Covid-19 impact: Financial stress pushed kids out of pvt schools

By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Nov 18, 2021 03:39 AM IST

The survey didn’t report any sharp spike in out-of-school children numbers, which hovered between 4% in 2018, 5.5% in 2020 and 4.9% in 2021.

Thousands of children in rural India switched from private schools to government-run institutions during the Covid-19 pandemic largely due to economic distress and depressed incomes of parents in the past year, a flagship nationwide survey said on Wednesday.

The survey didn’t report any sharp spike in out-of-school children numbers, which hovered between 4% in 2018, 5.5% in 2020 and 4.9% in 2021. (Representational image)(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)
The survey didn’t report any sharp spike in out-of-school children numbers, which hovered between 4% in 2018, 5.5% in 2020 and 4.9% in 2021. (Representational image)(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)

The Annual Status of Education Report (Aser) for 2021 also found that more children were dependent on paid private tuition classes across the country -- a consequence of schools being shut for months due to the virus -- and access to smartphones for education remained difficult for children even in households with such digital devices.

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“The major change in enrolment that is evident in Aser 2021 is a big jump in government school enrolment accompanied by a fall in private school enrolment. The increase in government school enrolment is across the board – all age-groups, grades and for both boys and girls,” said the report.

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The 16th edition of the report, issued by the non-profit organisation Pratham, was prepared on the basis of a household telephonic survey conducted in rural areas of 581 districts across 25 states and three Union territories between September and October this year.

Covid-19 impact: Financial stress pushed kids out of pvt schools
Covid-19 impact: Financial stress pushed kids out of pvt schools

The survey -- which covered 76,706 households, 75,234 children between 5 and 16, and teachers and staff from 7,300 government schools -- aimed to capture the transition in the education system at a time when schools are reopening in a staggered manner after almost 18 months due to the pandemic.

There was also some good news. The survey didn’t report any sharp spike in out-of-school children numbers, which hovered between 4% in 2018, 5.5% in 2020 and 4.9% in 2021. To be sure, a survey based on mobile phones could have left out the poorest families or those tied to economic migration patterns.

The report found a steady decline in private school enrolment numbers, which shrank from 32. 5% in 2018 to 28.8% in 2020 and 24.4% this year. Correspondingly, public school enrolment numbers rose from 64.3% in 2018, 65.8% in 2020 and 70.3% this year.

“Incidence of private schooling in India has been rising over time. From 2006 to 2014 there was a steady increase. After plateauing around 30% for a few years, there has been a significant decline in the pandemic years,” the report said.

Why did this happen? 62% of the teachers and staff surveyed attributed the shift to financial distress and about 50% ascribed it to free facilities in government schools. Around 40% said no studies were happening in private schools and 15% cited migration as the main reason for the switch to government institutions.

“The government-private split in enrolment in 2021 is close to the 2010 figures...Government school enrolment has been declining since 2006 till it stabilised at around 65% in 2018, jumping only in the last year to reach 70.3% in 2021,” said the report.

The maximum increase in government school enrolment was seen in Uttar Pradesh and Kerala, by 13.2% and 11.9% respectively, between 2018 and 2021. Both states were among the worst hit during the pandemic.

The national increase in government school enrolment is driven by large northern states like UP, Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana and southern states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. All of these states had high private school enrolment (in excess of 40%) to start with. If the shift away from private schools is due to financial distress, then it is not surprising that it will be most evident in states where private school enrolment was high to begin with,” said the report.

Other than Telangana, more than 8% increase in government school enrolment was witnessed in all the southern states [during the same period], the report said. In Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand, there was only a slight increase in enrolment in government schools during that period.

The findings show government school enrolment went up across all age groups, but the maximum was reported among younger students. For classes 1 and 2, the enrolment of boys in government schools rose 10.9% while for girls, the rise was 7.4% between 2020 and 2021.

