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Indicus Analytics: Hard lessons in education

Dropout rates have fallen, especially among girls, but they are still worryingly high

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Though free and for all children aged six to 14 years is now a constitutional commitment, apart from providing access to school facilities, it is an uphill task to ensure that children stay in school. The dropout rate at primary level is calculated as the ratio of enrolment in Class V to enrolment in Class I. Though official enrolment statistics can be unreliable and lead to negative dropout rates in some cases, the dropout rate has always been used as a standard indicator for retention. Government statistics show that the problem continues to be serious; 24.93 per cent of children dropped out of in 2008-09.

An encouraging trend has been that dropout rates in primary education came down from 65 per cent in 1960-61 to 25 per cent in 2008-09. More importantly, this decline shows up more sharply for girls: in 1960-61, the dropout rate for girls at primary level was around nine percentage points higher than that of boys, while in 2008-09 the dropout rate for boys exceeded that for girls by around four percentage points. The significant change in the dropout rate for girls has occurred over the period 2000-01 to 2004-05 — in just four years, there was almost 40 percentage point reduction in girl dropout rates. However, despite this positive trend, dropout rates in India remain too high for the country to attain the status of universal retention at the primary level of education.

In many states, dropout rates at primary level are seen to be alarmingly high. The north-eastern states fare poorly in terms of retention of children in school. Meghalaya records the highest dropout rate in the country, with about 59 per cent of children dropping out of school at an early age. Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Sikkim have recorded dropout rates of more than 40 per cent — higher than the all- India average by 12 to 17 percentage points. Rajasthan, Bihar, Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Orissa, too, have performed poorly: more than a third of children in these states have dropped out of primary school. (Click here for chart)

The best performing states are Assam, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Chandigarh, Daman and Diu, and Puducherry — they have registered almost no dropouts. These are followed by Delhi and Tamil Nadu, where the dropout rate is in the range of 0.5-2 per cent. Similarly, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka and Haryana are better performers, with their dropout rates at the primary level being far below the all-India average.

A bright aspect is that for most of the states, the dropout rates are higher among boys than that for girls, the exceptions being Manipur, Punjab, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh.

According to surveys by the National Sample Survey Organisation, the most common reason given by girls for dropping out is to look after housework, while boys stay home to supplement household income. Keeping children in schools to complete basic education is, therefore, a challenge that goes beyond the schooling system.


Indian States Development Scorecard, a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics, focuses on the progress in India and across the states across various socio-economic parameters.

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