[op-ed snap] Beyond physical access to schools


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: The ASER report

Mains level: Issues related to small schools in India. And possible solutions to improve the current situation.


Are elementary schools in India accessible?

  1. India has around 1.1 million elementary schools with 200 million children enrolled in them
  2. About 96% of the habitations now have elementary schools within a 3km radius
  3. In the last two decades, enrolment has been driven primarily by private schools

Issues in Indian Schooling System

  1. In 2015-16, there were about 250,000 elementary schools with an enrolment of 30 or less, out of which 78,300 have less than 15 students, according to Udise (unified district information system for education) data
  2. Nearly 7,200 schools have zero enrolment
  3. India has a huge dysfunctional public school system with small, tiny and empty schools scattered across the country

Why are small schools inefficient?

  1. Small schools compromise quality and efficiency by imposing enormous costs on providing physical and human resources, and for measuring and monitoring schooling outcomes
  2. Many studies have shown that small schools lead to increase in per-child expenditure
  3. Multi-grade teaching is common in small schools due to the difficulty in meeting teacher demands and increased cost, compromising schooling quality
  4. In small schools, teachers are also expected to handle a multitude of administrative tasks, such as monitoring midday meals and maintaining attendance records
  5. Teachers are also used for election duties and surveys
  6. The burden of school management and administration is much higher in small schools than large schools
    The Annual Status of Education Report
  7. Aser surveys from 2005-14 have indicated a learning-level crisis in India in reading and mathematics
  8. Due to low teaching inputs and infrastructural support, children in small schools are likely to have poor learning outcomes

What should be done?

  1. Restructuring the school systems by consolidating small schools in close proximity would bring efficiency by pooling students and teachers, without compromising access
  2. This would result in better utilization of resources, and monitoring
  3. The school management committees should be made functional with the effective participation of parents in monitoring school activities, and empowered to take financial decisions
  4. The medium of instruction, instead of being strictly vernacular, can combine with English from the early stages