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

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How Well Has It Served the Cause of Education?

The Numbers Game

India has built a regular school-based decentralised data collection system investing much time and resources. However, all the data has not helped in determining how far the country has progressed on the goal of “Education for All” given the varied and often contradictory evidence. The quality of the data collected is highly suspect, as different sources provide vastly different estimates and the processes of verification and validation, are not in use. It would appear then that despite the fact that the coverage and scope of data collection has increased enormously with many more indicators added, and technology has enabled better management of data, some nagging questions remain about the quality, utility and purpose of the data, with obvious implications for planning and policymaking.

Two decades ago, in the mid-1990s, I was part of a survey of primary education across five north Indian states, known as the Public Report on Basic Education (PROBE) survey.1 It was one of the first field-based studies of its kind, which explored the quality of government elementary schools using multiple perspectives like that of the teachers, the parents and the students. The study collected primary evidence on school quality from each of the states, and questioned the prevailing wisdom that centred around poverty and demand factors as the main predictors of educational deprivation. In highlighting the abysmal quality of government schools and the “push-out” factors the report shifted the debate away from poverty, busting several myths about parental motivation, income poverty, and the quality of public schooling. While it went on to be a very influential report, as researchers we struggled to ensure its authenticity in the light of existing data and information.

The primary constraint we faced at that time was the difficulty of finding disaggregated secondary data on schools. All that was available by way of educational statistics were the annually published Selected Educational Statistics (SES) and the different rounds of All India Education Surveys (AIES). The SES data was available only at the state level and even then after a lag of three to four years. The AIES, while more detailed, was also available only after a gap of several years. There were no national level household surveys, which collected information on education regularly, and we had to depend on the census and the education rounds of the National Sample Survey (NSS) (both with decennial time frames) and the International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS), National Family Health Survey (NFHS-2, 1998–99), for validation and comparability. But, while our efforts to align our own data with existing sources were largely for research purposes, we wondered how policymakers were managing without an annual time series and any of the details one might expect from a comprehensive and dedicated education data set. This was especially puzzling because the planning process and budget allocations followed, and still do, an annual cycle!

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Updated On : 16th Apr, 2018

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