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Data: While Physical Infrastructure improves, Digital Infrastructure remains poor in Schools across States

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The UDISE+ report for 2019-20 was released recently. Data from the report indicates that while physical infrastructure has improved in schools across states over the last few years, the status of digital infrastructure is poor. This assumes importance in the light of the shift to online education because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The National Education Policy 2020 recognizes that ‘A good educational institution is one in which every student feels welcomed and cared for, where a safe and stimulating learning environment exists, where a wide range of learning experiences are offered, and where good physical infrastructure and appropriate resources conducive to learning are available to all students.’

The availability of infrastructure facilities in schools is widely understood to have a considerable impact on the school environment and it is one of the important indicators for accessing whether the schools are providing a conducive learning environment. It is in this context, we look at the trends in infrastructure indicators through the last few years, i.e., 2013-14, 2015-16, 2017-18 and 2019-20, collated from the UDISE reports. The UDISE+ report for the year 2019-20 was released recently. 

UDISE (Unified District Information System for Education), first released by the Ministry of Education for the academic year 2012-13, is one of the largest Management Information Systems on school education. It covers more than 15 lakh schools, 85 lakh teachers and 25 crore school children. The UDISE data is also used for the calculation of various other parameters to measure school education levels, such as the Performance Grading Index that was released earlier in June 2021. UDISE+ is an improved version of UDISE and is now operational in all the districts of the country.

Overall physical Infrastructure shows positive signs of improvement. 

According to the UDISE+ data for 2019-20, released by the Government of India (GoI), 

There is a notable improvement in physical infrastructure facilities like hand-washing facilities and availability of electricity, among others.

  • More than 90% of schools in India have hand-washing facilities, a notable improvement from just 43.13% in 2013-14.
  • In 2019-20, 83.4% of schools have electricity, which is an improvement of 7% when compared to 2018-19 (67.57%).
  • More than 82% of schools have conducted a medical check-up of students in 2019-20, as compared to 73.45% in 2018-19.

Other facilities like playgrounds and libraries have not improved significantly compared to 2013-14.

  • More than 84% of schools have libraries/reading rooms/reading corners, as compared to 76.42% in 2013-14.
  • More than 74% of schools have playgrounds in 2019-20, as compared to 67% in 2013-14.

Digital Infrastructure facilities not on par

While physical infrastructure facilities across schools have shown considerable signs of improvement in the last few years, Digital infrastructure facilities continue to be abysmally low, with only slight improvements over the years.

  • Only 38.5% of schools across the country have computers. This is a small improvement over 2018-2019 when 34.5% of schools had computers.
  • Only 22.3% of schools have an internet connection, as compared to 2018-19 when about 18.7% of schools had internet access.
  • An overwhelming majority of schools have neither computers (61%) nor internet access (78%).

Facilities for Children with Special Needs (CWSN) like ramps and handrails remain low, despite slight improvements over the years.

  • About 68% of schools now have ramps, as compared to 57% in 2013-14.
  • About 44% of schools now have handrails, as compared to 36% in 2013-14.

Digital Infrastructure lowest in Northeastern states, Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal, highest in Kerala, Delhi, Gujarat

As seen in the earlier chart, the proportion of schools with internet facilities remains low at 22.3% in 2019-20, despite improvements in the previous years. In 2013-14, about 7.3% of schools had internet facility and in 2017-18, it was about 13.6%.

  • More than half of the states remain below the national average of 22.3% i.e., less than 22.3% of schools in these states have internet facilities.
  • Northeastern states like Tripura (3.9%), Meghalaya (3.9%), Assam (5.8%) are home to the lowest proportions of schools with internet facilities, followed by Bihar (8.5%), Chhattisgarh (8.7%), West Bengal (10%), J&K (12%) and Uttar Pradesh (13.6%).
  • States like Tamil Nadu (32%), Maharashtra (35.4%), Rajasthan (36.3%) and Punjab (49%) are doing slightly better than the national average.
  • States like Kerala (87.8%), Gujarat (71%), and NCT of Delhi (86%) and Union Territories of Chandigarh (97.4%), Lakshadweep (93.3%), etc., have recorded higher proportions of schools with internet facilities.

