Data study: Analysing enrolment trends in elementary education

Objective and Background

This post attempts to analyse the raw data of 10 years of Annual Status of Education Report (ASER): from 2006 to 2016 to come up with some offbeat trends of enrolment in elementary education.

The Annual Status of Education Report published by Pratham is the most comprehensive survey of the status of elementary education (upto Class 8) in India. Started more than 10 years ago, the survey is conducted by volunteers making it the largest citizen led survey in India. It is a household based survey instead of the school based surveys which many other organisations go for. ASER team does a beautiful job of sampling the households, using high end technology to collect data and in ensuring the data quality.

ASER team collects data on 3 parameters: Enrolment, Arithmetic Level and Reading Level. This article only entails analysis for enrolment.

Data used for following studyASER Center
Tableau dashboards used for analysis are also embedded in the article to let the reader go through the trends themselves and come up with their own conclusions, if need be.

1. Enrolment: Government School vs Private School

The trend illustrated in figure 1 at all India level suggests that the government enrolment is falling (from 71% in 2006 to 63% in 2016), private enrolment is rising (from 19% in 2006 to 30% in 2016), and the fraction of students out of school is falling (from 8.75% in 2006 to 4.9% in 2016).

In a few states: Punjab, Haryana, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Meghalaya – the enrolment in private schools has crossed the enrolment in government schools (apply filter for these states to see the trend). Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra are following the same trend and will soon join the above states in a few years.

The analysis suggests that the states are divided into 3 categories:

  1. States where private enrolment is higher than government enrolment.
  2. States which will move into the first category in a few years.
  3. States where the government enrolment is still too high and/or is increasing.

The third category of states is well represented in figure 2. While in most of the states, the government school enrolment has fallen from 2006 to 2016 (the states in red); the same is not true for Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and Nagaland.

Apart from them, in Gujarat, Tripura and West Bengal, government school enrolment is still as high as 80% (see Figure 3 in the next slide of the tableau dashboard), and it is nearly 70% in Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, suggesting that these states are still going to be government dominated in education for the next few years.

2. Enrolment: Children not enrolled in school (Out of School)

The black dot in figure 3 marks the fraction of students not enrolled in classrooms. In 2016, around 7.8% children in Uttar Pradesh, 7.8% in Madhya Pradesh and 6.9% children in Rajasthan were not enrolled in schools, all India average being 4.9%. Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh have done well in this regard with less than 1% of the children out of school. In 2014 as well (change the year from the filter to see the trend for that year), Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh performed the worst, while Kerala, Goa and Himachal Pradesh performed the best in this regard.

Madhya Pradesh is the only state where students out of school are in-fact rising: from about 5% in 2006 to 7.8% in 2016.

The goods news here is that there is an evidence of convergence in many states. For instance, Rajasthan has made significant improvements from 2006 when the fraction of out of school children was more than 14%, as can be seen from Figure 1.

3: Enrolment: Children not enrolled in school: Gender Divide

The graph in figure 4 marks the same parameter: fraction of children out of school but now de-hyphenated for male and female children across each state (for the year 2016). The idea is to see which states are doing better in gender equality in education.

As we saw above, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have a high percentage of students who are not enrolled in schools. As figure 5 illustrates, these very states also have a higher divide between the percentages of female and male children out of school (4.2% difference in case of Rajasthan, 2.9% for Madhya Pradesh and 2.5% for Uttar Pradesh)

Almost all of our north eastern states have more boys out of school compared to girls, which could be signifying that the education of girls is preferred equally, if not more, than education of boys in these states (at-least till elementary level). West Bengal has 3.4% more boys out of school than girls, Sikkim 2.1%, Meghalaya and Assam 1.8%.

If we select another year from filter, say 2013 or 2014, the numbers change but the results are almost similar. Gujarat also joins the category of Rajasthan, UP and MP as we move back in time. Rajasthan’s performance has been worst amongst other states in this regard, but the good news is that it is improving with time suggesting convergence. The difference between the fraction of boys and girls out of school for Rajasthan was more than 7.5% back in 2006, it has reduced to 4.2% now. But it still has a long way to go.

