“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” -Nelson Mandela
The Right to Education Act (RTE) was enacted in 2009 and came into force in 2010. It made free and compulsory education a fundamental right for the children from age six up to age fourteen and directed the Government to provide it.
In short, it made primary education (l-V) in India a right rather than a privilege. The Act resulted in a high gross enrolment rate (GER) of 99.2 percent (2015-16) in primary education. However, as we climb up the education ladder, the situation changes. The enrolment rate decreases for upper primary and secondary education, and the drop-out rate increases. The GER for Upper Primary (VI-VIII), Secondary (XI-XII), Senior Secondary (XI-XII), and Higher Education stands at 92.8%, 80.0%, 56.2%, and 24.5% respectively. The drop-out rate for Primary, Upper-Primary, and Secondary education stands at 4.13%, 4.03%, and 17.06% respectively.
According to National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO), the following are the primary reasons for dropping out of school for males and females-
On average, only 70 out 0f 100 students finish school in India. This number further diminishes for the tribal population with only 61 out of 100 students finishing senior secondary school, which is the lowest among all communities.
The significant drop out rates in India have significant and far-reaching impacts on the individual and his family, including their spouses and progeny in the future.
Health of the family-
Education is considered a prerequisite for women's empowerment. It has been found that education of girl child results in a virtuous chain reaction- better literacy leading to a delayed age of marriage, which results in fewer children and hence poverty reduction. Fewer children and education also enable the mother to seek better antenatal and postnatal care for the children, leading to a reduction in child mortality and malnutrition. On the other hand, dropping out of school by girls can lead to child marriage, having children at an early age, and poor health of both mother and children, leading to increased child mortality rate.
A vicious cycle of poverty-
A poor wage laborer’s child can release oneself from the clutches of poverty through education. Education leads to an increase in choices for a vocation, better blue-collar jobs, and more wages. Completing school education also provides a choice for individuals to pursue a college education and a career in white-collar jobs. However, dropping out of school diminishes the choice for the individuals. Many times, the reason for dropping out is the financial constraints of the family, which forces the child into child labor in order to maintain the family. This again leads to the child working as a manual laborer with low wages, and the vicious cycle of poverty continues as the child’s progeny in the future might be subjected to a similar fate.
Awareness of rights-
Lack of education due to dropping out can lead to a lack of awareness about one’s rights in the society and country. This impediment can make them further vulnerable to exploitation by employers, contractors, middlemen, or landlords. This also leads to a lack of awareness regarding various government schemes which they can avail and benefit from. The Centre cited lack of education among elders in the tribal community as a reason for low enrolment and high drop-out rates among tribal communities as the elders do not understand the importance of formal schooling. This can also lead to a vicious chain reaction of the children of drop-outs not being educated due to poor awareness of their parents and so on.
Completion of schooling enables one to seek higher education and represent their community in various fields, including teaching, politics, corporates, etc. This enables the voices of people from oppressed communities such as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes to be heard by people dominating the mainstream, leading to change of laws and social norms in favor of ending discrimination against them and their further empowerment. However, along with other factors hindering them to pursue higher education, high drop-out rates of 5.51% and 8.59% among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes respectively in the upper primary level also leads to lack of education among them and hence, lack of representation.
Poor Community Empowerment-
Educated people from poor socio-economic backgrounds inspire and also take concrete measures to uplift their communities. Many of them become teachers and educate the children of their villages, become medical professionals, ASHA, or Anganwadi workers, or become members of the Panchayats, helping to bring reforms for the betterment of the community. Lack of education due to dropping out of school leads to an inability to do so, leading to no upliftment of their community.
The NSSO in 2017-18 has estimated the number of out-of-school children (6-17 years of age) in India at 3.22 crore. Experts point out that this number will double in a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and closure of schools. The children from poor socio-economic backgrounds have faced the biggest brunt due to the loss of jobs of parents and the poor digital infrastructure. This will lead to increased drop-out rates as the children will have to seek jobs to support the family. Even if that is not the case, lack of devices and poor internet connectivity has led to an inability to attend the online classes, leading to loss of school days and increased chances of drop-out. The disadvantage for girls is greater as their access to technology is lesser than the boys. Moreover, the lockdown and closure of physical classrooms have made them more vulnerable to early marriage, leading to an increase in drop-out rates for them.
There is a dire need to remedy the situation and find solutions to reduce the drop-out rates to lead to an increase in equity and prosperity for the people.
About the Author: Sowmya Jain is an alumnus of Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) from batch 2020. She is currently working as a pre-doctoral research fellow at IWMI-Tata Water Policy Program. She is passionate about public policy, social activism and bringing positive change in the society, She also tries her hand at comedy occasionally and is an avid dog lover.