India’s good, bad & ugly states


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Educational Development Index 2010-11 highlights that the country’s most industrially advanced states are placed well below the salt in elementary education development. It also confirms that the BIMARU states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) remain the nation’s education backwaters. Summiya Yasmeen reports
 
The Educational Development Index (EDI) 2010-11 — released by the Delhi-based National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) in early September — which measures the primary and upper primary (elementary) education fulfillments of India’s 28 states and seven Union territories, highlights the paradoxes for which the subcontinent is famous and also makes a strong argument in favour of smaller administratively manageable states.
 
The most glaring paradox of EDI 2010-11 is that the country’s most industrially advanced states — Maharashtra (ranked 17th), Gujarat (14) and Karnataka (15) — are placed well below the salt in elementary education development. The index also confirms the popular belief that the large BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) states which together ungraciously host 443 million of India’s citizens, remain the nation’s most educationally back-ward states which don’t seem to care about — or haven’t grasped — the dangerous implications of neglecting primary and upper primary education. On the other hand, the smaller administrative units of the Indian Union — Puducherry, Himachal Pradesh, Daman & Diu, Sikkim and Kerala have topped EDI 2010-11.
 
Published annually since 2005-06, EDI 2010-11 ranks the southern Union territory of Puducherry (pop. 1 million), India’s most educationally advanced with a composite score of 0.870 (out of a maximum 1) for the second year consecutively, followed by the Union territory of Lakshwadeep (rank 2, EDI score: 0.849). These tiny territories are followed by Punjab (3, 0.815), Tamil Nadu (4, 0.815) and Kerala (5, 0.804). Completing the Top 10 list are Daman & Diu (6, 0.798), Sikkim (7, 0.795), Chandigarh (8, 0.782), Andhra Pradesh (9, 0.767) and Delhi (10, 0.766).
 
Unsurprisingly, India’s most backward states in terms of primary (classes I-V) and upper primary education (classes VI-VIII) provision are Arunachal Pradesh (rank 31, EDI score: 0.598), Madhya Pradesh (32, 0.590), Assam (33, 0.555), Jharkhand (34, 0.529), and Bihar (35, 0.512). NUEPA’s valuable EDI, which assesses the primary and upper primary — government and private — school education systems of each of the country’s 28 states and seven Union territories, is based on four criteria — access (availability of schools, percentage of habitations not served); infrastructure (schools with common toilets, drinking water, girls’ toilets); teachers (schools with pupil-teacher ratio of less than 1:40, teachers without professional qualifications) and outcomes (gross enrolment ratio, drop-out and repetition percentages).
 
“The objective behind publication of EDI is to collate and present detailed data about all the country’s 1.36 million elementary schools, to help state governments evaluate where they lag behind and which areas need priority intervention. The data needs to be carefully mined by state governments to improve their education systems, and invest in areas where they are falling behind and effectively target and deliver school improvement and development programmes. The prime cause of Puducherry and Sikkim’s high scores and top ranks is that their governments have effectively implemented education schemes, particularly the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA, Education for All) programme,” says Dr. Arun C. Mehta, professor and head, department of educational management information system at NUEPA, who has been leading the Union human resource development (HRD) ministry’s ambitious District Information System on Education (DISE) project.
 
Initiated in 2000-01, the objective of DISE is to provide statistical data for assessing the progress of SSA countrywide. Currently, DISE covers all 637 districts of the country. The DISE Flash Statistics 2010-11: Elementary Education in India — Progress towards UEE, which provides input data for compilation of the annual EDI, was also released by NUEPA in early September, and provides a wealth of largely ignored data relating to investment in foundational primary education — number of schools, student enrolment, infrastructure, and teachers.
 
For DISE 2010-11, data received from 1.36 million government and private schools countrywide was aggregated and classified. According to DISE 2010-11 — an invaluable ready reckoner for assessing the state of primary and upper primary education across the country — currently there are 1.06 million government schools and 264,607 private ‘recognised’ schools with an aggregate enrolment of 193 million children nationwide.
 
Closer examination of data presented in DISE 2010-11 and EDI 2010-11, indicates that progress towards universalisation of primary/upper primary education is far from satisfactory. A decade after the ambitious SSA was launched and an estimated Rs.1,000,000 crore poured into the nation’s elementary education system, a massive number of the country’s 1.36 million schools still don’t provide basic enabling infrastructure to hapless students. An estimated 32.65 percent don’t have a pucca building, 27.44 percent don’t provide functional common toilets, 39.72 percent haven’t constructed separate girls’ toilets, 44.59 percent are without demarcating boundary walls, only 18.70 percent provide computers, 49.61 percent don’t offer ramps to physically challenged children, 44.97 percent lack playgrounds and over half of the country’s classes I-VIII schools (56.86 percent) are unconnected to electricity grids.
 
