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Population changes might have led to fall in primary school numbers in Maharashtra

Number of children attending Class 1 to 8 fell from 16.17 million in 2014-15 to 15.91 million in 2017-18

mumbai Updated: Mar 12, 2018 00:59 IST
Manoj R Nair
Manoj R Nair
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Economic Survey of Maharashtra,primary school
While the number of children below the age of 15 has fallen, the fertility rate in Maharashtra has also reduced.(RESPRESNTATIONAL PHOTO/HT FILE)

The recently released Economic Survey of Maharashtra 2017-18 has revealed that the number of students at primary schools in the state has been declining for the last three years.

The survey reveals that the number of children attending Class 1 to 8 had fallen from 16.17 million in the academic year 2014-15 to 15.91 million in 2017-18 – a drop of 1.6%. The enrolment at secondary and higher secondary level (Class 9 to 12) went up by 7.6%, from 6.18 million to 6.64 million over the same period.

Experts have not been able to identify the exact reasons behind the drop in the number of children in primary school; they have implied that the fall in the number of children in primary schools could be because of rising dropout rates and a dip in fertility rates. Though India is ensuring that a larger proportion of children remain in school, dropout rates are still a concern. A study titled ‘School Dropouts: Examining the space of reasons’ authored by Arun NR Kishore and KS Shaji, published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, says that in 1993, 27 million children were enrolled in Class I in schools across the country. In 2003, only 10 m of these children (one in three) reached Class 10.

Two separate sets of data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) can explain the fall in the number of children in primary schools. The NFHS 4 for 2015-16, released last year, says that the number of children below 15 years, as a percentage of the total population of Maharashtra, fell to 24.5% in 2015-16 compared to 30.6% in 2005-2006 when NFHS 3 was compiled. Similarly, the fertility rate – the number of children born to a woman – has declined from 2.1 to 1.9 between the periods of the two surveys.

During this period, the state’s population has grown, though moderately, and NHFS data does not indicate whether this fall in proportion of under-15 in the state’s population has also resulted in a decline in absolute numbers. But data from the national population census reveal that the absolute number of children are also declining. The state’s child population (in this case, children up to six years) was 13.32 million in 2011 – a decline of around 345,000 from the earlier population count in 2001. As a percentage of the total population, the proportion of children up to six years has dropped from 17.1% in 1991 to 14.1% in 2001, falling further to 11.9% in 2011. The proportion could be below 10% now if the trend has continued.

All these data suggest that women in Maharashtra are having fewer children, resulting in the drop in the number of students in primary schools. Data on school enrolment also suggest that the decline in number of students in primary schools could be because of a drop in the absolute numbers for that age group. A study of over 100,000 households, conducted last year by the Maharashtra government, found that 99.3 per cent children in age group 6-14 years were attending school.

The changes in Maharashtra’s child demographics follow trends in other parts of the country. The NFHS shows that in Kerala, the proportion of children below 15 years fell from 24.4% of the population in 2005-06 to 20.2% in 2015-16. Even in Bihar, where fertility rates are still high – though it fell from 4 in 2005-2006 to 3.4 in 2015-16, the proportion of under-15 fell from 43.8% to 39.3 during the same period.

Education experts have said that when there is a drop in the number of students in schools because of demographic changes, there is an opportunity to improve facilities in schools as the per-capita spend (money spent on each child) on education goes up, with opportunities to pursue a lower student-teacher ratio and better infrastructure.

Of course, teaching and learning standards, especially in schools run by the state government and municipal corporations, continue to be abysmal. The Annual Status of Education (ASER) survey showed that only 27% of students in Class 8 can read Class 2-level texts and 31% of Class 8 students can do the simple mathematical exercise of dividing numbers.

First Published: Mar 12, 2018 00:59 IST