Amid the shift of students from private schools to those run by the government in several parts of the country, the Economic Survey 2021-22 has urged the Centre as well as states to equip these institutes for the growing number of pupils.
“If the (migration) trend holds, public schools need to be equipped with additional support, in terms of teacher-pupil ratio, classroom space, and teaching/learning materials, to absorb students migrating from private schools and from urban to rural areas,” said the Economic Survey tabled in the parliament on 31 January.
The statement assumes significance, as it sets the tone for an enhancement of education budget outlay for 2022-23.
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In the social service sector, education allocation by both the Centre and states remained static at 3.1 percent of the GDP in FY22 as against FY21. In contrast, health expenditure went up to 2.1 percent of the GDP in 2021-22 from 1.8 percent in the year-ago period.
The survey said the pandemic has had a significant impact on the education system, affecting lakhs of schools and colleges across India.
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Since the education ministry data is only available up to 2019-20, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on enrolment and dropout rates during 2020 and 2021, could not be assessed through comprehensive official data. Thus, policy-makers have taken into account alternate sources.
Various smaller surveys by the government, and by citizen-led non-government agencies such as the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2021 have assessed the impact during the pandemic for the education sector in rural areas.
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ASER found that during the pandemic, children in rural areas have moved out of private to government schools in all three age groups.
Possible reasons for the shift were: shut down of low-cost private schools, financial distress of parents, free facilities in government schools, and families migrating back to villages.
The survey said disproportionately high fees in private schools could also be the reason for the shift. However, data from private surveys has shown that the lion’s share of the over 4 lakh private schools in India were low-cost schools, charging less than Rs 1,500 a month.
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“In July 2020, the government has issued guidelines for main-streaming of children of migrant labourers, allowing for their smooth admissions into schools without asking for any documents other than identity,” the Economic Survey said.
According to the ASER published in November 2021, private school enrollment dropped from 32.5 percent in 2018 to 24.4 percent in 2021.
The shift in schooling as shown in the survey, said experts, proves that the income loss and job loss, reverse migration, and inability to pay private school fees in a pandemic year pushed parents in rural India to move their kids to government schools or withdraw them.