It’s pertinent to note the overwhelming majority of elementary schools lacking these basic facilities which enable transmission of vitally important foundational education, are owned and managed by state governments. Yet despite the patent and pathetic failure of state governments to provide essential facilities in its own schools, s. 19 of the historic Right to Free & Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (aka RTE Act) vests wide discretionary powers in state government inspectors to shut down private elementary schools which fail to provide enabling infrastructure including separate toilets for girl children and playgrounds. Unsurprisingly, government schools are exempted from the provisions of s. 19.
 
“There’s something peculiar and incongruous about government accrediting institutions and approving private school curriculums, but unable to better its own sub-standard deficient and deprived schools. The education provided in these schools is not the “ray of hope” that Gandhiji had highlighted in Hind Swaraj. He wanted education to draw out the best in “body, mind and spirit” which can’t happen in institutions with deficient and depre-ssing teaching-learning environments,” says J.S. Rajput, a former director of NCERT and National Council for Teacher Education.
 
According to EDI 2010-11, the north-eastern state of Sikkim (pop. 600,000) provides the best elementary education infrastructure countrywide followed by Punjab (2), Puducherry (3), Kerala (4) and Haryana (5). The five bottom-ranked states for infrastructure provision are Jammu & Kashmir (31), Arunachal Pradesh (32), Bihar (33), Assam (34) and Meghalaya (35). In this connection, it’s important to note that ‘infrastructure’ for the purposes of EDI rankings comprises provision of bare minimal facilities such as drinking water, common toilets, girls’ toilets, and classrooms of less than 40 children — it does not include provision of ‘luxuries’ such as libraries, labor-atories, playgrounds, computers, and other teaching-learning equipment.
 
It’s a measure of widespread ignor-ance in government about the vital importance of primary education that the country’s richest states with the largest GDP and highest per capita incomes are ranked low on the parameter of infrast-ructure provision. Maharashtra — India’s most industrialised state accounting for 25 percent of the country’s industrial production — is ranked 19th among states on this parameter. Shockingly, a mere 3.5 percent of the state’s 100,084 government primaries are compliant with s.19 of the RTE Act.
 
Maharashtra’s low EDI ranking on infrastructure provision to elementary schools has prompted the state govern-ment’s school education department to issue a circular (September 26) to all district collectors for immediate action to improve the infrastructure of government schools under their jurisdiction. “We are aware about the weaknesses of the government school system and are determined to plug the gaps. Our schools lag behind in terms of infrastructure on a national level, but that is because the number of schools is too large with 3,568 schools with less than ten pupils. We have taken the issue very seriously and district adminis-trations have been directed to improve and amalgamate schools,” says J.S. Sahariya, additional chief secretary of the department of school education.
 
Maharashtra is also mid-ranked on the parameters of teacher quality (16), access (17), though it’s highly ranked for outcomes (4) adding up to a composite EDI all-India rank of 17. Usha Rane, the Mumbai-based regional head and training director of the highly respected education NGO Pratham, attributes the state’s poor EDI rankings to steadily declining expenditure on public primary and upper primary education.
 
“In 1998-99, 20.47 percent of the budgetary outlay of the Maharashtra government was allocated to school education. A decade later, in 2009-10 it declined to 14.19 percent. Currently, out of the grudging Rs.2,688 crore allocated to school education in the state budget, 67 percent is by way of non-plan expenditure, i.e. teaching/staff salaries, leaving hardly anything at all for infrastructure provision. Moreover, even the meagre amount allocated for plan and capital expenditure is spent inefficiently. The absence of an honest and efficient delivery system at the lower levels of administration coupled with zero self-sufficiency of primary schools in rural areas is the cause of Maharashtra’s low EDI ranking,” says Rane.
 
However, the sprawling state of Maharashtra (308,000 sq. km, pop. 112 million) is hardly an exception. Most of the nation’s country-size states are ranked below the Top 10 on EDI 2010-11. Gujarat (pop. 60 million) is ranked 14, Karnataka (61 million) 15, Rajasthan (68 million) 24, West Bengal (91 million) 27, Uttar Pradesh (200 million) 29, Madhya Pradesh (72 million) 32 and Bihar (82 million) 35 (see box).
 