A majority of big and populous states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, among others perform very poorly on the digital infrastructure coverage in schools. In these states, less than half of the total schools have internet facilities. 

Shortfalls in Budgetary Allocation and Fund Utilisations

There is evidence of significant shortfalls in budgetary funding and utilization in the education sector, which has resulted in critical infrastructure gaps in government schools. In its Report on the 2020-2021 Demand for Grants for School Education, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development (HRD) expressed concern that budgetary allocations saw a 27% cut from proposals made by the Department of School Education & Literacy. Despite proposals for ₹ 82,570 crores, only ₹ 59,845 crores were allocated to the department.

The Committee takes note of the fact that though the Public Expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP is increasing over the years, however, the Committee was of the view that expenditure on education, especially School Education needs to be increased further and it should also be ensured that the funds allocated be utilized in a judicious and effective manner.

The Committee also took note of the scheme-wise break-up of the proposed and allocated Budget Estimates for the year 2020-21. It was noted that substantial reduction has been made in the Centrally Sponsored Schemes (27.4% reduction) and in the Central Sector Schemes, a reduction of 27.2% has been made.

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The Committee expressed its concern at the slow progress of infrastructure work. The Committee also noted that the Department has not been able to utilize the funds allocated to some schemes, including the Mid Day Meal Scheme, construction of school buildings, science labs and other infrastructural requirements.

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Taking note of the details about the state-wise figures provided regarding classrooms, laboratories, libraries, playground, toilets, and other facilities, the Committee has recommended the Department to undertake a study of the States which have done well in the creation and maintenance of school infrastructure within available resources and try to replicate the model at the Central level.

Ground realities of Digital Infrastructure in the light of COVID-19

In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the formal schooling system across the world, there is an urgent need to revamp the state of digitalized education in India. A study by Observer Research Foundation (ORF) uses the case of Maharashtra to analyse the efforts at digitalizing government schools. It highlights systemic weaknesses in educators’ pedagogical capacities and calls for the creation of policies on online education that are context-specific.

The study takes note of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD)’s Alternative Academic Calendar for Students (AAC) guidelines on continuing formal school education in online mode in the 2020-21 academic year. The AACs are a set of four documents—one each for primary, upper primary, secondary, and higher secondary schooling—that outline measures for educators to ensure continuity in curriculum learning from the safety of students’ homes. In the backdrop of the pandemic, MHRD’s Central Institute of Educational Technology recommended that teachers use apps like DIKSHA, NISHTHA and ePathshala, which aim to provide training opportunities to educators. Teachers were also encouraged to form peer groups on WhatsApp to exchange information and knowledge.

The study reveals that while Maharashtra government undertook various online initiatives targeting the educator community, these initiatives did little to improve the pedagogical skills of teachers to use digital tools in the new academic year. A grounded picture of digital schools in Maharashtra suggests:

  • While providing digital equipment is considered paramount in determining a digital school, but what constitutes ‘appropriate’ digital equipment is loosely defined.
  • Even if one classroom has any of the specified equipment, it is sufficient for the entire school to be termed as digital. In many instances, the school’s sole digital gadget (often an LCD projector) was not in working condition. Further, teachers were barred by school authorities from using some equipment over fears of it getting spoiled and inability to repair it due to a lack of funds.
  • Frequent power cuts and limited internet connectivity (despite the government’s claim of all schools being Wi-Fi enabled under the Digital India mission) hampers the regular use of digital equipment for online activities, even if the school has the necessary equipment in working condition.

In the light of these ground realities, the study recommends, a clear focus on setting up detailed parameters regarding the quantity and quality of digital equipment and the requirement based on the number of students per class. The study also highlights other gaps in funding, infrastructure, teacher training, and digital content and provides recommendations to improve the digital education ecosystem.

Featured Image: Infrastructure in Schools

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