While India is the largest provider of elementary education through a nexus of government run or supported schools, the outreach to the target learner at primary level is a huge challenge.
Facts and Figures
While the Indian government has been laying great emphasis on primary education, according to 1991 census of India, at least 35 million children between the ages of six to 14 are not attending school. To add to this, a little over one-third of all children who enroll in Class one barely make it to Class 8. Of those, 53 percent are somewhere girls in the age group of 5 to 9 years who are still illiterate.
Primary Education is also referred to as Elementary Education for the age group of 6 to 14 years old children. These are considered important foundational years for the children, where their basics strengthen, they develop soft skill, understanding, language ability, enhanced creativity etc.
Today, 80 percent of all recognised schools at the elementary stage are government run or supported, making India the largest provider of education in the country. With the Narendra Modi run government, many promising educational schemes were introduced to India.
The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) was implemented as India's main programme for universalising elementary education. Its mandate was to provide universal access to education and retention, bridging of gender and social category gaps in education and enhancement of learning levels of children.
It also had other plans as a part of its intervention process including inter alia, construction and development of new schools, introduction of additional teachers, regular teacher in-service training, academic resource support that would ensure free textbooks, uniforms and support for improving learning outcomes. However, the outcome has been a sadly slow-paced implementation of the scheme, leading to low penetration rate. According to a 2016 survey conducted by NCERT, there has however now been a slight improvement in the overall learning levels for Class 3, 5 and 8.
Some of other popular policy interventions included the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao programme, E-Pathshala, Rashtriya Avishkar Abhiyaan for primary and secondary education and SWAYAM, etc.
Making it to the last?
While the Fundamental Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 provides a legal framework entitling all children between the ages of 6 to 14 years of age to free and compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education, there is a gap between the ones who enroll and the numbers that successfully pass out schools.
According to Pratham’s Annual Status of Education 2013 report (under the aegis of Aser Centre), close to 78 percent of children in Class III and about 50 percent of children in Class V still cannot read Class II textbooks. Arithmetic is also a cause for concern as only 26 percent students in Class V can attempt division.
As a mandate of the Right to Education, (RTE), in 2011, all private schools had to reserve 25 percent of seats for children ailing from socially disadvantaged and economically weaker sections. This provision would have encouraged social inclusion for a better India. As of now, only 8 percent schools have been made RTE compliant since the Act came into form.
There is serious need of intervention without which, such children, for one reason or the other, stand no chance to effectively progressing to the next stage of education. This is a challenge facing all schools under state and central government.
For another, teacher education and rigorous training is also the need of the hour. For example, The Commissioner of School Education in Hyderabad has made it a point to provide training to government school teachers, as part of improving their teaching skill set in subjects like mathematics, social and science in a residential mode. State governments are free to introduce such programmes and can take the help of the Education Ministry to provide timely progressive training and education to their manpower. The Delhi government which had been calling out educated professionals to come and spend time with children at elementary level to make their read textbooks successfully, will be inventing in a 5 week training on Trained Graduate Teachers, but primary teacher’s training remains a piped-dream.