When the flagship education programme of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan began in 2001, it committed to bring every Indian child into school by 2005.
Four years on, the distance left to reach that goal is apparent with an independent survey commissioned by the government, finding 80 lakh children in India — more than Switzerland’s population — are still out of school.
The study, conducted as a new law makes school education a fundamental right, also found that this figure includes 1.3 lakh children just in New Delhi, one of India’s wealthiest cities.
The Indian Market Research Bureau did the current survey over some months of 2009. The body had conducted a similar study in 2005 for the government and found 1.3 crore children were not in school.
The market research body visited every district across India this year, choosing 40 per cent of the households covered by the National Sample Survey Organisation’s 64th round of survey in 2007. Investigators defined an out-of-school child as any child who had not attended school for the past two months.
The survey’s results are at wide variance with the estimate of 28 lakh out-of-school children by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, raising questions about the credibility of the government’s own reporting mechanism. A senior official in the HRD ministry speaking on conditions of anonymity, as 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 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 metros continue to report high numbers of out-of-school children from the urban poor, who are often migrants from rural India.
In Maharashtra, the state education secretary refused to conduct a survey of such children saying Mumbai’s teeming slums were too difficult to conduct such an exercise.