ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Out-of-School Children

Some Insights on What We Know and What We Do Not

The figures for out-of-school children put out by various official sources in India show wide variations. The problems lie not just in the definitions but also in methods of estimation. A glaring lacuna in this process is that sporadic or irregular attendance is not taken into account when estimating the number. This paper unpacks the phenomenon through an intensive micro-study of enrolment and attendance of all children in a single panchayat in India. It shows that irregular attendance accounts for a much larger proportion of out-of-school children, with wide variation in attendance across social groups. It also conducts a regression analysis to analyse school and household-level factors that affect student attendance. It finds that school-level factors play a much larger role in determining student attendance.

The figures for out-of-school children (OOSC) put out by various official sources in India show wide variations. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) surveys (IMRB-SRI, 2014) estimate of this figure is 6 million, while for the same year the National Sample Survey (NSS) figure is 20 million. Each figure is based on an estimate of never enrolled and dropped out children. A closer look reveals that problems exist not just in the definitions, especially of dropout, used by each source, but also in the methods of estimating never enrolled. In addition, discrepancies and inefficiencies in the overall system of collecting and collating data compound the problems.

The never enrolled figure is a derivation based on total child population in the relevant age group and the number of children shown as enrolled in school registers. However, due to poor birth registration records, the former is not reliably available. Further, household surveys done by different sources, instead of being simple censuses of children, rely on different questions to gauge which is an out-of-school child, thus arriving at vastly different numbers.1 A more recent attempt at maintaining records of OOSC through an annual child tracking survey has not met with great success either, as this exercisemeant to be done by teachersis resented by them for adding an extra burden on their heavy workload, leading to sporadic and inefficient tracking. Even where (and when) done, the reliability of data is in question as teachers have an incentive (as well as administrative pressure) to match the household numbers with school enrolment records, in order to overstate enrolment.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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