However, while most children attend school in India, experts say that many are still receiving an extremely poor education. Overcrowded classrooms and absent teachers are a common problem and many parents complain of poorly-maintained school buildings with unsanitary conditions. Last year, a study of schools found that only 5% of state facilities complied with all the basic standards set for infrastructure by the education act. So for example, around two-fifths of primary schools taught more than 30 pupils in each classroom and nearly two-thirds had no electricity.
India also suffers from a shortage of qualified staff, with around a fifth of teachers in schools having no professional training. This is likely to be a key reason why a new independent education report has found declining levels of achievement. The Annual Status of Education Report highlighted that over half of children at the standard five level (aged around 10 years) were unable to read a standard two-level text.
Speaking to the Guardian, a spokesperson for Oxfam India said “people are aware of what education is and what it is not”. The Oxfam representative added that there was little incentive for parents not to send their children out to work, when it was clear the quality of education they received at school would not help their life chances.
It is therefore unsurprising that the drop-out rate for primary school children is around 25% and millions of primary-aged children are currently not in education. This affects girls in particular, who account for around two-thirds of out-of-school children. Often, these girls are from poorer marginalised communities and lower cast systems, where it is extremely hard to break the cycle of poverty when youngsters grow up illiterate.
It is now four years since the World Bank changed the status of India from a ‘poor’ to a ‘middle-income’ country and many educational experts are arguing India has no excuse not to invest more in education. The Global Campaign for Education believes countries should allocate at least 6% of their GDP, but currently India’s education spending is less than 4%. But if the country is to provide the kind of high-quality learning normally found in middle-income nations, it must do more for its schools.