These results are also consistent with the socio-economic history of the states. Most notable women in literature and arts have emerged from Bengal. Amar Jibanis (1860) and Ladyland (1905), amongst the first two popular classics in women literature in India were written by women from Bengal. The tribes of Meghalaya constitute a matrilineal society, men leave their home to live in their mother in law’s home and women inherit the parental property, so it is no surprise that the education of girls would be preferred over education of boys in Meghalaya. Rajasthan has had an unfavourable cultural history when it comes to education and status of women in society. Child marriage is still prevalent in many parts of Rajasthan, thus pushing many children (mostly girls) out of school.

4: Enrolment: Children not enrolled in school: Age Divide

Figure 6 is the trend of the fraction of children who are not in school for different age groups. As one can guess, 5-7 is the age group where maximum children are enrolled in schools and 14-16 is the age group where maximum children are out of school. This shows an inclination to “earn rather than learn” in the mindset of some parents, as the child gets of age.

Even though there has been a significant improvement in this age-group (14-16) as compared to 10 years ago, when more than 18% children of this age-group were not in school. Today this number stands at 12%. Except Madhya Pradesh which is seeing an increase in the fraction of students out of school, all other states have seen a decline with time.

But there are still a lot of challenges that need to be solved to overcome this hurdle. Child marriages and child labour are the foremost. The legislative steps in this regard: Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 , Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 and the recent Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2016 are welcoming steps, but until and unless they are properly enforced, the situation will not improve.

Another interesting insight is that 14 years is typically the age when a child enters class Class 9. Section 16 of the RTE Act stipulated that “No child admitted in a school shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education” (No detention policy). Thus, the policy covers elementary stage of schooling covering classes 1 to 8. This could be another possible reason why children start dropping out after elementary schooling as they would actually have to study in order to pass class 9. The government has now scrapped the no detention policy by amending RTE Act, a step which should have been taken much earlier according to some policy experts.

Figure 7 is the dropout comparison of states for the year 2016. For this analysis, we are defining dropout as the students who were enrolled in the age-group of 5-7 but were not enrolled in the higher age-group of 14-16. As expected, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan lead the pack. But the numbers for Madhya Pradesh are worrisome. Almost a fifth of the students from age-group 5-7 dropout by the time they reach 14-16 years of age.

Kerala and Himachal Pradesh are definitely doing a good job at ensuring that the children do not dropout with a dropout rate of less than 1% and 2.3% respectively.

As a policy recommendation, it has been suggested that the RTE Act should be extended to 18 years of age. According to the latest (ASER 2017) data, 14 percent or a total of 125 million young Indians in this category are not enrolled. Guaranteed inclusion will empower those in the 14-18 age group to continue with their education.


Many of us might hold the view that while these results bring a lot of insights, the issue is that the government does not pay heed to them. This is far from being true. A copy of ASER report is sent to the Department of Elementary Education and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) department of each state. Many states then hold internal meetings to discuss the shortcomings of their state as per the report findings.

Moreover, the GoI (Government of India), organises regional conferences on excellence in governance where states come together to share best practices and the challenges they face. A case in point where cooperation between states can bring about changes is Project Samarth (2016-17) in Himachal Pradesh which was instrumental in delivering textbooks on time, an area where the state was facing a huge challenge due to its difficult terrain. For the same, Samarth’s team looked into and learnt from the steps taken by Kerala government which successfully overcame a similar issue a few years ago.

The vision of cooperative and competitive federalism needs to be inculcated in the sector. With NITI Aayog coming up with School Education Quality Index (SEQI), a composite index that will report annual improvements of states on key domains of education quality; the government too is realising that competition has its benefits.

But we must remember what Franklin Roosevelt had once said: “Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”

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