It seems that West Bengal is not keeping up with the pace of improving primary education in the state as compared to the rest of India. In terms of access to primary education as shown by Access Index,Bengal has been ranked at 27 in 2007-08 nine notches down from its 2006-07 standing.
A report on elementary education in India published by the National University of Education Planning and Administration (NUEPA) shows that in 2006-07,Bengal scored 0.513 in the Access Index and was ranked 18. But states like Assam and Karnataka fared better and with cumulative scores of 0.593 and 0.537 they were placed at seventh and 12th positions,respectively.
However,after one year,in 2007-08,the same cumulative figure of Bengal went down to 0.481. States like Assam raised its score to 0.701 and was ranked third. Bihar too fared better than Bengal with its score of 0.556 and was ranked 12. The main reason behind Bengals deteriorating performance is the lack of upper primary schools,which in the long run leads to more students dropping out of schools.
In West Bengal,primary schools cater to children up to Class IV after which the students have to be inducted into an upper primary school. In 2006-07,the ratio of primary to upper primary schools in West Bengal stood at 5.41:1 and it rose to 5.63:1 next year. In the same period,Bihar improved its ratio from 2.94:1 to 3.73:1. Interestingly,the national average went down in the same period from 2.45:1 to 2.41: 1. As per the state governments own data,some districts have poor access to upper primary schools.
In North Dinajpur,19.4 per cent villages do not have an upper primary school within a three-km radius. The situation is similar in Purulia where 17.9 per cent of villages dont have such schools.
More than 10 districts have double digit per cent of villages that lack upper primary schools within its three-kilometre radius. It was in districts like Howrah and East Midnapore,the number of such villages was at 3.9 and 3.8 per cent,respectively.
Also in terms of school infrastructure (both primary and upper primary),Bengal did not perform well either. In 2006-07,Bengal was ranked 29 with a cumulative infrastructure index of 0.497 and a year later it slipped to 30th position with a score of 0.521. The infrastructure index is calculated on the basis of number of schools with facilities like drinking water,common toilet facilities and number of students in a classroom.
In Bengal,there 40.66 per cent schools where over 60 students sit in a single classroom. Compare this to the national average of 27.30 per cent. In another Communist-ruled state,Kerala,the figure was as low as 2.67 per cent while in densely-populated Uttar Pradesh it was 36.93 per cent.