Despite the landmark right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 mandating that every child aged 6-14 should be in primary/elementary school, 70,016 of the estimated 14.4 million children in the southern state of Karnataka are out of the formal education system, according to a Union human resource development ministry survey released on February 6.
Although this is a five-fold increase over the number of out-of-school (OOS) children in 2017-18, state education ministry officials don’t seem unduly worried. They attribute the increase in number of OOS children to a more robust tracking system with increased community cooperation and involvement of local governing bodies. Additionally, the upper age limit for identifying out of school children has been increased to 16 years. Hence, the larger number of OOS children reported.
Bangalore, the country’s premier new technologies hub, has the highest number of OOS children (10,233) according to the report. The authors of the study have adduced 21 reasons why children are out of school with the largest number (11,813) being children of migrant labour attracted to Karnataka’s real estate construction boom.
“The number of OOS children in Bangalore and Karnataka continues to be high because the attendance authorities in most of Bangalore’s 13 block education offices are sleeping on the job and are insufficiently monitored by the office of the commissioner of public instruction,” says Kathyayini Chamraj, executive trustee of Citizens’ Voluntary Initiative, Bangalore which works for the urban poor on food, water, health and education issues in the garden city.
Nevertheless, despite educationists in Bangalore expressing alarm over the number of OOS children, Karnataka’s RTE Act enrolments record is relatively good. According to the ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) 2018 survey conducted by the highly-respected Pratham Education Foundation, against the national average of 4.4 percent of OOS children, Karnataka’s average is 1.7 percent. The better performing states are Kerala (0.3 percent), Tamil Nadu (0.6), Himachal Pradesh (0.7), Mizoram (1.0), Tripura (1.2), and Maharashtra (1.3) . The records of Madhya Pradesh (7.7 percent), Chhattisgarh (7.2), Uttar Pradesh (6.9), Meghalaya (6.0), Rajasthan (5.7), Gujarat (5) and Bihar (4.7) are substantially worse than Karnataka.
Surprisingly, despite a profusion of anecdotal narratives about rampant corruption and indolence in the education ministry and departments under it, Karnataka is also awarded high marks in a working paper titled Resource Requirements for Right to Education (RTE): Normative and the Real, published by the Delhi-based National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, an autonomous research institute of the Union finance ministry, in 2017. The paper estimates “the resource requirement for universalisation of elementary education” in 12 major states and the gap between requirement and actual expenditure.
In the study, Tamil Nadu has made the highest expenditure — 107 percent of requirement (as per RTE Act norms) followed by Uttarakhand (94.3 percent), UP (88.5), Maharashtra (78.5) and Karnataka (68.4). Unsurprisingly, Bihar’s ratio of actual expenditure to requirement is the lowest (29.9 percent). Conversely, UP’s 83.5 percent is surprisingly high.
Against this backdrop, the outcry in the state legislative assembly and media in Karnataka about the number of OOS children statewide is a good augury. It’s an indicator that despite the state’s above-average record in education, the establishment is alive to the possibility of a downslide of the state’s school education system.
Sruthy Susan Ullas (Bangalore)