India is a young country with over 45% of the population in the age group of 0-19 years. The need for this important constituent of the Indian demography to realize its right to quality education and resources cannot be iterated enough.
The constitution defines education as a fundamental right and policy frameworks have repeatedly called for accessibility, equity and quality in its implementation. Yet government schools that are attended by more than 50% of students of school-going age, are not equipped to provide access to quality and equitable education, which can enable and empower students to become productive citizens of the country and to face challenges in school and beyond.
On the one hand, where India is projected to become the largest workforce by 2027, the abysmally poor learning levels amongst students of government schools pose a big problem to this statistic. Surveys conducted by the ASER centre on the quality of education in India reveal some eye-opening facts such as 73% of government school students in Class VIII can only read Class II level text.
Another shocking fact revealed by these studies is that only 50.3% of grade-5 students can read text prescribed in Class-2. Therefore, 13.2 Mn children in rural and 3.9 million children in the urban areas of the country, whose best bet to education is to access government schools, have access to the extremely low quality of education.
The situation escalates even further in the case of secondary students, as more than 70% of Class-9 students are not equipped with age-appropriate learning that have the twin effect of dropout and low transition to higher education. Female students face more complex challenges where multiple factors like distance to schools, parents’ disinterest, and early marriage prevent them from accessing schools, leave alone attaining quality education.
The situation is further exacerbated by the challenges around low learning outcomes that compromise academic performance thus acting as a key deterrent for parents to continue the education of their children. They would rather have their wards join the workforce, however unprepared.
All these factors together contribute to the substandard quality of human capital in our country where for every 25.5 million children born, only 20 million enter secondary school and merely 16 million complete Class 10.
Considering this scenario, it’s not surprising that India has amongst the poorest quality of human capital in the world, despite having a predominantly young population. The country is ranked at 115th position in the index with a score of 0.44 on a scale of 0 to 1 falling even below the mere average score for South Asia. Education in India requires singular attention by policymakers and practitioners alike to allow students to develop the necessary skills and be ready to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.
These efforts have to be commensurate with the scale of the problem and the solutions should be demonstrable across State contexts. Here we talk about a few ways by which the quality of government secondary education can be improved in India leveraging government funds and support.
Making Schools More Accountable by Improving Age-Appropriate Learning
The first step towards a better education system is making schools more accountable by improving age-appropriate learning outcomes. The dependency on the tuition economy is often an added economic burden for parents. According to a report by The Times Of India, 65 percent of parents spend more than half of their take-home salary on their child’s secondary education.
The responsibility to provide adequate attention and quality resources must shift to the schools themselves and they must be equipped to provide access to quality and equitable education that enables and empowers students to stay in schools.
The urgency to shift the lens to improve learning outcomes beyond just enrolment and provision of infrastructure facilities is also echoed in key policy frameworks such as Samagra Shiksha Abhiyaan, that calls for a paradigm shift in assessing central sector spending on school education by focussing on learning outcomes among others.
In Niti Aayog’s School Education Quality Index (SEQI), learning and equity outcomes form almost 58% of the total index score weightage.
This is why making schools accountable and providing age-appropriate learning outcomes to students while having a proper risk-reward system for teachers in place is important in order to improve the quality of education provided in government schools at the secondary level. It is quite critical to keep a check on the educators, enabling them with job aids and innovative pedagogies for better engagement in classrooms and have a system that ensures regular attendance and equitable education of students.
Ensuring Deeper Community Involvement Through School Management Development Committees (SMDCs)
The quality of secondary education can also be improved by ensuring deeper community involvement with the help of School Management Development Committees (SMDCs). The role of SMDCs revolves around increasing the role of community stakeholders through planning and improvement of schools. Along with this, SMDCs also work towards improving the credibility of school leaders and headteachers making them appear as role models and mentors in the eyes of students.
Making Schools Safe For Girls
By the time a girl reaches secondary education, latent issues around gender discrimination become more mainstream. According to statistics, in low-income countries like ours, only 1 in 3 girls complete secondary education.
These problems get further heightened when girls do not perform at grade-appropriate levels thereby triggering household-level decisions to withdraw them from schools. UNICEF has stated that factors such as poverty and cultural beliefs that are the root causes behind discrimination against girls are also the major factors causing gender inequality in education across the country.
The lack of female teachers also presents itself as a major issue. Studies have proven that the unavailability of female teachers is one of the reasons for the drop-out of female students. While more women are qualifying to become teachers every year, for 100 male teachers, there are only a little over 70 female teachers employed by government schools. Increasing this ratio can undoubtedly increase student attendance in schools, in turn, improving the quality of education.
These are a few ways in which the quality of education, particularly around learning outcomes can be significantly improved. While these measures have the ability to address the problem at scale, a real difference can only be seen by the political and civil society’s intentions, the will to educate and to attain education to fully realize the potential of demographic dividend in India.