By Manoj Sahoo and Prashanta Chandra Panda*, September 25, 2016 : TheManoj Kumar SahooPrashanta
Census 2011 data released recently paints a gloomy picture of the status of primary and secondary level education in our country. Some 84 million children in India don’t go to school at all! And 7.8 million children while in school work to earn a livelihood for survival! These are children at the primary and secondary level i.e. of 5-17 years age group.

The 84 million non-school attending children turn out to be about a hefty 20% of the overall children in the corresponding age group. Termed by Census of India as ‘out of school children’- it includes school drop outs as well as those children who have never enrolled in any school.

The Census 2011 further reveals that out of these ‘out of school children,’ only 19% are engaged in some kind of work, which means they are part and parcel of child labour force. Now the bigger question is where do other children comprising of mammoth 68 million children go? Ironically, the much hyped Right to Education, aimed to provide free and compulsory education for all children at the 5-14 years age group, could not bail out these ‘Missing Children’ of India’s education system.

dadan labour

Dadan [Migrant] Children Labourers from Odisha

Child Labour in Disguise or mere simple Drop Outs?

The Census says these missing children are not part of child labor force. In fact, the Census only captures two types of work for identification of working children. The main workers work regularly round the year and the marginal workers work up to six months or less. So, those who work irregularly for smaller intervals or are engaged in mundane household chores like taking care of younger kids, cooking, washing utensils and clothes may not report themselves as working children in the survey. It is but anybody’s guess that once out of school, they are part of child labour force. Or potentially they are child labour in absence of any effective mechanism to prevent them from entering into the child labour force! This is indicated by the fact that 7.8 million children are forced to work while being at school. So assuming that the ‘missing children’ will be better off is paradoxical.

UNDP had cautioned India about this alarming phenomenon of out of school children despite India making significant progress in universalizing primary education in 2015 assessment of Millennium development Goals. Why this scenario? Let’s dig deeper. At global level 99.8 million children were out of school in primary level in the year 2000. By 2012, this figure had gone down to 57.8 million at primary level and 63 million at primary and secondary levels taken together. UNESCO’s Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report released in 2014 had revealed that India was ranked 4th with highest number of out-of-school children (1.4 million) at the primary level (6-11 age group) behind Nigeria, Pakistan and Sudan. (See Figure 1)


Source: UNESCO’s Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report, as in Times of India, July 7, 2014.

As per Census 2001, 58 million children of 6-13 years age group were not attending any primary school. In Census 2011, that dropped down significantly to 38 million i.e. 18.3% out of overall 208 million children in corresponding age group (Figure 2 given below).


But if we add primary and secondary level figures that turns out a significantly large 84 million  in the 5-17 years age group. However, it is to be noted that in the last few years preceding Census 2011 survey, the elementary school enrolment had show a marginal rise and after 2011, it has stagnated and subsequently declined (Figure 3 given below).


Source:, Kurian O.C.,Oxfam India, 2015.

This had something to do with India’s efforts towards enhancing universalization of primary education. Globally, India was among the countries which had resorted to highest cut in basic education budget during 2010 to 2012.

Moreover, India and Pakistan were the countries with the largest cuts in aid to basic education between 2010 to 2012,ver the last five years, basic education budget in the primary level particularly on Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) had declined by 6%, from Rs. 23,873 crore ($4.4 billion) in 2012-13 to Rs 22,500 crore ($3.3 billion) for 2016-17. Now it is more important to know where the maximum focus in spending this budget is across India.

Drop Outs from the Mainstream

As per the latest UNESCO Institute for Statistics and Global Education Monitoring Report, 47 million Indian children drop out at the 10th Grade level last year which greatly add to the curious case of India’s missing children. As per latest figures from Institute of Policy Research Studies enrollment at the next grade suddenly becomes half after 10th grade leaving an enrollment level of 52% from 72%, a sudden drop 20 percentage points! (

Trend is becoming clearer

Though there has been improvement in the level of overall enrollment in the primary level; secondary and higher secondary level enrollment suffers drastically due to massive drop outs. No doubt these children must be adding up to the tender army of child labourers – the so called ‘missing children’ by the Census. The government of India sincerely must think about designing an appropriate intervention strategy at this level and must allocate higher educational budget to deal with it so that ‘the missing children’ no longer miss their school.

High Time to turn high school as learning ground for life

Dropping out is a natural phenomenon. Many a times some prefer without regret. Conditions and outcome is to be judged. And more importantly curricula and the way it is being explained. Government has to go beyond narrowness in recruitment procedure towards accommodating more resourceful ones at the local level to be provided the opportunity as part timers and as an overall influential complementary to make education attractive.

You are preparing future citizens. You cannot remain a sole guarantor of job or a mere implementer of social equity by selecting and positioning your mere positive discrimination criteria.  This definitely needs more thinking. Education is for life or is for some curricula, is a long drawn debate. But contextualization is important. Getting paid peanuts even if having basic degrees you cannot expect more from para-teachers.

There is nothing wrong in promoting graded teachers and giving them wider exposures so that the earmarked area is benefitted. If you look at the opportunity costs of education, it is much higher. Every Indian believes that education guarantees jobs rather than makes life better as your decision making improves.

Today in our economy there is more scope for self employment than before. Our country needs smart innovations at the grass root to engage youngsters more meaningfully. They have to break the circle and at the same time jump to the higher circle. When the gap widens, the scope gets amplified. Policy analysts and politicians have to look at this opportunity. 

{*Manoj Kumar Sahoo and Prashanta Chandra Panda are faculty of Economics, School of  Liberal Studies, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India.}

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