, TNN | Jan 19, 2012, 06.03AM IST

50% quit school by the time they reach class VIII

NEW DELHI: India's performance in primary school enrollment is regarded as one of its great achievements, and its near 100% net enrollment is one of the Millennium Development Goal targets it has reached ahead of time. But this milestone hides some shocking facts - just half the kids who enroll in Class I actually make it to Class VIII. 

In 2009-10 (the latest year for which official data are available), 133.4 million children enrolled in Classes I-V , yet only 54.5 million made it to Classes VI-VIII . Most of these children dropping out of school are winding up with very little education at all; over 50% of all dropouts quit school before Class III. In rural areas, the most dropouts leave school in Class V, most likely because upper primary schools may be located some distance away. 

In urban areas on the other hand, a third of dropouts leave school in Class II alone. 

The flagship Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan aims to achieve universal primary education. While it has made significant strides towards achieving 100% primary enrollment, it is failing to keep kids in school. In National Sample Surveys, boys report the need to earn an income as the biggest reason for dropping out, while for girls it is domestic chores as well as a lower emphasis on education from their families. Nor does it help matters that only half of all primary schools have a girls' toilet. 

Moreover, parents are increasingly finding that even if they make the sacrifices necessary to send their kids to school, their children are not learning enough. The Annual State of Education Report, a publication brought out by the education non-profit Pratham measuring levels of learning in rural schools, shows that close to half of all children in Class V cannot read texts meant for students in Class II. Twothirds cannot solve a division sum. 

In 2009, the centre set up the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan to achieve a GeneralEnrollment Ratio (GER) of 75% in secondary education (Class IX to XII) by 2020. The last year, the UPA government passed the landmark Right To Education (RTE) Act, enshrining a child's right to free and compulsory education in the Constitution. 

However unless the government urgently addresses the dropout rate and makes sure that the impressive statistics of children who enroll in school are actually retained, this will become a right to enrollment , rather than a right to a real and full education.