The Indian education system is undoubtedly one of the largest education systems in the world. With a population of more than 250 million students and 1.5 million schools with over 8.5 million teachers, the Indian education system is a herculean project. It aims to not only cater to the huge student population of India but also to traverse linguistic, cultural, and geographical barriers that may impede the spread of education. Ever since it attained Independence from the British, India has constantly invested in its educational system to improve enrollment, literacy, and pass-out rates throughout the country.
In the initial years after attaining Independence, the Planning Commission of India had immensely invested in educational policy with the hope of human resource development that could potentially transform into social, political, and economic development. After 1976, when education became part of the concurrent list, both the centre and the states could collectively decide and implement educational policy. While India saw a series of successes in the educational space like the increase in literacy rates, attendance ratio, and availability of schools, there were various other setbacks faced by the Planning Commission as well.
In 2015, the Planning Commission was dissolved to be replaced by the NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog. This was to become an apex think tank for the government of India while ensuring sustainable development and cooperative federalism. NITI Aayog soon became one of the most game-changing institutes for ensuring change in the educational sector.
As mentioned earlier, India has one of the highest student populations in the world with over 50 million students in the primary education sector alone. Since Independence, efforts have been taken to improve the accessibility to schooling. In that regard, India has been largely successful because it has been found that over 98% of habitations have schools and other educational institutions (according to reports collected in the year 2009). This is a phenomenal achievement mainly because the presence of schools has increased from a mere 43% to 98% in 60 years. Not only has the number of schools increased but, simultaneously, gender-based representation in schools has also increased, where about 56% of girls (from 14% in the 1950s) are attending schools even from remote areas of the country. This proves that India has battled the question of accessibility to education with successful methods of midday meal programs, increased presence of schools in remote areas, and awareness about childhood education. 96- 98% of localities have a primary school (classes 1 to 5) within one kilometre and an upper primary school (classes 6 to 8) within three kilometres, which has, unequivocally, contributed to increased enrollment.
However, increased enrollment has not curtailed dropout rates which have also been a major goal of India. At the primary schooling level alone, 29 percent of students drop out even before completing 5th grade; while the graduation rate at the high school level is only a meager 42%. Despite having a huge student population in schools, India also lands among the top nations with the highest dropouts. It is one of the top five countries with the highest number of children who are out of school even without primary education. According to UNICEF’s data, 1.4 million students in India between the ages of 6-11 are not attending school. It is at this juncture that the NITI Aayog has analysed the challenge of low pass-out rates in India from early primary education to the higher secondary level.
When analysing the challenges in primary education alone, research from several institutions proved that teacher shortage, low quality of education and infrastructural issues proved to be the major hindrances in educational progress. To bring several factors for improving education, the NITI Aayog launched the SEQI (State Education Quality Index) in 2019. This tool has been a game changer for states to initiate changes for improving educational performance. In the past, during the Planning Commission’s period, these factors of assessing educational outcomes of a state were not mandatory requirements for the states to implement these functions because its implementation meant that the Planning Commission had to allocate resources for the same. On the other hand, NITI Aayog is an advisory body that has no role in resource allocation, hence, the states had to implement the findings of SEQI of their own will. This simple shift from advising to assigning resources has made the states more accountable to the findings of the NITI Aayog’s SEQI.
The SEQI is a one-of-a-kind analytical tool for the states because it doesn’t simply evaluate outputs such as pass-out or dropout rates. Rather, it calls for a systemic view of education where improvements in academics are simultaneously evaluated with equity, infrastructure, and governance. Out of its 33 indicators, 14 are solely related to governance which, clearly, emphasises the role of state governments in education rather than solely focusing on academics. In terms of improving education, facilitators, as well as students, believe that academics don’t always lead to improved attendance or pass-out rates. Systemic support for students in the form of technology, infrastructure, and funding can truly be beneficial simply because students largely drop out because of a lack of financial assistance or safety/ sanitary issues. For example, in schools with higher dropout rates, it has been found that there is a direct correlation between the unavailability of restrooms and the number of female dropouts. Hence, the SEQI has precisely illustrated that systemic impacts on education outweigh academic improvements in increasing attendance and pass-out percentages.
Yet, the SEQI by the NITI Aayog does not limit itself to improving only attendance ratios at the school level. As the SEQI’s techniques of data accumulation are similar to the EoDB index as established by the World Bank, it seeks to improve the quality of education in India through providing “action-oriented tools”. For instance, through its process of analysing the reasons for high rates of failures in school examinations in schools across the country, the SEQI unravelled that it was because there had been an extraordinary delay in the arrival of textbooks for the academic year. Many textbooks, especially for the higher classes, arrived closer to the dates of exams. Further investigation revealed that slow/ faulty transport systems within the states caused the delay, which was then relayed to the states. Therefore, the SEQI provides the states with a clear action plan that accurately identifies the causes of academic losses which can be mended immediately.
The SEQI, also, incorporates the spirit of cooperative federalism as it contains the National Assessment Survey (NAS) in its ambit of research. This, further, provides a way to compare the action plans of various states and rank them accordingly as per their performance in the field of education. This database proves to be highly useful for decision-makers at the state level to evaluate their action plans as suggested by the SEQI’s findings in comparison to other states. NITI ensures a competitive spirit is created between the states to make education a top priority for good governance.
Apart from the SEQI, other projects are also aimed to increase educational quality in India. Other projects like Sustainable Action For Human Development- Education and Atal Tinkering Labs have increased NITI Aayog’s presence in the education field. Educators and facilitators are now encouraged to partner with educational startups such as BYJU’s. EduComp and Azim Premji Foundation to leverage technology for bridging the gap between technology and learning at the school levels. NITI Aayog has also announced several new projects aiming to analyse India’s education sector in more holistic ways, and improve teacher training and teacher-student ratio, which are much more challenging but longer-term projects whose results are yet to be seen.
In terms of the present, the SEQI has paved for improvements in education and revolutionised the criteria for evaluating education in India. Evaluating education is highly complex and the absence of accurate data to formulate clear-cut reforms in education has caused a setback in educational policy in India. The SEQI by the NITI Aayog has laid out precise course corrections and improvements at all levels whose remarkable results are already visible. Hence, it is safe to believe and hope that NITI Aayog would help millions of students in India in achieving the education that they dream of having shortly.
BY AISHWARYA R