Primary education or  elementary education is typically the first stage  of compulsory education,  coming  between early childhood education and secondary education. Elementary education is fundamental in providing the basis for a rational populace and consequently equitable economic growth with advances in all human welfare indices.

Nelson Mandela highlighted that Education is the liberator from the shackles of ignorance, poverty, and social and economic exclusion, through his famous quote “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

The same thought is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in Article 26 which held that every individual has the right to education. However, seven decades after the UDHR, 58 million children are out of school globally and more than 100 million children get eliminated from the schooling system before completing primary education.

Ironically, India which once held the position of “Vishwa Guru” (world’s teacher), tops the list of countries with out-of-school children. But Kerala has shown a silver lining as it is now all set to be declared the first state in the country to achieve complete primary education.

Need for reforms

  • The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development (HRD) submitted its report on the 2020-2021 demand for grants for school education to the Rajya Sabha. In this report, the committee has made various observations on state of government schools in India.
  • Almost half the government schools in the country do not have electricity or playgrounds.
  • The budgetary allocations saw a 27% cut from proposals made by the School Education Department. Despite proposals for ₹82,570 crores, only ₹59,845 crores were allocated.
  • The panel expressed disappointment over the stark deficits in the government school infrastructure.
  • Only 56% of schools have electricity, with the lowest rates in Manipur and Madhya Pradesh, where less than 20% have access to power.
  • As per UDISE survey, less than 57% of schools have playgrounds, including less than 30% of schools in Odisha and Jammu and Kashmir.
  • There is slow progress in building classrooms, labs and libraries to strengthen government higher secondary schools.
  • Overall, for the core Samagra Shiksha Scheme, the department had only spent 71% of revised estimates by December 31, 2019.
  • India is also dealing with a scenario of significant teacher vacancies, which are to the tune of almost 60-70 per cent in some states.
  • The learning crisis is evident in the fact that almost half of the children in grade 5 in rural India cannot solve a simple two-digit subtraction problem, while 67 per cent of children in grade 8 in public schools score less than 50 per cent in competency-based assessments in mathematics.

Key Highlights of ASER 2021

  • School Enrollment Patterns
    • At an all-India level, there has been a clear shift from private to government schools. For children in the age group of 6-14, enrollment in private schools has decreased from 32.5% in 2018 to 24.4% in 2021.
    • No change in children aged 6-14 not enrolled in school.
    • More older children in school than ever before.
    • There is a fair amount of variation in enrollment at the state level. The national increase in government school enrollment is driven by large northern states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana and southern states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. In contrast, in many north-eastern states, government school enrollment has fallen during this period, and the proportion of children not enrolled in school has increased.
    • The enrollment of children in government schools has increased notably over the last two years. Government schools and teachers need to be equipped to deal with this influx.
  • Tuition
    • Big increase in children taking tuition.
    • Increase in tuition-taking highest among the less advantaged.
    • Fewer children whose schools have reopened are taking tuition.
    • The proportion of children attending private tuition classes has shot up since 2018 during an extended period of school closures and uncertainty. This might lead to a bigger learning gap between students who can and cannot afford paid tuition.
    • The incidence of tuition has increased across all states except Kerala.
  • Access to Smartphones
    • Smartphone ownership has almost doubled since 2018.
    • Household economic status makes a difference in smartphone availability.
    • Although over two-thirds of all enrolled children have a smartphone at home (67.6%), over a quarter of these have no access to it (26.1%).
  • Learning support at Home
    • Learning support at home has decreased over the last year.
    • School reopening is driving decreasing support.
  • Access to Learning Materials
    • Almost all children have textbooks.
    • Slight increase in additional materials received.