The fallout of reckless political interference and experimentation in elementary education is most starkly evident in West Bengal which led the renaissance of Indian education in the 19th century. In EDI 2010-11, West Bengal (pop. 91 million) is ranked lower than the Top 20 on all four parameters — access, infrastructure, teachers and outcomes.
 
Currently, 33.61 percent of West Bengal’s 98,895 primary and upper primary schools function without any toilets for children; 51.19 percent don’t provide girls’ toilets, and a mere 8.72 percent host a computer, usually kept under lock and key 24/7. Moreover, West Bengal hosts the least number of private schools among the larger states — a mere 8,708 — because of active discouragement of private initiatives in education by the Communist Party of India-Marxist led Left Front government which ruled the state uninterruptedly for 34 years (1977-2010).
 
“The Left Front government is mainly responsible for West Bengal’s educat-ional backwardness. Huge numbers of drop-outs, acute teachers’ shortage and pathetic infrastructure characterise the state’s government schools. Contin-uous interference by CPM cadres in matters related to teacher appointments, transfers and syllabus-tampering ruined the state’s education system. The backlog generated from years of neglect is so huge it will take decades for the state to get back on track. Even under the Trinamool Congress govern-ment I don’t expect much change. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has promised a lot, but no major initiatives have been taken by her government to revamp the education system. Mamata is treading the same path as the previous Left Front government,” says Sunanda Sanyal, a highly respected academic and educationist who resigned as head of the Trinamool Congress government-appointed School Syllabus Committee last November following differences on school reforms.
 
The exception among the populous states in terms of primary education attainment is the southern seaboard state of Tamil Nadu (pop. 72 million), ranked No. 4 nationwide in EDI 2010-11. On the parameter of infrastructure, it’s resp-ectably ranked No. 6, teacher quality 5, and first countrywide on the parameter of outcomes. With 71.85 percent of the 55,029 elementary schools demarcated by boundary walls, 71.67 percent providing separate girls’ toilets, 47.43 percent equipped with computer labs and an estimated 53.6 percent of teachers being beneficiaries of in-service training during the previous academic year, its fractious film star-dominated politics notwithstanding, Tamil Nadu shows that public pressure and widespread belief in the transformational power of education, can ensure that government investment in elementary education is not trifled with.
 
However, it’s important to note that NUEPA’s EDI is compiled entirely on the basis of quanti-tative data. Thus Tamil Nadu’s No. 1 ranking on the parameter of outcomes is based on linear computation of gross enrolment ratio, percentage of schedule caste/ tribe students enrolment, gender parity enrolment index, drop-outs rate, transition percentage from primary to upper primary, with no weightage accorded to quality factors.
 
This perhaps explains why this southern state — ranked No. 1 nationwide on the parameter of outcomes in elementary education — hasn’t impressed the researcher-authors of the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2011 (published by education NGO Pratham) which measures actual learning outcomes of children in primary schools in rural India. According to ASER 2011, the great majority of primary school-going children in Tamil Nadu lack basic reading and math skills. The report contends that a shocking 67.7 percent of class V children in Tamil Nadu’s rural schools cannot read and comprehend class II textbooks (cf. the national average of 51.8 percent), and 79.5 percent of class III children can’t manage class I texts. Even more surprisingly, this southern littoral state fares equally poorly in maths capability with 85.8 percent of class V children unable to do simple division sums (cf. 72.4 percent national average), a conclusion which severely questions the legendary maths profi-ciency of Tamil Nadu students.
 
“While Tamil Nadu has been fairly successful in implementing the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan programme because of which it ranks highly on the parameters of infrastructure and gross student enrolment, not much attention has been paid, nor investment made in improving the quality of teaching-learning. The focus of village education committees has been on development of school infrastructure, and not on upgrading quality of education dispe-nsed in government schools despite the existence of block resource centres and block resource trainers. Real learning outcomes will not improve unless the government invests in teacher training and new pedagogies,” says Henri Tiphagne, executive director of People’s Watch, a Chennai-based human rights organisation, and state representative of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
 
Abysmal learning outcomes parti-cularly in government schools, is a national malaise. According to ASER 2011, the nationwide percentage of class V children able to read class II texts dropped from 53.7 percent in 2010 to 48.2 percent in 2011, while the proportion of class III children able to solve a two-digit subtraction problem with borrowing declined from 36.3 percent in 2010 to 29.9 percent in 2011. And with the RTE Act, 2009 ordering a no-detention policy until class VIII, the phenomenon of students with poor learning outcomes completing elem-entary education with little to show for it, is likely to become pervasive.
 
