When launching the country’s flagship education programme in 2001, the government promised to bring every Indian child to school by 2005. Four years on, 80 lakh (eight million) children — more than the population of Switzerland — are still out of school. See Graphics
An independent survey commissioned by the government, conducted as a new law makes school education a fundamental right, found that this figure includes 1.3 lakh children just in Delhi, one of India’s wealthiest cities.
The Indian Market Research Bureau conducted the survey in 2009. The bureau conducted a similar study in 2005 for the government and found that 1.3 crore children were not going to school.
Investigators defined an out-of-school child as any child who had not attended school for the past two months.
The market research entity visited every district across India this year, choosing 40 per cent of the households covered by the National Sample Survey Organisation’s 64 th round of survey in 2007.
The survey results are at wide variance with the estimate of 28 lakh out-of-school children by the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, raising questions about the credibility of the government’s own reporting mechanism.
A senior official in the Human Resource Development Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity because the study has not been made public yet, said, “We have to discuss these findings. How to reconcile them with the figures reported to us by each state is a challenge for us.”
Officials reckon that the mid-day meal scheme — a cooked lunch meant to retain children in school — could be having the unintended effect of inflated enrolment numbers. “In order to get the meal grants and supplies, schools might be reporting students whose presence is limited to school registers,” said the official.
Educationists are also worried that India’s metropolitan cities continue to report high numbers of out-of-school children from the urban poor, who are often migrants from rural India.
In Delhi, 1.38 lakh children are out of school in 2009, up from 84,424 in 2005. In Maharashtra, the state education secretary flatly refused to conduct a survey of such children, saying Mumbai’s teeming slums were too difficult to conduct such an exercise.
An educationist, who was associated with reviewing the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan coverage this August, said, “The children of the urban poor … are emerging as a disadvantaged category in themselves. They need special policies that identify who they are, their problems, and ensure learning and retention, with a better school infrastructure.”