The exercise of data collection from schools in India is a long and tedious process which involves filling up a 16 page long document called ‘Data Capture Format’ (DCF). Schools are expected to submit the duly filled form by September 30 every year. DCF filled in paper format is digitally converted later at block or district level which form the national database. Consecutive attempts have been made to reform this mechanism.
‘District Information System for Education’ (DISE) was piloted in 1995 to measure and monitor Government scheme implementation for primary grades. A similar management system called SEMIS was launched for grades 9–12 in 2008–09. A ‘Unified District Information System for Education’ (UDISE) was prepared by integrating both DISE and SEMIS in 2012–13. An improved version of UDISE called UDISE+ was introduced in 2018–19 with improved mapping, capture and verification of data. The latest UDISE+ report for the year 2021–22 was released in October, 2022. The UDISE+ captures a myriad of data points ranging from students, teachers, school management to infrastructure.
National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has shifted focus to quality of education from enrolment. Hence it is incumbent to analyze the status of current access and infrastructure. Retention in schools has a direct relationship with ease of access and infrastructure quality and it improves overall quality of education.
The Government of India has committed to the goals of Agenda 2030 and NITI Aayog has been monitoring them through the SDG India Index. Index captures access by measuring ‘Adjusted Net Enrolment Ratio (ANER) for elementary education (grade 1–8)’, ‘Dropout rate at grades 9–10’ and ‘Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in grades 11–12’. Infrastructure is evaluated by the percentage of schools with access to electricity, drinking water and separate toilet facilities for girls.
Access to Schools
The biggest challenge related to access is retention in schools. The decline in enrolment after grade 8 is sharp and bringing ‘out of school’ children back to the education fold is a huge task. NEP 2020 mentions there are around 32 million out of school children in the age group of 6 to 17 years and aims to achieve 100% enrollment from preschool to grade 12 by 2030.
The four year UDISE+ data suggests that there has been consistent improvement in ANER, Dropout rate and GER. This means we have better retention in primary and upper primary schools, fewer students are dropping out after grade 8 and increased enrolment in grade 11. But the ANER (96.5), Dropout (12.6) and GER (57.56) data for 2021–22 too haven’t achieved the SDG India Index target set for them which are 100, 8.8 and 100 respectively.
The popular perception of a public school is that of a dilapidated building with poor amenities. Governments across India are making efforts to improve this perception and provide improved infrastructure facilities to make education more affordable. SDG India Index accounts for availability of drinking water, electricity and presence of functional girl’s toilets in schools to prepare the index. Given the context of Covid19 and reliance on the internet for learning, I have looked at internet facilities in schools as well, although it doesn’t form part of the index.
The UDISE+ data has shown better performance over the four years the report has been published. The 2021–2022 data says that 89.34% schools have electricity, 98.22% schools have drinking water facilities, 97.50% schools functional girl’s toilets and only 33.91% schools have internet facilities. We have to be mindful here that these parameters are measuring only basic infrastructure and even they haven’t reached the target of 100% coverage set by the Government.
UDISE+ gives insight into the impact Covid had on our schools. There has been a decline in the total number of schools and teachers by 1.34% and 1.95% respectively from 2020–21 to 2021–22. These are mainly private and ‘other managed’ schools. While there is an increase in enrolment from primary to higher secondary by around 2 million, pre-primary sections have seen a decline in enrolment by 1.15 million.
UDISE+ has bridged the gap of data collection and is a tremendous resource for researchers. It still has to make the task of reading the report simpler. A report that is easier to comprehend, convenient to pull out data of various indicators over the years and across the regions is a huge resource for policy makers. It will help in acknowledging the existing challenge which is the first step towards solving a problem. This may become a valuable tool for policy planners to measure and monitor impact of government schemes in schools and achieve the dream of providing quality education to all children.