Against this backdrop, it’s unsurprising that parents across the country are pulling their children out of free-of-charge government schools to enroll them in fees-charging private schools which promise improved, measurable learning outcomes. According to DISE Flash Statistics 2010-11, enrolment in government primaries (classes I-V) declined from 96 million in 2009-10 to 94 million in 2010-11, while aggregate enrolment in private schools rose from 37 million to 38 million during the same period. Even though private schools constitute a mere 19.42 percent of the total number of schools across the country, they currently host 30.62 percent (59 million) of the 193 million children in elementary education. In Goa and Kerala — India’s most literate states — the percentage of children enroled in private primaries is 71.59 and 68.59 percent respectively, suggesting a clear causal effect.
 
In the southern state of Karnataka as well, where the government school system has been almost destroyed by rustic politicians, private school enrolment is rising rapidly with the state’s 12,903 private aided and unaided schools  — which constitute a mere 21 percent of the total schools (59,453) statewide — currently educating almost 40 percent of elementary school children. “The number of children enroling in private primaries in Karnataka is rising because parents are exercising an option which is now increasingly available. Though the quality of education in private schools is not necessarily better, accountability is better. Moreover, private schools offer English-medium education which government schools obstinately won’t, despite even the poorest of poor parents aspiring to English-medium education,” says Kanchan Bannerjee, managing trustee of the Akshara Foundation, a Bangalore-based NGO (estb. 2000) which offers preschool and in-school progra-mmes (including English learning) for children, and capacity building programmes for teachers in government primaries.
 
Likewise in Maharashtra, an estimated 53.83 percent of class I-VIII students have crowded the state’s 28,253 private primaries and upper primaries. According to DISE 2010-11, despite official discouragement, the number of private schools in the state rose from 26,551 in 2009-10 to 28,253 in 2011-12 with student enrolment rising from 42 to 44 million. Comments Dr. Vinay Jain, promoter-director of Witty Group of Institutions (estb.2000) which includes two schools with an aggregate enrolment of 2,100 students in Mumbai: “It’s very difficult to start a private school in Maharashtra with edupr-eneurs having to clear an elaborate red-tape process. Yet their number is rising every year despite the state government placing numerous hurdles in the path of private promoters. This shows the great demand for private school education. Parents in all strata of society don’t want their children stuck in government schools characterised by poor infrastructure, under-motivated teachers and low student learning outcomes. Even the  poorest households are aware of the rewards of quality school education and are willing to pay for it. Unless the state government does something radical to change the quality of teaching-learning in its schools, private school enrolments in the state will continue to rise.”
 
In short, what DISE and EDI 2010-11 demonstrate is that educational standards — especially in government schools — countrywide are unsatis-factory, even according to minimal benchmarks of education provision. A decade after the rollout of SSA, the overwhelming majority of India’s 35 states and Union territories are nowhere near global standards even on the quantitative EDI parameters of access, teachers, infrastructure and outcomes.
 
“The main reason behind the poor state of primary education as reflected in DISE and EDI 2010-11, is that government spending on education has never been a priority of the establishment. Even though way back in 1966, the Kothari Commission recommended that 6 percent of GDP must be spent on education, Central plus state spending on education has never exceeded 4 percent of GDP and averages 3.5 percent. Inadequate government expenditure compounded by inefficient funds utilisation has resulted in sustained neglect of the public education system, particularly in rural India. EDI 2010-11 offers very valuable information on the relative standing of the country’s 35 states and Union territories in elementary education provision. This data should be carefully analysed by all state governments to redraw their investment priorities to develop the nation’s human capital. Larger outlays for elementary education urgently need to be combined with serious teacher training to radically raise student learning outcomes. Improving their EDI rankings should become a top priority of state governments because the evidence that quality school education is the key to economic prosperity is overwhelming,” says Dr. A.S. Seetharamu, former professor of education at the Institute of Social and Economic Change, Bangalore and currently education advisor to the Karnataka government.
 
But with most state governments busy fire-fighting a slew of corruption scandals even while running up huge budget deficits, moving up on the Educational Development Index is unlikely to be a priority consideration. Therefore the wealth of data which serves as the basis for reform and upgradation of primary and upper primary schools in India’s 28 states and seven Union territories is likely to gather dust in musty government offices, even as vulnerable children continue to suffer from the sins of omission and commission of their tub-thumping elected leaders.
 
With Swati Roy (Delhi); Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai) & Praveer Sinha (Mumbai)

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