Even as the Right to Education and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have made access to elementary education a reality for 99 per cent villages across the country, more than a quarter of enrolments in rural India are in private schools.
As per the ninth Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), released here on Wednesday, 29 per cent of enrolments in the six-to-14 age-group are in private schools. This is a 10 per cent increase in seven years from 18.7 per cent in 2006 to 29 per cent in 2013.
While this reflects a shifting of public faith in government schools, the growing preference for private schools is also indicative of a willingness to invest in a child’s education by parents who very often are themselves illiterate.
The preference for private schools is not necessarily reflective of the quality of public schooling. In Kerala, where the quality of public schools and teaching was found to be fairly good, 68.6 per cent of all children in the elementary level were in private schools. Manipur recorded the highest private school enrolment at 70 per cent.
Other States and Union Territories with a high percentage of elementary school children in private institutions include Puducherry (54.3 per cent), Haryana (51.4 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (49 per cent), Punjab (46.7 per cent), Jammu & Kashmir (45.5 per cent) and Meghalaya (45.3 per cent). As with private schooling, there is also a growing prevalence of private tuitions among elementary school students. The figure stands at 24.1 per cent.
Taking note of this trend, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said while the State should keep putting money into school education, the time might have come for a re-think on the more controversial issue of whether it should all go into government schools.
As for the poor learning outcomes of children in government schools, Mr. Ahluwalia sought to give some perspective to the otherwise bleak picture that emerged out of the statistics. In his view, poor learning outcomes would remain a problem for another decade or two since many of the children getting enrolled now are first generation learners with no back-up at home.
While there was no significant improvement in children’s ability to read or deal with basic arithmetic, the better percentage recorded in reading ability from 38.8 per cent in 2012 to 40.2 per cent in 2013 has been courtesy the better performance of private school children.
According to Madhav Chavan, president of Pratham Education Foundation — which has been carrying out this survey since 2005— the preference for private education is not just because of the clear failure of government schools to deliver on basic achievements in learning, but also mirrors growing urbanisation and increase in wealth and access to the external world and information. On urbanisation, he said, it was not just migration but includes increasing urban influence on rural population; thanks to television penetration.