Change in demographic profile major cause of declining student strength in schools

S Irudaya Rajan, chair of the International Institute of Migration and Development, pointed towards the migration of youth to foreign shores as a reason for the declining student strength.
As per the KSCPCR order issued in 2022, there is no need to teach boys and girls in separate schools in the existing social context.
As per the KSCPCR order issued in 2022, there is no need to teach boys and girls in separate schools in the existing social context.Photo | Express

KOCHI: Though the directive from the Kerala State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR) can be cited as the trigger for many educational institutions taking the co-education route, there is more to it than meets the eye. Till the end of the 2022 academic year, the state had 280 girls schools and 164 boys schools in the government and aided sectors. But now the numbers are coming down. This year itself 45 schools turned co-ed.

As per the KSCPCR order issued in 2022, there is no need to teach boys and girls in separate schools in the existing social context. “Moreover, the existence of such schools can only be seen as a turning away from advanced education and psychological theories. There is no justification for such schools to exist,” says the order.

“The reasons are many,” says S Irudaya Rajan, chair of the International Institute of Migration and Development, Kerala, who has been studying the demographic trend in the state. The prime one is the big drop in the state’s population, he explains. It should be noted that the birth rate for Kerala fell from 17.2 births per 1,000 inhabitants in 2001 to 13.2 births per 1,000 inhabitants in 2020. He also pointed towards the migration of youth to foreign shores not only for studies but also for jobs as another cause.

“Most of these youth prefer to settle down in the countries they have migrated to. So besides empty houses, the state will soon have to face a situation of empty schools,” he adds.

“It has been a gradual fall,” says D Dhanuraj, founder-chairman of the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR). According to him, there has been a big drop in the fertility rate.

“It should be noted that the number of schools went up when the demand for educational institutions increased following an increase in the number of children per family. However, the fertility rate which stood at 1.9 a few years ago has now dropped to 1.6. It should be understood that this might fall even lower,” he says. The decline in fertility rate is more prominent in the southern districts of Kerala, says Dhanuraj.

Kerala today has a total of 12,974 schools catering to the educational needs of the children till high school. “This excludes higher secondary and vocational higher secondary schools,” says Irudaya Rajan. Both Dhanuraj and Irudaya Rajan agree that the days of exclusive schools for boys and girls are over. “They are no longer practical. Another thing that needs to be pointed out is that even when they are converted to mixed schools, there is no guarantee that they will be able to tide over the shortage of students. This is because other co-ed schools too are struggling with a drop in student strength,” says Irudaya Rajan.

And the data supports their statements. As per the statistics published in the Sametham portal of the general education department, there has been a gradual fall in the number of students taking admission in Class I. From 3,16,682 in the 2019-2020 academic year, it fell to 2,44,646 (figure as of the first week of June 2024) in the 2024-25 academic year.  

Giving more insight into the demographic shift, Irudaya Rajan says, “When you look at a family way back in the 1970s, nearly all had more than three children. However, comparatively, during those days, the number of schools to cater to these many children was less. Then the demand was there but the supply was less. This led to the setting up of new schools in government, aided and unaided sectors.”

“Now let us fast forward to the present. You won’t find a family that has more than two children. Today the situation is such that even two children are becoming a rarity. Most couples prefer one child. Then there are youth who prefer to not even marry. All these contributes to the declining population of Kerala, and this in turn is affecting the education sector. There is no doubt that in the coming years, many schools will close down,” he adds. 

Of course, there is the argument that many students are joining CBSE schools, he says. “But how many?” he adds. Another set of data sourced from the Sametham portal clears up the scenario further. In the 2019-20 academic year, the total strength of students in LP, UP and HS sections in Kerala was 37,16,897. This increased slightly by around 30,000 to stand at 37,46,647 in the 2023-24 academic year. This dropped further to 34,48, 583 (number as of June first week) in the 2024-25 academic year.

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