All is not well with our primary education system

Survey after survey point out to the shortage in school infrastructure including facilities, teachers and in most cases even schools themselves. The rampant cases of cheating, fake degrees are plaguing the system from the other end. Where is the system headed?



Every other day the media celebrates a story revolving around education and how some young determined student is fighting tall odds to gain education. Be it cycling 10 km every day or forcing the school to construct a toilet. While these stories are encouraging at best they point at an underlying malaise in our primary education system. Why is it that a student has to struggle so much to access the education? Or why is it that a young child is forced to revolt to make his teachers come to school or even provide him with basic infrastructure? Believe it or not the rot is set to spread.

According to the All India Education Survey covering trends from 2002 to 2009, conducted by National Council of Educational Research and Training, there were 2,532 private unaided primary schools. The Analytical Report for 2011-2012, released by the Department of Public Instruction recently, showed that there are now 10,960 private unaided primary schools.

On the other hand, the number of Government-run primary schools in the same period has less than doubled, from 23,253 to 45,200. Similar figures are reflected across the entire country.

A national survey of NCERT from 2002 to 2009 has revealed that almost 23 crore children are studying in 13 lakh schools across the country. However, 20% of the primary schools in rural areas still do not have drinking water facility; three out of 10 are without urinal facilities and close to 50% lack playgrounds.


One of the bigger ailments is the lower enrolment of girls in higher secondary schools even after passing the primary school. While girls’ enrolments in primary schools have seen a healthy rise of 48.13%, the figure dips to 42.56% for higher secondary levels.

Former HRD Minister Kapil Sibal said that there was a shortage of 12 lakh Government school teachers. The figure stated by the Unesco Institute of Statistics in its 2010 report fixes it at 20 lakh new teachers by 2015. This figure attacks right at the centre of the educational malaise. How will better education be delivered without adequate teachers? In addition to the already estimated vacancies, the revised pupil: teacher ratio (PTR) makes it imperative for the Government to recruit another 5.1 lakh teachers.

An equally dismal figure is that almost 53.2 % of India’s schools have an unfavourable PTR. The situation is set to get worse in light of the Right to Education Act (RTE) which seeks universal education. If implemented in the right spirit, it will reach out to an estimated 8.1 million out-of-school children in the 6- 14 age group. The shortage of teachers will be even more acute as new Government schools come up to accommodate the students’ surge in line with the RTE.

Moving on, the next item decaying the primary education system is the rampancy of fake educational certificates. There are people who are holding key positions on the dint of fake educational certificates. In one case, a Delhi Law Minister had to spend days in jail over a false degree.

An embarrassing scenario played out in Bihar recently over fake degrees, where, following the Patna High Court’s directive, the State Government asked school teachers, who allegedly used fake degree certificates, to resign or face legal action. This resulted in over 3,000 school teachers resigning. Such is the extent of the rot in the system.


This mass resignation was in part due to the stern court orders which decreed that failing to resign would result in punishment and recovery of salaries paid to them.

This scene plays out in state after state and not only Bihar. Academic dishonesty has become the norm in most of our Government-run institutions. The common thread of cheating runs through all the above forms.

Next comes the shameful shortfall of infrastructure. Here is a description of a government school in the national capital. It is a girls’ senior secondary school, which houses 7,000 students and educates them in 4 shifts; each class has 14 sections; 6 subjects are covered in 3-hour classes; and most classes are conducted outdoors because the 69 classrooms are just not enough.

With such a crowded infrastructure, can we really expect the teacher to pay personal attention to the growth and learning of a student? The answer is a resounding NO. Not surprisingly, out of 1,100 students in class IX, 213 students, or just 20%, have been promoted to the next class. Last year for the same classes, approximately 50% students had passed.

Such an all round mess in the primary education system makes one wonder about the veracity of slogans like ‘education for all ‘ when it is quite apparent that it is the last or no priority for the Government.


As a first step, the Government must understand that investment in the education sector is an investment in the future of the country. And any investment that betters the future of the nation will always show the political party in a good light. So it’s time the government stops its political calculations of doing things for schools and rolls up its sleeves to set things right. As you can see there is a lot that needs to be done.


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