“It has always been the case that more girls are enrolled in government schools as compared to boys. While this continues to be true in 2021, the proportion of boys enrolled in government schools has also increased from 63% in 2018 to 72% in 2021,narrowing the gender gap,” the report said.

Changes in the pattern of enrolment will become clearer when schools across the country completely reopen, the surveyors added.

“The enrolment in government schools over the last couple of years is reflective of the focus on education in the state. The steps taken by state government like easy enrolment of children of migrant workers who returned home during the first wave of pandemic, transfer of money in accounts of parents via Direct Benefit Transfer to purchase bags, shoes, sweater and uniform for children along with easy accessibility led to rise in enrolment,” UP basic education minister Satish Chandra Dwivedi said.

Earlier, several states, including Haryana and Delhi, had announced that their schools witnessed an influx from private schools amid the pandemic. For instance, according to the Delhi government, 270,000 students from private schools moved to their schools this year. In August, Haryana school education department released data saying around 200,000 students from private schools switched to government schools in the state.

The survey flagged two other major findings.

One, there was a 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of school children taking paid tuition classes since 2018. “At an all-India level, in 2018, less than 30 per cent children took private tuition classes. In 2021, this proportion has jumped to almost 40%. This proportion has increased across both sexes and all grades and school types,” the report stated.

The survey said the phenomena was a “natural response” to prolonged closure of schools States like Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Nagaland saw the sharpest increase in tuition between 2018 and 2021. In Arunachal Pradesh, 26.6% of children took tuition in 2018; however in 2021 the number increased to 46.3%. When comparing state-wise data, Arunachal Pradesh topped the list. This was followed by Uttar Pradesh where the percentage rose from 19.6% in 2018 to 38.7% in 2021. Nagaland also reported a sharp increase from 27.9 % in 2018 to 47% in 2021.Kerala bucked the trend with the number of students opting for private tuitions dropping from 28.3% in 2018 to 18.8% in 2021.

Two, access to digital devices remained fraught with challenges for children. Smartphones became important for education during the pandemic as teaching shifted online and teachers started taking classes virtually. But the survey found that even though smartphone penetration doubled in rural India (from 36.5% in 2018 to 67.6% in 2021) it did not necessarily translate into access to schooling.

“26.1 % surveyed students said they do not have access to smartphones despite having one at home,” the survey stated, adding that younger children were more deprived when it came to accessing smartphones.

It also highlighted that several states including Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar, were still lagging in terms of availability of smartphones among students. In Bihar, 54.4% of the surveyed students had smartphones at home, in West Bengal the percentage was 58.4% and in Uttar Pradesh it was 58.9%.

The report also expressed concern over the loss of learning levels among younger students and found that one in every three children enrolled in classes 1 and 2 had never attended in-person classes. The percentage of such children is 36.8% in government schools and 33.6% in private schools. “Entry to the world of formal education can be a difficult process at the best of times but the challenges these young children face as learners are therefore likely to be far more complex than would have been the case in pre-pandemic times,” said Suman Bhattacharjea, director of the Aser research centre.

The report also pointed out that the learning support at home for children decreased from 74.9% last year to 66.6% this year. Although the ASER 2021 survey didn’t cover learning outcomes due to schools being closed or partially open in several regions of the country, a sample assessment done in Karnataka in March highlighted a “huge drop” in learning levels among students, particularly among those enrolled in primary classes.

Experts attributed the shift from private to public institutions to pandemic-induced distress.

“Many parents lost their jobs amid the pandemic and were forced to pull their kids out of private schools and enrol them into government schools. Rather than making the child sit at home, parents put them in public schools. I think once the pandemic is over, in 2024, there will again be an increase in private school enrolments,” said educationist Gouri Ishawaran.

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    Fareeha Iftikhar is a principal correspondent with the national political bureau of the Hindustan Times. She tracks the education ministry, and covers the beat at the national level for the newspaper. She also writes on issues related to gender, human rights and different policy matters.

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