The curious case of missing student in Gujarat

Even as the state showcases itself as a development model worth emulating, figures tell a different story. The school enrolment figures in the Economic Survey 2012-13 paint a grim picture of Gujarat, inconsistent with its 'developed state' tag. Smitha R returns to the classroom to find out why Gujarat can't hold its students in school.

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10-year-old Laxmi used to walk 20 minutes every day to reach school. She was just beginning to read and was excited about it. But after her 10th birthday, she was informed that her schooling would be discontinued. Keeping busy with domestic work now, Laxmi often longingly stares at the dusty road leading to her school, wondering why her parents decided to discontinue her education.

What Laxmi does not know is that answers to the questions of her innocent mind are subject of intense discussion and research worldwide today. What she also does not know is that she has contributed to the school dropout statistics of measuring human development in India – she is now a part of around 28.7% of children who drop out of school between primary and upper primary stages in the state of Gujarat. This is according to the data released by the Economic Survey of the Union government a fortnight ago.

On the other hand, the data released by Gujarat government in the Socio-Economic Review 2012-13 pegs the drop out rate in primary education from Std 1-8 at a mere 7.56%. The report strategically gives comparative data between 1999-2000 and 2011-2012 – Narendra Modi’s decade as chief minister of the state. This data claims the drop out rate has dropped from 41.48 in ’99-’00 to 7.56 in ’11-’12. In the primary section, the state data claim dropout rate is as low as 2.07.

The method of calculation for both these data differs and government officials will defend the state government statistics, ofcourse, but activists and educationists working in the field find it difficult to believe. Social scientist Ghanshyam Shah, who has conducted several studies and authored research papers on the subject, says the state government’s data of 2% drop out rate is difficult to digest. “The situation is deteriorating, not improving for sure,” he says.

The cause
So, the question persists – why do the students drop out of school? What compels parents to terminate their education? It is a known fact that these figures mainly consist of lower income groups, and it is especially these sections that need the education the most so that it changes the future of coming generation.

Poor quality of education along with passive attitude towards ensuring enrolment in upper primary sections is what is being blamed for the situation. “The school enrolment ratio is a reflection of the enrolment in government schools. If the enrolment has fallen in the class 6 to 8 category viz-a-viz class 1 to 5, it is a clear indication that students are dropping out,” said Sukhdev Patel, an educational activist who has closely studied the government school structure.

Shah’s analysis is that majority of these dropouts come from tribal areas, because of whom the average actually goes up. “The requisition that school should not be farther than 5 km from home is not there. Besides, extreme poverty also plays a role. About the time when the child is 10 years of age, parents start believing spending time and money on education is wasting a source of income. Another reason is the significantly large seasonal migrant population. 33,000 households migrate from north Gujarat to south to work in sugarcane fields for six months annually around Valsad and Surat. Their education once discontinued does not restart,” he says.

Congress spokesperson and former Senate member of Gujarat University Manish Doshi claims the state government, though busy with multiple schemes and utsavs, is not serious about genuinely improving the availability of good primary education. “According to data released in Assembly recently, only one new public school has been added in Ahmedabad in last year, while 40 new self-financed schools have opened in this time.

Recently, a government resolution proposed the closure or merger of 13,000 government schools due to lack of students. If schools are merged and if they are 10-15 km from the students’ home, obviously the child will stop going,” he laments.
Quality of teachers, the salaries paid to them and the quality of mid-day meal are among the reasons for students to drop out.

According to Patel, another elementary reason why schools are unable to retain students is quality. “The quality of education is poor and nobody is concentrating on improving it. Various programmes to improve enrolment are being rolled out with fanfare. But nobody is talking of the quality of education in government schools,” he said.

Renu Sheth of Pratham, an NGO that has worked with pre-school and primary students other than dropouts, also agrees with Patel. “Quality of education is an issue. Up to class 5, a student despite not enjoying studies, may go to school. But when he is in class 6, he is old enough to express his opinion and may refuse to go,” Sheth said.

She said that such students, if they have failed to learn anything in the earlier class, would not want to be in a higher class where they don’t know anything. “Hence they will see dropping out of school as a better option,” she said. Sheth, however, believes that quality is not the only consideration. The number of schools is another concern. “Many villages have schools only up to class 5. For further studies, students have to go to another village. Parents may not be willing to send the children far and hence decide to stop their education,” she said, a point that even Patel agrees on. “Compared to lower primary schools, Gujarat has very few upper primary schools, particularly in rural areas. This could be another reason for the rise in number of dropouts,” he said.

Girl students more vulnerable
On why the enrolment ratio for girls fell sharper than boys in Gujarat even when relatively poor states like Madhya Pradesh managed to perform better, Patel had an interesting take. “The common resources like water, fodder and others are on the decline, particularly in rural areas of Gujarat. This means families have to travel far to get water and fodder. A girl child is more likely to be pulled out of school to help in getting water and fodder than a male child. This can explain why more girls drop out in higher classes than boys,” said Patel. He also said that in Gujarat, rapid industrialisation has been accompanied by indiscriminate destruction of natural resources, thus robbing many rural folks of their easy access to such resources. This in turn means villagers focus their energy in gathering these resources than in sending their children to a school that is far away, he said.

Do Schemes and Utsavs help?
The state government claims its multiple schemes and utsavs have practically eradicated the trend of dropping out from school. The government enlists Kanya Kelavani, Shala Pravesh Utsav and Gunotsav in which IAS officers and ministers urge parents to send their daughters to school and visit schools to evaluate the quality of teaching and teachers. Predictably, multiple studies and research papers have shown otherwise. In some cases, the utsavs themselves are a part of the problem rather than the solution.

The quality of education is being blamed on a teacher’s inability to remain present in class in the first place. “Where is the time to teach? Teachers in government schools in Gujarat are busy with government functions like Gunotsav, Khel Mahotsav and Kankaria Carnival. Forget quality, they don’t even have time to teach,” said Habib Mew, former member of Ahmedabad Municipal School Board. 

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