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23. School Education


  • Universal access and retention:

o Hundred per cent enrolment and retention at elementary education and secondary education levels; achieve zero dropouts until Class X.

o Equitable participation by all society seg-ments, in terms of attendance, retention and years of schooling to ensure maximum social inclusion.

  • Improvement in learning outcomes for elementary and secondary education, as measured by successive rounds of the National Achievement Survey (NAS).
  • Creating a robust framework for tracking individual students across their schooling years that incorporates data on their learning outcomes.
  • Providing a real and viable alternative path for vocational education starting at higher levels to improve employability.
  • Strengthening support for children as part of the school curriculum to improve child mental health.

Current Situation 

The enrolment ratios for the elementary level are close to 100 per cent. In addition, the gross enrolment ratios (GER) for secondary education have also increased, even though the net enrolment ratio (NER) is still low. Moreover, data shows enrolment is largely similar across gender and castes.

The ASER surveys estimate that national attendance in primary and upper primary schools is 71.4 per cent and 73.2 per cent respectively, with considerable differences across states.1 The retention rates in elementary school are 70.7 per cent. The retention rates amongst scheduled tribes (STs) is 50.1 per cent.

The learning outcomes of those enrolled in the schooling system need improvement. The previous NAS conducted by National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) reports that over 60 per cent of Grade V students scored below 50 per cent across subjects.

Findings by an independent ASER household level survey (2016) in rural areas shows that among Grade V children, only 47.8 per cent could read Grade II level text and only 26 per cent could do Grade V level arithmetic.

Despite increasing access, enrolment in government primary schools declined by 2.31 crores in absolute numbers from 2007-08 to 2015-16 while enrolment in private primary schools increased by 1.45 crores over the same period.2

The reasons for the move from public to private schools is the perception of better quality of education provided by private schools amongst parents (which is also borne out from data by ASER over the years), and growth in private schools having affordable fees.

The government has already made significant efforts towards addressing the issue of poor learning outcomes. Recent changes by the government include the introduction of a new and comprehensive National Achievement Survey. The Ministry of Human Resource Development has also spelt out the competencies and learning levels at different grades on which school grading will be based.

In 2016-17, 4,790 vocational training schools across India were approved for providing vocational education at the secondary level. Of these, 3,662 schools are implementing the scheme.

Finally, the mental pressure on students, especially in secondary education, has been increasing. Data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows that student suicides have increased from about 6,600 in 2012 to about 9,000 in 2015, many of these because of stress related to examinations and careers. Thus, there is a need to reduce the mental stress students suffer from.


  • Inadequate public funding in the sector.
  • Disproportionate focus on school infrastructure as opposed to learning outcomes.
  • Challenges in governance and monitoring mechanisms for learning outcomes.
  • Accountability systems in government schools.
  • Inadequate teacher training, large number of teaching vacancies and rampant absenteeism.
  • Limited options for vocational education in the school system.
  • Inadequate support and counselling given to children in schools.

Way Forward 

  1. Education sector funding by government 

Government spending on education as a whole (not just school education) should be increased to at least 6 per cent of GDP by 2022. At present, allocations to the education sector by the centre and states remains close to 3 per cent of GDP, while according to the World Bank, the world average in this regard is 4.7 per cent of GDP.

  1. Revamped governance system to improve monitoring and accountability

State governments should develop and formulate robust mechanisms to enforce regulations on teacher qualifications, teacher absenteeism and learning outcomes. Learning outcomes should be regularly assessed by bodies independent of the line ministries.

  1. Gearing the system towards learning outcomes

Rationalize public school structure

School integration or clubbing of small schools (i.e. those with very low enrolment – see Table 23.1 below) could result in additional human, financial and infrastructure resources. States like Rajasthan have already initiated school integration programmes along with improved transport facilities for sparsely populated regions to achieve both higher quality and savings.

The preliminary result of these reforms has been a reduction in teacher vacancies from 60 per cent to 33 per cent, and a 6 per cent increase in enrolment in one year. In addition, retention rates have also increased, especially for girls.3 Rajasthan’s experience could be a good model to replicate.

Right to learning and measurement of remediation

  • Given the amendment to Rule 23(2) of the RTE, states should codify the expected learning outcomes for each class and put greater emphasis on continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) to achieve the defined learning outcomes.
  • The comprehensive national achievements survey initiated in 2017 needs to be institutionalised on an annual basis.
  • The remediation process should be made part of the education system and should be run concurrently with regular classes so that no child gets left behind.
  • In addition, high-school readiness programmes/ tutorials, including bridge programmes, should be incorporated just after class VIII or in the early months of class IX especially for remediation.
  • The CCE should also encompass compartmental exams to check the quality and outcomes of remediation. Passing each subject either directly or through subsequent CCE could be made a necessary condition for eligibility to appear in the subsequent grade’s exam. This may be implemented with or without the ‘no detention policy’.

Individualized tracking 

An electronic national educational registry may be conceptualised for tracking each child’s learning outcomes based on CCE and final exams through a unique ID. This will help track the cohort survival rate, and monitor students requiring remediation.

It will also help prepare a list of children who drop out after the elementary education level. Further, this will enable greater attention to be paid to the needs of children from socially deprived groups and those with physical or intellectual disabilities.

  1. Flexibility in education stream and vocational education
  • Develop a system of awarding credits for every subject and grade passed, specifying the minimum credits required to appear in the final exam for any grade. This system of credits may remain valid forever and be seamlessly integrated across different levels of education, providing an opportunity for life-long tracking of learning outcomes in the electronic national educational registry. This will enable bright children to amass more credits in the subjects of their interest, once the system attains maturity.
  • Give children the option, under the guidance of the school and parents, of branching into vocational courses from secondary school level upwards. Only children who expressly choose to continue with general education should be allowed to do so.
  • Develop separate track even within the general education stream, as has been done in certain advanced countries. A specially devised aptitude test must be conducted in the IX grade and re-checked in the Xth grade, based on which students should be given the option of choosing a ‘regular’ track versus an ‘advanced’ track. These two tracks would differ in the difficulty level and choice of subjects. Those pursuing the ‘regular’ track should be given the option of completing the ‘advanced’ track syllabus through open schooling at a later point in life.
  • Design guidelines for states to implement vocational education at the school level, which may cover aspects such as selection of schools/ trades, tendering process for labs, database of industry contacts for field visits/guest lectures, timings, workshops, permitting informal apprenticeships or assistantship in the formal system, etc.
  • Pilot different innovation models in vocational education and provide adequate funding for successful innovative programmes.
  1. Curriculum/syllabus 
  • Pre-primary and primary syllabus should be designed on a skill/competency-based continuum. At the pre-primary level, it would help develop school readiness, and at the primary level, it would facilitate multi-level and multi-grade teaching.
  • The vocational education syllabus should be NSQF-aligned and ensure smooth transition from school education to vocational education.
  • The curriculum should include summer activities and monthly study trips, including visits to practitioners for practical learning.
  1. Teacher training
  • Improving the quality of teaching is an integral aspect of improvement in school education. Given its importance, it is being covered separately in another chapter.
  1. Reducing mental stress
  • The above recommendations in terms of remedial education and allowing different tracks of education will help address students’ mental stress.
  • Life skills, including coping with failure/crises and stress management, should be included as part of the school curriculum.
  • Easy and safe access to mental health support should be strengthened. Child helplines should feed into easy and safe access to counselling in schools, especially for children at risk.
  • Easy and safe access to counselling and support must be provided for girl children in schools, especially focused on victims of abuse, violence and other gender-related social evils.

NITI AYOG - New India @ 75

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