetary loss of absenteeism alone is $ 1.5 billion yearly. Issues are endless; authorities are aware of these but lack actions. Bureaucracy had its deep corrupt tooth from top to bottom.

Expenditure is lower than required

In India, various education departments spend on average close to 3% of GDP on overall education, additional 1% is done by other departments taking total to 4% of GDP. Out of this, approximately 50% goes to elementary & 30% to secondary education as shown in the figure below. Though the distribution itself doesn’t look rational. With this much expenditure, India lies behind the developed nations & even developing nations like South Africa, Brazil who spends close to 6% of their GDP. Another point is of expenditure per student- India with high population will have further lower expenditure per student. Primary schools get only Rs 5000 -7500 in the case of fewer than three classes and 7500-10000 in the case of more than three classes for annual maintenance. This includes Maintenance of school building, including whitewashing, bathrooms, hand pump repairs, building, boundary wall, playground etc.

Primary schools get only Rs 5000 -7500 in the case of fewer than three classes and 7500-10000 in the case of more than three classes for annual maintenance. This includes Maintenance of school building, including whitewashing, bathrooms, hand pump repairs, building, boundary wall, playground etc. With such a low and irregular expenditure we can guess the state of infrastructure of Primary schools. if we cannot even provide our children furniture to study in school, how can we be developed? How can we call India a fastest growing economy?

Actions Required

Without accountability & change in education policy further increase in expenditure alone will not improve the results. The policy of teaching from books has to be changed. With hardly 10% of students at their grade level, teaching from books is irrelevant. We need to teach students at their level. The focus needs to be a shift from the no. of students in particular class to no. of students at grade level. By doing so, teachers will work hard on learning to the students instead of just promoting them to next level.

Primary education has so far remained out of the influence of technology. Mobile monitoring, online attendance of faculties, regular skill test of teachers will also increase efficiency in the system. Privately controlled third party inspections can also ensure greater accountability. A strong infrastructure is a prerequisite for good results. We need better and more teachers along with a good place to study.

Because of leakages in the system, only a part of expenditure reaches to the last point. Under such circumstances, government overall expenditure per child is close to private schools, but results are much much poor. Privatization of services can also be a viable option. There are many advocates for this also and it needs discussion.

Big dreams of India being the world leader, an economic giant is meaningless without educational reforms. Deteriorating health of educational indicators should be the biggest concern of the government.

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