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Beyond shala praveshotsav: Gujarat’s lag in enrolling children remains high

By Rajiv Shah 
Another three-day Gujarat government-sponsored Shala Praveshotsav, a “festival” involving the entire state officialdom, starting with the Gujarat chief minister, meant to enroll children at the primary level, has come to an end. An official release at the end of the festival claimed, “The state-wide enrollment drive gained great momentum under the leadership of chief minister Narendra Modi, who himself graced the mahotsav in Mendarada block of Chiroda, Samadhiyala and Rajesar primary school at Junagadh district.”
The official release claimed, on the third day, a total of 1,56,884 children in the age group 5+ years were enrolled, comprising 76,802 girls and 80,082 boys. It added, “Thus, in the three days of the enrollment drive, a total of 4,80,556 children consisting of 2,35,263 girls and 2,45,293 boys have been enrolled. Saying that ministers, “IAS, IPS and IFS officers of the state attended programmes at various backward blocks of Gujarat” for the festival, the release sought to celebrate “the festive spirit” amidst “joyous atmosphere in every village and town.”
Asserting that the total enrollment would near cent per cent, the release sought to describe the “festive atmosphere” in the following words: “Eligible children, dressed for the occasion, were taken to schools, where they were greeted with warm welcome by teachers, members school management committee (SMC) and other villagers. Welcomed with tilak on the forehead, the children were given sweets. Efforts were made to make them feel that a school is a place for fun and enjoyment. Enthusiastic participation was being reported from everywhere.”
This is not for the first time that such official releases are issued at the end of the Shala Praveshotsav, which suggest gross enrollment ratio. However, beyond the din of the festival, no efforts have been made to analyze what has been the net enrollment ratio, which would suggest the actual number of children who finally continue attending school. Nor are there any efforts suggesting the reason for those who fail to attend school. Without scrutinizing this, any effort to project enrollment as a festive occasion which could achieve wonders in three days has little meaning.
The latest National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) report, “Status of Education and Vocational Training in India”, brought out by the Union ministry of statistics and programme implementation in March 2013, suggests that these festivals have had little impact on the net enrollment of children. The sample survey suggests that Gujarat has far to go to ensure that those who enroll themselves at the primary level continue attending school, thus belying huge claims about successes in primary education. The situation is found to be bad both for boys and girls.
Gujarat’s net attendance ratio in rural areas at the primary level for the age-group 6-10 was found to be 73 per cent – 75 per cent for females and 72 per cent for males. One of the worst in India, whose average is 78 per cent, all states except Bihar (63 per cent) and Jharkhand (63 per cent), show a better performance than Gujarat. At the middle level, in the age-group 11-13, Gujarat’s net attendance ratio comes down to 51 per cent; in the age group 14-15 (secondary level), it is 40 per cent, and in the age-group 16-17 (higher secondary) it is a pathetic 21 per cent.
The situation is not rosy for the state’s urban areas as well. At 76 per cent (78 per cent for males and 72 per cent for females), the net enrolment ratio in the age-group 6-10 (primary) was lower than the all-India average of 78 per cent, with all except Bihar and Jharkhand showing a better performance. As one moves up, the percentage of attendance goes down – it 61 per cent in the age-group 11-13 (middle), 45 per cent in the age group 14-15 (secondary), and 42 per cent in the age-group 16-17 (higher secondary).
The NSS goes beyond this, and tries to find out reasons as to why children refuse to attend an educational institution. Taking an opinion from the age-group 5-29, as many as 45.8 per cent of the females (both rural and urban) said that they could not attend school because they had to attend to domestic chores, while another 18.2 per cent said they did not consider education as “necessary”. Further, a whopping 56.6 per cent of the males (both rural and urban) said they could not attend an educational institute because they should “supplement” household income.

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