Class act? That's a cruel joke

Jun 09, 2011

India's education system is staggeringly huge. Its 300 million students and 6.5 million teachers could make up the world's fourth largest country. In this otherwise sleepy behemoth, far-reaching changes have been taking place in recent years.

Enrolment in primary classes is touching 100%. Over 120 million kids are getting free mid-day meals at school. The literacy rate has increased to almost 75%. The right to education has been enshrined as a law. There has been a surge of interest and attention towards education, largely because people no longer are willing to let their children stagnate in backwardness. Education is increasingly being seen as the door to a better life.

This momentum and the accompanying euphoria, however, hide a stark truth that many are unable to see: that the education system continues to suffer from four great divides. These are — ruralurban, men-women, rich-poor and between castes. These divides are built into the system. As a result, vast millions on the wrong side of these divides are denied the benefits of modern education, their dream of prosperity crushed.


Take the case of scheduled castes and tribes. They account for about a quarter of the population. Recent years have seen an intense urge in them to get educated. At the elementary (Class VIII) level, gross
enrolment ratios, that is, the ratio of those enrolled to the total number of children in the 6-14 year age group, have increased at a faster rate for dalits and tribals than for other sections.

But look beyond the elementary level and you see a grim picture. The drop-out rate for dalits is about 53% and for tribals a staggering 63%. This is way above the average for the country, which is 43%, in itself a pretty high figure. In some large states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Rajasthan, over 50% of dalit children do not go beyond Class V. In other words, vulnerable sections like dalits and tribals, who are also among the poorest, are not able to continue educating their children.

By Subodh Varma