Based on our everyday experiences, we are able to predict simple things, and make certain assumptions. Sometimes, events prove us right. For example, which team will win a game, the amount of rainfall in a particular year, likely questions in an upcoming exam, and so on.. But where important issues like education are concerned, it is difficult to predict outcomes without wholly understanding a given situation. It is necessary to look beyond the superficial and the obvious.
Everybody must have heard the saying, “Walls have ears.” Well, have you ever heard that numbers can speak? It’s true. A number by itself has no meaning, however. It is just data. But by analysing this data, we can obtain important information. By studying data, we can find reasons for, an existing situation.
When we ask questions regarding education, or the lack of it, there are many answers – that parents in rural areas don’t understand the value of education; that students in rural areas aren’t able to perform as well as their contemporaries in cities; tribal children don’t go to school; families don’t encourage girls to attend school, and so forth. Yet there is no basis for most of these notions. These are, in many senses, misconceptions.
Nand Kumar, Principal Secretary of School Education and Sports, Govt of Maharashtra, believes that such misconceptions need to be rooted out. His research team is responsible for making people aware that these are misconceptions. He has himself, using available data, been working towards this goal. I, too, was part of this effort.
The Balrakshak movement, under the Samata section of the Maharashtra Academic Authority (MAA), had been gaining momentum in the Marathwada region. Children not in school in the primary education stream were encouraged and enabled to attend school.
Around this time, data for the average annual dropout rate for students going from the 9th to the 10th std was brought to the research team’s notice, so that it would be aware of dropouts at the middle school level, along with those at the primary level. This data contained the percentage rate for dropouts at the secondary level for the academic years from 2014-15 to 2017-18. Nand Kumar asked me to formulate questions, taking my cue from this information.
As I started reading, assimilating and analyzing the information, a number of questions occurred to me.
- The yearly out-of-school average for Thane, Mumbai city, Mumbai suburbs, Raigad and Palghar districts was 10% more than in other districts of the state. What could the reasons be? And how could the number of out-of-school students be reduced in these places?
- The areas showing the higher dropout rates are all situated along the Konkan coastline. Some areas are urban, some rural, and some tribal (such as parts of Palghar and Thane). Could there be common reasons for students remaining out-of-school across these areas? Could we implement a common redresser programme in these places?
- Although urban areas enjoy greater conveniences and facilities with respect to education, commuting, and so on, and parents and guardians tend to be more aware of the importance of education, the dropout rate at the secondary level was higher for cities. Why?
- Compared to 2015-16, out-of-school numbers were significantly lower in 2016-17. What programmes or schemes were implemented in the latter period that helped bring more students to schools?
- Did the out-of-school student rate drop because of ‘Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra’, the revolutionary education programme initiated in 2015-16? If so, which activities of the programme played a role? Could those activities be stepped up so as to further reduce the number of out-of-school students?
- While the out-of-school rate in the rest of the state was greater, it came down to zero in districts such as Bhandara, Vashim, Gondiya. What were the reasons? Were any special programmes being implemented here, that could be of use in other districts as well?
- Why are out-of-school student numbers higher for cities, as compared to tribal areas?
- The Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts on the Konkan coast had fewer dropouts than other districts did. What could be the reason? Is there some correlation between quality of education and out-of-school students? If so, what?
- Are there correlations between the specific features of a region and its out-of-school numbers? What might these be?
- Which programmes have been successfully implemented in schools, in districts where the number of out-of-school students has shown a consistent decline (Amrawati, Akola, Nagpur, Bhandara, Kolhapur, Sangli)?
- In districts such as Nandurbar, Dhule, Jalgaon, Buldhana, Hingoli and Parbhani, there wasan increase in the number of out-of-school girl students, when compared with boy students. Especially in Jalna and Hingoli, where the out-of-school number for girls was9% and 7% more than for boys, respectively. What could the reasons be?
- In Mumbai city, the number of out-of-school boys was twice the number of out-of-school girls. What could the reasons be?
- On the one hand, out-of-school student numbers declined in all districts in2016-17;on the other, Parbhani, Hingoli, Nandurbar, Dhule and Usmanabad districts showed a rise later on. Why?
- Does every district have specific talukas or other areas with higher out-of-school ratios?
- From2016-17 to 2017-18, the overall dropout rate in the state has fallen by 0.76%. If we want to bring it down to zero, what measures are required? And should these be the same for the entire state, or different, according to the needs of particular districts?
- If the reasons for dropping out are different in different districts, can these be identified, and can specific programmes then be devised to address the varied concerns?
Our previous assumptions – that rural and tribal areas have more out-of-school students than cities do, or that more girl students than boy students stay out-of-school – were utterly overturned once we analysed the data for out-of-school numbers in secondary schools.
With sufficient research, it is certainly possible to discover the reasons for students being out-of-school at the secondary level, but not if the researcher has preconceived notions. If they have already decided that urban areas do not have many out-of-school students and so end up leaving such areas out of the sample, the results obtained would be incorrect.
The Principal Secretary has helped educational officers and teachers realise how important it is that not only every researcher but every person associated with school education be able to read and analyse numerical and statistical information.
Numbers really do speak. All we need to do is to listen carefully, in order to understand. Of course, it’s true that the information must be properly compiled and edited.
Let us use and analyse the information that numbers give us to get rid of misconceptions in the educational arena, and to foster educational equality in our society and also in our minds.
Writer: Dr Gitanjali Borude, Maharashtra Academic Authority, Pune
Translation& editing: samata.shiksha team