The third survey to enumerate Maharashtra’s out-of-school children has come in for a barrage of criticism from activists and educationists after the state government declared their number across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region to be a paltry 2,984. Education activists and non-government organisations now say the education department had not done enough groundwork before launching the survey, leading to erroneous results.
The survey has recorded zero out-of-school children in the districts of Palghar, Beed and Satara.
The department recently released the figures after completing the third leg of a survey to trace and count the number of out-of-school children across Maharashtra. The survey was conducted at all railway platforms and bus stations, markets, other public places and also door-to-door.
Mahavir Mane, director of the state’s primary education department, said, “There are two parts to the whole out-of-school survey initiative. In July, we had identified around 56,000 students from the state as out of school. In the second and third legs, we concentrated more on those students whose names are physically present on attendance rolls but remain absent constantly. This is a continuous process and the numbers keep fluctuating, the results are not inaccurate.” He added, “We have decided to continue the survey till the end of February, even though an initial count has been declared.”
A total of 10,162 students were identified as out-of-school across the state of Maharashtra, a figure that is only a fraction of previous estimates made through surveys conducted by NGOs and educational institutions, including the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and even by those implementing the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), a Union government initiative.
According to the National Survey on Estimation of Out-of-School Children 2014 report released by the SSA, the state has nearly 1.43 lakh out-of-school children. The report by SSA further elaborated on the number of students who were never enrolled and also students who were enrolled but never attended school. In 2014, TISS conducted a study that revealed that 38,000 children were living on the streets of Mumbai alone. In another research report by Praja, released last month, 13 out of every 100 students who were enrolled in city civic schools had dropped out in the year 2014-15.
“The entire exercise is a farce and its outcome is inaccurate. There was no training done for the NSS volunteers who conducted the survey and no goals were set for each leg. Hence, the result is inaccurate and erroneous,” said Heramb Kulkarni, coordinator between schools and NGOs, who quit owing to the chaos in the planning of the survey.
Activists had also raised concerns over poor planning of the survey and lack of a dedicated budget. Over 32 NGOs from the state, including the Narottam Sekhsaria Foundation and Pratham, had written to the authorities, expressing concern over poor planning.
As per the data, only 55 were identified as enrolled students who didn’t attend schools. All these students, however, belonged to Mumbai North and South zones.
A senior member of another NGO involved in the survey said, “The state government had planned to initiate and continue such a big activity without having a dedicated budget for the survey. Also, mere enrollment on paper is not enough when thousands of students are frequently absent in civic schools. We had objected to many aspects of the survey during meetings, which were hardly considered.”