Left behind: on the right to free, compulsory education


Findings of the Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) 2017:

  • The state of rural elementary education is far from encouraging.
  • To begin with, only 5% of the respondents in the survey, which was aided by the NGO Pratham, reported doing any kind of vocational course, and even among this small minority a third were enrolled for three months or less.
  • Moreover, learning outcomes for those who had progressed to higher levels of schooling were shockingly low: only 43% of the youth could solve an arithmetic problem involving division of a three-digit number by a single digit; among those who were no longer in school, the percentage was sharply lower.

The insights:

  • The insights available from successive studies point to progress being made in raw enrolment of children in school, but miserable failures in achieving learning outcomes.
  • Also, enrolment figures often do not mean high attendance.
  • It is not surprising, therefore, that a significant section of secondary level students find it difficult to read standard texts meant for junior classes or locate their own State on the map.
  • There are also discrete differences among States on the number of youth who are not on the rolls in appropriate levels of schooling.
  • Girls were worse off in terms of access to computers and the Internet. 

The Need for the hour:

  • The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act should cover the entire spectrum of 18 years, and not confine itself to those aged 6 to 14.
  • Guaranteed inclusion will empower those in the 14-18 age group who are not enrolled anywhere, and help them acquire finishing education that is so vital to their participation in the workforce.
  • Scaling up access to these can be achieved by bringing all children under the umbrella of a school, college or training institution. 
  •  All expenditure on good education is bound to have a multiplier effect on productivity. 

The Way Forward:

What is needed is a vision that will translate the objectives of the RTE Act into a comprehensive guarantee, expanding its scope to cover all levels of education. This will remove the lacuna in policy that awaits remedy seven decades after Independence.


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