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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 2, New Delhi, December 26 2020

Is Access to Education Declining Fast for Weaker Section Students | Bharat Dogra

Saturday 26 December 2020, by Bharat Dogra


by Bharat Dogra

Developments in the education sector have generally been discussed in terms of slow or rapid progress. We have been used to saying—yes the access to education of this level has improved but it should have improved more. Now perhaps we are faced with the terrible prospect that access weaker sections to education may be actually declining, even at the elementary level.

In Covid times there have been prolonged closures of schools, which is supposed to be made up by online education. But many weaker section students do not have the necessary smartphones or the means of using them for educational purposes. It is generally agreed that online education has further accentuated inequalities in school education in India, but in addition, this is likely to lead to several students from weaker sections, particularly girl students being entirely pushed out of schools.

This is likely to be accompanied by an increase in child labour and child marriages. In combination with other factors of increasing poverty, this may also lead to increased trafficking, as indeed some child rights groups have warned.

The Annual Status of Education Report (Pratham) released in October [2020] reported that the number of children not even enrolled in school in the 6-10 age group increased from 1.8 per cent in 2018 to 5.3 per cent in 2020. In a country, the size of India, the rise of 3.5 per cent is huge in absolute numbers. In some of the poorer states (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar) less than a quarter of students received any learning material. Another survey found that 60 per cent of children were unable to access online learning methods.

Apart from children, particularly girls, being pushed out of school education, there is also the problem of difficulty in retaining what they had learnt during the long break, and the adverse impact this will have on their future learning and education.

At a higher level of education, there are other serious problems as Dalit students are having increasing difficulties in accessing post-matric scholarships ( meant for high school Dalit students). While delays and arrears in the scheme used to be reported earlier also, the situation in recent times has deteriorated further at a fast pace.

Due to changes in funding mechanism, the burden of financing has shifted more to state governments and as the overall finances of states have also suffered in the same period the difficulties in obtaining this scholarship, which in normal times is supposed to provide important help to around six million students, have increased greatly. (Kindly also see note at the end of the article on very recent development). There is clear need to look more closely at the availability of funds for other such schemes as well (relating to help for students from various weaker sections in accessing education.)

Clearly, the situation of access to education by weaker sections has deteriorated fast in significant ways in recent times, and urgent remedial action is called for immediately if the gains of many years of steady ( even if slow) progress are not to be lost.

Note — After this article was submitted, on December 23 the Union government announced increased allocations for SC students. This increase is welcome and using these higher funds, the problems high school dalit students have faced due to difficulties in accessing scholarships, as pointed out above in this article, should be sorted out soon with a sense of urgency.

(Author: Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements. His latest books include Protecting Earth for Children and Earth Without Borders. )

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