India is one of the countries with the longest school closures due to the pandemic in the world. While the global average for school closures was less than 35 weeks, it was 73 weeks in India until the end of September 2021, with the third wave forcing further closures. When children return to school after almost two years without formal instruction, the learning deficits should be much deeper.
In addition, many small, affordable private schools have closed and with migrants returning to their villages, demand for public education has likely increased during the pandemic, says the 2021 Annual State of Education Report.
But while the pandemic has brought new demands on public education, the situation was grim before it even began.
Let’s sample these:
- Of the nearly 11 lakh public schools in India, four lakh have fewer than 50 students and 1.1 lakh have fewer than 20 students.
- Only about 19% of a teacher’s annual class hours are devoted to teaching activities. The rest of the time is spent on non-academic activities such as electoral duties, data collection, distribution of lunches, etc.
- In more than 60% of public primary schools in Uttar Pradesh, children were found sitting in tiered classrooms, possibly due to lack of space or teachers, according to the Annual Report on state of education 2018.
- Only 12% of Std III children could read at Std II level and 11% could solve a simple Std II level subtraction problem.
All of this underscores that the need for a drastic improvement in public education also requires more government spending. However, instead of increasing, it has decreased over the past 10 years. From 11.4% of total government spending in 2011-2012, spending on education fell to 10.4% in 2020-21, according to the Economic Survey 2021. It has been below 11% since 2014-2015.
Education falls under the social sector and the decline in its spending occurs despite the increase in the share of social sector spending over the same period.
Infographic by India Today IUD
Spending on education is capped at less than 3.5% of India’s GDP. In 2011-2012, education expenditure represented 3.2% of GDP, compared to 2.8% in 2018-2019.
In comparison, Brazil devotes 6.3% of its GDP to education, South Africa 5.9% and the United Kingdom 5.4%, while the world average is 4.2%, according to the World Bank.
Infographic by India Today IUD
Recognizing this gap, the National Education Policy 2020 endorsed a substantial increase in public investment in education by central and state governments.
“The Center and the states will work together to increase public investment in the education sector to reach 6% of GDP at the earliest,” Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had said at Lok Sabha on December 6, 2021.
Status of Education in India
Education spending in India is low even though the country has the largest school footprint in the world with around 15 lakh schools having a total enrollment of over 26 million students.
However, student learning outcomes in the country consistently reflect that universal access has not translated into improved quality of education in India, according to a recently released report by Niti Aayog.
The National Achievement Survey (NAS) also warned that average scores in several grades and subjects are as low as 40-50%.
Public schools deemed insufficient
The difference between public and private schools in the country is striking. While an average Indian public school has only 50-60 students and 1-2 teachers, an average private school has around 265 students and nine teachers.
While the number of teachers is already low in public schools, only about 19% of a teacher’s annual class hours are devoted to teaching activities. The rest of the time is spent on non-academic activities such as electoral duties, data collection, distribution of lunches, etc.
Furthermore, more than 17% of teaching positions in public schools are currently vacant, with the highest being in Bihar (2.7 lakh) and Uttar Pradesh (2.1 lakh).