What is the worth of a welfare state if its children cannot attend school to get educated in the formative years of their lives? This question is now bothering policy-makers as they anticipate a big problem in ensuring quality human resources in the future. The seeds for such a worrisome scenario are currently being sown through a disturbing trend of children dropping out of schools.
The increasing dropout rate, mainly of students from classes 6 to 10, is being blamed on the worsening financial condition of their parents due to the pandemic’s impact. The problem is being reported across Karnataka and the country. But the State Government has only now begun conducting surveys to understand its magnitude. The State has 78,424 schools (primary and secondary), of which 22,419 are in urban areas and 56,005 in rural areas, admitting over 80 lakh students.
Various businesses and daily wage jobs came to a standstill during the lockdown. But post-unlock phases, children from higher primary and high schools, and from families working in informal sectors are chipping in to help their parents earn some extra income. Not receiving public distribution system (PDS) quotas under the mid-day meal scheme, many schoolchildren started working alongside their parents and even taking up odd jobs to financially support the family.
Hundreds of students from Naregal, Annigeri, Kotumachagi, Mulgund, Kanvi, Harti, Lakkundi from Gadag district are coming to Gadag city in search of jobs. They stand at a place in the bus-stand or old DC Office Circle, where contractors come and offer them jobs for the day. Some contractors also visit villages and offer job contracts for a month or two. Those of school-going age lap up these jobs, while sacrificing school education. Not allowed jobs under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act as they are underage, they take up whatever jobs come their way.
The problem has only aggravated because of the pandemic and the lockdown. In Udupi, the issue of school dropouts has been haunting the district administration for nearly a decade as there has been a surge in labourers and their families from North Karnataka coming to coastal cities for their livelihood. While some ensured that their kids got admitted to government schools, many migrant workers at Malpe fisheries harbour did not. The situation got worse during the lockdown as even those parents who had got their wards admitted to schools pulled them out because of lack of income. Unable to provide for online classes due to financial constraints, they forced their children to drop out of schools. Now, a survey to know the exact number of dropouts is underway in Udupi district.
In Mysuru, while several NGOs and organisations took up independent surveys and studies, the one done by the School Education Programme of the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement found that 26 per cent of students in Mysuru were employed as daily wagers during the lockdown of the total sample size of 1,572 students in Bengaluru, Dharwad and Mysuru districts.
In Koppal taluk, 34,123 students got admitted to sixth to tenth standards for 2020-21, but 9,233 are yet to resume schooling. The situation is no different in other taluks of the district, official sources said.
In Dakshina Kannada, the Campus Front of India (CFI), a student organisation, has started a state-wide campaign called ‘zero dropout’, especially for SSLC students. Its members visited schools and houses of students in Vittla, Bantwal, Puttur, Sullia and Mangaluru taluks to ascertain the number of students who had dropped out.
“As per the data provided by Block Education Officers in these taluks, more than 100 SSLC students have dropped out. In Belthangady, we are yet to conduct the campaign. The reasons for dropping out of schools are financial and health issues, migration and lack of interest among parents and students,” says Mohammed Sadiq, member of State Committee, CFI.
Thyagam Harekala, a teacher at Shri Ramakrishna Aided High School, Harekala in Mangaluru taluk, says many students are irregular to school and they are as good as dropouts. “They come from rural areas. During the lockdown, as schools were closed, they started working at construction sites, shops, farms and took up odd jobs. They earn about Rs 500 a day. Since attendance is not compulsory, we cannot force them to come to school. Some students have not attended classes for more than a month. The situation is the same in almost all schools,” he says.
MP Jnanesha, Block Education Officer, Bantwal taluk in Dakshina Kannada district, says there are 74 SSLC students in his taluk who are out of school. “We have identified them and efforts are on enroll them,” he says. The Public Instruction and Panchayat Raj departments have started a house-to-house joint survey to identify students up to the age of 18 who have dropped out of school. They are discovering that many students, especially in rural areas, have discontinued their studies due to financial issues and migration. The Deputy Director of Public Instruction, Malleswamy, says, “Once the survey, which is only 60 per cent completed, is ready, we can get the exact data of students belonging to different categories who have been left out,” he says.
In Kalaburagi district, of the total 2,55,840 students enrolled from 6th to 10th standard, only 40,344 students (15.85 per cent) were attending classes in March this year. In 2020-21, in Kodagu, 77,284 students enrolled, but officials say the department cannot estimate the number of dropouts unless all the classes begin and physical attendance is made compulsory. “Earlier, if a student did not attend classes for seven days, he/she would be considered a dropout. But we cannot calculate it under the current situation and we are not sure of the exact number of dropouts,” says Kodagu DDPI Peregrine S Machado.
Renni D’Souza, president, Dakshina Kannada Child Welfare Committee, says, “The closure of schools has had an adverse effect on the children as it has affected their learning capacity, which is why they hesitate to go back to schools. There are chances of an increase in child labour too. The influence of family income has also affected the children in dropping out as many parents have lost jobs.”
In a robust field study conducted by the Azim Premji University in January this year, disturbing findings due to loss of learning during the pandemic were revealed. For those dropping out of school, it is probably worse and they may never rejoin schools, it stated.
The loss of learning comprises loss of regular curricular learning that children acquired in schools and also students ‘forgetting’ the abilities learnt in the previous class. The study reveals the extent and nature of the ‘forgetting/regression’ among 16,067 primary school children in 1,137 schools in 44 districts across five states, including Karnataka.
“Covid-19 has battered India and the world. The loss of education compounded by the phenomenon of academic regression is one such significant effect,” says Anurag Behar, Vice-Chancellor, Azim Premji University.
‘Govt must address learning loss’
Consolidated efforts were being made to address child labour, child marriage and bonded labour over the years. But, this one year has taken away what was done in three decades. Lakhs of children in the state have a difficult time and there are chances they may not return to school ... especially girls. One year’s loss is big for learning, especially for children coming from disadvantaged, subaltern communities.
Those who came to the mainstream have to go back. Net enrolment in secondary education for those completing Class 8 is 58 per cent, which means 42 out of 100 children are not entering Classes 9 and 10. The response from the department and minister, however, seems that they are keen on conducting exams than filling up the learning loss.
There should have been a blueprint on addressing this loss from June 2021, but I can’t see such a roadmap. The National Education Policy 2020 also iterates that foundation learning is important and it recognises there is a serious learning crisis. This crisis has gone from bad to worse. Where is the plan to address it? The (education) department has to come with a concrete plan. Dr Niranjanaradhya VP, Senior Fellow and Programme Head, Universalisation of Equitable Quality Education Programme
Inputs from: Pearl Maria D’Souza/ Bengaluru; Karthik KK/Mysuru; Divya Cutinho/Mangaluru; Prakash Samaga/Udupi; Prajna GR/Madikeri; Mahesh Goudar @Bagalkot/Vijayapura; Raghu Koppar / Gadag; Ramkrishna Badseshi/ Kalaburagi; Mallikarjun Hiremath/ Dharwad;