Despite these gains, the demand for education far exceeds supply at all levels. The program is now focusing on completing the “access” agenda, improving the quality of student learning, lowering repetition and dropout rates, and reducing teacher and student absenteeism. It has also increased its focus on upper primary education, as well as on expanding the number of secondary schools and the quality of education they provide.
1. Bringing the remaining 10 million children into elementary school
Some 10 million elementary age children remain out-of-school. This includes children who are the hardest to reach such as those living in remote locations, belonging to long-deprived communities such as scheduled tribes, minority communities, as well as children with special needs.
Most out-of-school children are concentrated in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. The SSA has therefore earmarked 75 percent of the total resources for education to these states. Special programs are now catering to educationally backward parts of districts where there are huge gender gaps.
2. Providing quality elementary education
Having made great strides in increasing enrollment, the SSA is now focusing on improving the quality of education provided in state schools. State and central governments and non-governmental organizations are paying increasing attention to monitoring learning in schools as that is the ultimate objective. The program aims to reduce the student-teacher ratio to 40:1.
Tamil Nadu has made a paradigm shift in teaching methods to transform learning. These innovations have been scaled up with reportedly consistent quality across the state’s 37,500 primary schools and 12000 upper primary schools in just two years. Several states are now coming forward to learn from Tamil Nadu’s innovations.
3. Expanding access, infrastructure, and quality in secondary education
With more children now completing elementary school, there is a growing demand to provide access, infrastructure, and quality secondary education to all. Slightly over half of all children between 15-16 years of age are enrolled in secondary school and just 30 percent are enrolled in senior secondary school. Of these, about 10 percent drop out altogether and some one-third fail the school-leaving Board examinations. In Latin American countries, 80 percent of children complete secondary school and 60 percent do so in China. The data below show that in 2004 just 16 percent of India’s labor force had a secondary education, compared to 45 percent in China in 2000. This suggests that India will need to make urgent investments in secondary education if it is to compete globally.
India ’s impressive achievements in improving access to elementary education indicate that with commitment, resources, and mobilization of all stakeholders, and a targeted approach, India can successfully take on the remaining challenges.