Regaining Lost Opportunity: The Malaise of School Inefficiency

A Study of DPEP Districts in Tamil Nadu*


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††Yash Aggarwal, NIEPA, New Delhi


Tamil Nadu was covered under DPEP since its inception in 1994. The program began with four districts and now covers seven districts. The present study addresses both theoretical issues for measuring internal efficiency, as well as presents an analytical framework for assessing spatio-temporal patterns of internal efficiency. The study proposes a simple and most appropriate indicator of school effectiveness, namely the completion rate of primary education in five years (CRF). Ideally, for achieving UPE, CRF should not only attain a value of 100 or near about 100 but also sustain at that level for years to come. However, in actual practice the value is considerably lower than 100 due to inefficiencies associated with dropout and repetition in various grades. The CRF would also assist the educational administrators in ranking schools based on their internal efficiency.

An empirical study based on school records for five years for the cohort beginning Grade I in 1994-95 was carried out covering all schools in the seven DPEP districts. A similar study was undertaken for all schools in Phase I districts for the Grade I cohort of 1996-97 (Truncated cohort). For the 1996-97 cohort, the data on student flows was collected only for three years and compared with similar data from 1994-95 cohort. A total of 9,825 schools and more than 263,000 students were covered by 1994-95 cohort and 6,616 schools and 190,000 learners were covered through truncated cohort based on 1996-97 Grade I enrolment. This is perhaps not only a unique study in terms of its methodological contribution but also one of the largest students flow analysis ever undertaken in the India so far.

Three indicators were used for the analysis of cohort data. First, the holding capacity of the educational system for five years; second, the extent to which children reach grade V in five years and finally, what proportion of children complete primary education in five years. Overall, 82.4 percent of Grade I students from 1994-95 cohort were retained for five years. Thus, 17.6 percent students dropped out in five years from various Grades. The second important finding is that of all children retained in the school for five years, as many as 28.5 percent could not reach Grade 5, a large proportion of them repeated at least once in five years. Some could not even complete four years of education in five years and were struggling in Grade 2 and 3. The third aspect relates to the completion rate. Not all children reaching Grade 5 passed the final examination successfully. Only 91.7 percent children reaching Grade 5 passed the final examination.

Of all the repeaters, 35.1 percent repeated in Grade I, 18.8 percent in Grade 2, 20.7 percent in Grade 3, and 25.4 percent in Grade 4. Retention without completion has no meaning and runs counter to the cause of human resource development strategy. Why so many children should repeat for so many years? What are options available to reduce repetition? These issues should engage serious debate among the educational administrators and development planners in the state.

After accounting for dropouts and ever repeaters, the overall CRF was 55 percent but the inter-district variations were large with Dharmapuri (50.5 percent) having the lowest and Thiruvannamalai district having the highest CRF (60.4 percent). The CRF is also associated with different types of school characteristics. Significant differences in CRF were observed due to gender, caste, school management, distance from the block headquarters, age at entry, number of teachers in the school, rural-urban nature of schools, school category and availability of facilities like boundary walls, toilets for girls etc.,

The girls reported higher CRF than the boys thus showing that girls performance is in no way less than the boys. Similarly, it was observed that Phase II average was far lower than the CRF for Phase I districts.

The present level of CRF (50-60 percent) is not adequate to achieve the target of UPE in any district in the near future. Therefore, serious efforts are required to improve the internal efficiency. The analysis also showed that the classification of schools based on their CRF would help the administrators developing a time bound action plan for targeting the problems of low performing schools. A six fold classification of schools based on CRF was proposed. The study identified 1,583 schools (16.1 percent of all schools) for which the CRF was 30 percent or lower. On the other hand, the CRF was more than 75 percent for 1,624 schools. The state DPEP office has already initiated action program to improve the efficiency of low performing schools by focusing on their specific needs. Initial feedback is encouraging. Similarly, the high performing schools are being encouraged to invest more time and resources for strengthening the teaching learning processes and improving the quality of learning outcomes.

Further analysis of spatial patterns of dropout and repetition revealed that the two have to be handled separately. The analysis of dropout data showed that a) phase II districts had higher dropouts as compared to Phase I; b) dropout among girls was lower than that of boys; c) schools with girls toilet showed lower dropout rates and compared to those without; d) the number of teachers in schools were inversely associated with dropout rate. Thus single teacher schools had the highest dropout rate; e) schools located in interior areas and at far off distance from the block headquarter showed higher dropout rates as compared to schools located in the neighborhood of the block headquarter; f) Although the share of ST in total school population is about 2 percent, they had the highest dropout as compared to other communities; g) the government schools had much higher dropout rate than the schools under private management; h) the primary schools had higher dropout rate than the middle and secondary schools; i) the spatial patterns of dropout rate show clusters of blocks having similar behavior in terms of dropout rates; j) the analysis further showed that a large segment of dropouts leave the school after completing the end term examination.

During the five year period under review, about 26 percent children had repeated at least once. Thus, one out of every four children admitted to grade I is likely to repeat at least once even if they stay in the school for five years. What a tragedy and agony for the learner who has to undergo this experience in the early years of his/her childhood!

The time series analysis of cohort data was carried out at two levels, i.e. the temporal changes in studentsí profile and the completion related indicators. The completion rate up to Grade 3 was computed for 1994-95 and 1996-97 cohorts (CRT). The holding capacity up to Grade 3 of the educational system increased from 86.6 percent to 89.5 percent. There was a significant reduction in dropout from an average of 13.2 percent to 10.5 percent and similarly the proportion of ever repeaters declined from 11.3 percent to 8.4 percent. Because of these trends, the CRT improved from 66 percent in 1994-95 cohort to 71.4 percent for 1996-97 cohort. This is a significant improvement over a period of two year. The CRT for girls showed relatively more gains than that of boys thus widening of the gender disparities in favor of girls. All communities gained in different proportions. The rural urban differentials in CRT declined further although the urban areas continue to register significantly higher completion rates. The gap between government and private schools narrowed down but was still very high. Despite considerable improvement, the low levels of completion rates persisted in single teacher schools. Various types of trends mentioned above were consistent across districts and blocks.

Notwithstanding the overall improvement in CRT, the school level analysis presented a mixed bag of outcomes. Some schools improved on their CRT value whereas others showed significant decline.

The next few years would be crucial for educational reforms in Tamil Nadu. The reforms should focus on consolidation of ongoing educational reforms, identification of out-of-school children, improving the internal efficiency, enhancing the quality of learning, strengthening of monitoring mechanisms for measuring school effectiveness, remedial teaching for slow learners and on increasing the relevance of education for various sections of the society. Declining population base, coupled with improved internal efficiency particularly because of reduction in grade repetition may result in sharp decline in the number of school age group children. This unprecedented situation would result in surplus teachers at certain places whereas there may be shortages at another point. Therefore, redeployment of teaching and non-teaching resources would become necessary to produce least cost output. The state should also explore the possibility of identifying good teachers from primary schools and prepare them through specially designed training package for teaching upper primary classes for which considerable additional demand would emerge in the next few years. Advance exercise should be carried out to identify primary schools, which could be upgraded to upper primary stage.

* Source & Copy Right: Excerpts from Regaining Lost Opportunity: The Malaise of School Inefficiency, NIEPA, New Delhi, 2002 by Yash Aggarwal.