Challenges faced in Primary Education

  • Infrastructure deficit:
    • Dilapidated structures, single-room schools, lack of drinking water facilities, separate toilets and other educational infrastructure is a grave problem.
  • Corruption and leakages:
    • The transfer of funds from the central to state to local governments to school leads to involvement of many intermediaries.
    • The fund transfer is drastically reduced by the time it reaches the true beneficiaries.
    • High rates of corruption and leakages plague the system, undermine its legitimacy and harm the many thousands of honest headmasters and teachers.
  • Quality of Teachers:
    • Lack of well trained, skilled and knowledgeable teachers which provide the foundation for a high quality education system.
    • Teacher shortages and poorly qualified teachers are both a cause and effect of poorly paid and managed teaching cadres.
  • Non-Academic burden:
    • The teachers are overburdened with senseless reports and administrative workload. This eats into the time which is necessary for teaching.
    • A study by the National Institute of Education Planning and Administration (NIEPA) revealed that teachers spend only around 19 percent of their time teaching while the rest is spent mostly on non-teaching administrative work.
  • Poor salary:
    • Teachers are paid miserly salaries which affect their interest and dedication to work. They will look for other avenues like tuitions or coaching centers and coax the students to attend it.
    • This has dual effect, firstly the quality of teaching in schools drop and secondly, the poor students are forced to spend money despite constitutional provision of free education.
  • Teacher Absenteeism:
    • Absence of teachers during school hours is rampant. The lack of accountability and poor governance structures add to the woes.
  • Lack of Accountability:
    • School Management Committees are largely dysfunctional. Many exist solely on paper.
    • Parents are often not aware of their rights and if they are it is difficult for them to make their voice heard.
  • High drop-out rates:
    • The drop-out rates in schools, especially girls, is very high.
    • Many factors like poverty, patriarchal mindset, lack of toilets in schools, distance to schools and cultural elements lead to children dropping out from education.
  • School closure:
    • Many schools are closed to low student strength, lack of teachers and infrastructure. The competition posed by private schools is also a major challenge to government schools.

Government Schemes for Elementary Education

With the formulation of National Policy on Education, India initiated a wide range of programmes for achieving the goal of UEE (Universalization of Elementary Education) through several schematic and Programme interventions, such as

  • Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
    • Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is implemented as India’s main Programme for universalizing elementary education. Its overall goals include universal access and retention, bridging of gender and social category gaps in education and enhancement of learning levels of children.
  • Mid Day Meal: It is one meal that is provided to all children enrolled in government schools, government-aided schools, local body schools, special training centres (STC), madrasas and maktabs supported under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA)
  • Mahila Samakhya
  • Strengthening for providing quality Education in Madrassas ( SPQEM)

Measures needed for Primary Education in India

  • Teachers must only teach:
    • Employ young people, equip them with a tablet computer and let them be cluster administrators. One cluster of schools consists of around ten schools.
    • The cluster administrators will overtake the administrative tasks and ensure that teachers and headmasters can focus on academic work.
    • Better policies like transparent transfer mechanisms, which urgently need upscaling and strengthening. After adequate teacher positioning, school autonomy and teacher collaborations have demonstrated in many pilots to be the catalyst that transforms the education system.
    • Teacher’s own collectives or networks built collaborations and institutional capacities of teachers.
  • Digitization:
    • Create a single-window system for infrastructure and mainstream fund-flows: In Bihar, only around 10 percent of the schools fulfils infrastructure norms. A study revealed that files for renovating schools often go on a two-year journey through various departments.
    • The same can be applied for teacher salaries and school funds. These can be transferred directly from the State to the teachers and schools. There is no need to involve the District or Block in this process.
    • Leveraging the audio-visual edutainment to make education more interesting and easier to understand for the children. This will improve the quality as well as reduce the drop-out rates.
    • Implementing bio-metric attendance for teachers and students for every class can help reduce absenteeism.
  • Empower School Management Committees by using mobile phones:
    • To develop a system that facilitates School Management Committee members by fostering democratic accountability.
    • Social audits should also be carried out for effective functioning.
  • The Government must insist on fixing teachers’ accountability in public schools and learning outcome-based recognition for all schools, be it public or private schools.
  • Better pre-service teacher training coupled with transparent and merit-based recruitments is a lasting solution for teacher quality.
  • Improve the quality of teacher education by making teacher training mandatory. Example: National Council for Teacher Education Act amendment bill, Diksha portal to train teachers.
  • Increase the public spending on education to 6% of GDP as recommended by many committees like the recent TSR Subramaniam committee.
  • Teachers are rarely reprimanded for non-performance, while there are recommendations for removal of non-detention policy. The blame is squarely on the children, such an attitude must be wiped out.
  • Teachers’ efficiency will improve with administrative incentives, better pay and a systematic change in the professional development of this cohort.
  • Education policy in India is focused on inputs rather than learning outcomes; It has a strong elitist bias in favour of higher education as opposed to primary or secondary education. This needs a change by coming out with a new policy.

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