Data from a parliament response indicates that there are more than 1.17 lakh single-teacher schools across the country, which is around 9% of the total number of the schools in India. Rationalization of schools in India should have resulted in the reduction of number of single-teacher schools. The same cannot be analysed as data on such schools is not available for all the years.
Access to formal education was one of the major challenges identified in the early 2000s in India. Consequently, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) was launched in 2001, with the aim to universalize elementary education in India. As universal enrolment was the primary motto under SSA, complementing actions such as infrastructure for universal schooling were undertaken, where schools were provisioned in all habitations within walking distance.
Accordingly, there was a large expansion in the schooling facilities, with SSA providing for more than 2 lakh primary and 1.5 lakh upper primary schools by 2015-16. Despite such an expansion, school enrolment figures remained stagnant, partly due to the proliferation of private schools and the resource deprivation of government schools. Thus, the government was staring at twin problems – lower enrolment resulting from underutilization and a burden on resources in maintaining the existing infrastructure. Amidst all these, the Right to Education (RTE) act, 2009 was enacted that provided for certain norms and standards including the pupil-teacher ratio, and teacher qualifications among other things.
To strike a balance between these objectives, in the mid-2010s, the Government of India embarked on an ambitious mission to improve the learning outcomes and entail the best possible utilization of available resources by undertaking school mergers and consolidation of schools, often called ‘rationalization of schools.’ The primary stated objective behind such a mission was to enhance the access of all children to fully functional neighbourhood schools and to consolidate the resources for the best interest of the children. School rationalization is touted to be a trade-off between the redistribution of infrastructure and improving learning outcomes.
In today’s story, we look at some of the statistics related to school education that are directly impacted by school rationalization.
Steady decline in the number of government schools
Even before the rationalization at a national level began, many states such as Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, and multiple others have initiated school mergers and consolidation of schools. As a result, the number of government schools declined consistently from 2014-15 to 2017-18. However, after embarking on rationalization in 2017, this decline has become steeper. While the pandemic put temporary breaks on the school closures in 2020-21, the process picked up again in 2021-22. On the other hand, private schools witnessed considerable growth, excepting 2021-22, where there were school closures due to the financial stress induced by COVID-19.
One-teacher schools in India still significantly high
The Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) is a comprehensive database of statistics on the Indian educational system, which has been redesigned as UDISE+. The original UDISE programme began in 2012–13, and the redesigned UDISE+ programme started in 2018–19. The latest publication of UDISE+ is the 2021-22 report.
In the earlier versions of UDISE, the data regarding the single-teacher school is mentioned while the redesigned version of UDISE+ does not have data regarding the status of single-teacher schools. Data from 2014-15 to 2017-18 indicates that there is a fall in the number of single-teacher schools in India from 1,19,303 in 2014-15 to 1,05,102 in 2017-18. However, the same data is not available for the years 2018-19 to 2021-22.
Alternatively, as a response to a parliamentary question on the consolidation of schools, the Ministry of Education replied that in 2021-22, around 1,17,285 one-teacher schools are reported in India. The type of management of these schools is also not specified.
While the earlier version of UDISE had data by school category and for rural and urban areas, the newer version UDISE+ does not have any such data. Also, since the data pertains to two different versions, it might not be prudent to do a one-on-one comparison as there could be variances in the data capturing. However, it still gives a fair estimate of the single-teacher schools in India.
Madhya Pradesh tops with the highest number of one-teacher schools
If one looks at data of single-teacher schools state-wise, it is evident that Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of one-teacher schools in India with 16,630 schools in 2021-22, followed by Andhra Pradesh with 12,386 schools, and Rajasthan with 10,878 schools. These higher numbers are despite the fact that these states have initiated rationalization of schools much before the national level rationalization began. Andhra Pradesh constituted a Working Group to study and report on the modalities for ‘Resource Redistribution Rationalization (RR-R)’ of Schools in the State in 2014-15, while Rajasthan came up with the idea to integrate schools and establish Model Schools in 2013-14.
Did school consolidation achieve its objective?
One of the primary objectives of school mergers and consolidation was to improve enrolment figures by effective utilization of existing resources. However, if we look at the enrolment figures of government schools, it had consistently declined from 2014-15 to 2019-20. Though rationalization was taken up in 2017, it had no effect on the enrolment figures. However, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent financial hardships it caused, there is a slight improvement in the enrolment figures in government institutions. A direct causal relationship between school rationalization and improvement in enrolment figures cannot be established as COVID-19 could be an outlier.
Even if we consider learning outcomes, the National Achievement Survey (NAS) of 2021 showed a decline in learning outcomes when compared to the previous NAS conducted in 2017. This was highlighted earlier by Factly in this story.
Need for more comprehensive data in UDISE+
The redefined version of the UDISE has some limitations. Some crucial data such as data on single-teacher schools, and rural and urban categorization wherever necessary is not presented. In addition, the implementation of the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 also means the addition of new indicators or modifications to the existing indicators, which the latest UDISE+ report is silent about. It is high time that UDISE+ undertakes a comprehensive review of its data-capturing formats and makes suitable modifications to ensure adequate data is captured and reported.
Featured Image: Single-Teacher Schools