Govt elementary school enrolment dips

Government-run elementary schools are reducing even in under-developed states
In a new development, government-run elementary schools in the country show a decline in enrolment. This has come even as the total number of schools is rising.

There seem two main reasons. One is a demographic shift from schoolgoing-age to working-age. Second, an increasing preference for private English education. 

The population bulge in India shifted in 2001 from the age range of five to nine years (primary school) to 10 to 14 years (upper primary and secondary school) in 2011, according to Census data. The Statistical Year Book, published by the ministry of statistics, puts India’s demographic bulge in 2016 in the age range of 20 to 24, the initial years of a healthy working age after education. This substantiates the argument on the urgent need for jobs to a burgeoning working age population.

The other and equally important reason appear to be a growing preference among parents for private schools, gradually affecting the enrolment in government schools. This results in either a closure or merger of government-run primary schools (see chart).

What & why

“Government schools are at the bottom of parents’ preference, starting from international schools at the top, followed by the best private schools to the government schools,” a senior official said. “On the same lines, demographic changes have shifted the government’s focus from elementary education to skill development.” 

“Many states are consolidating schools, since the enrolment at some is declining fast due to demographic changes, mostly in rural areas. In cities, private schools are being preferred,” said Suman Bhattacharjea, director at ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) Centre, a pan-India non-profit entity in the quality of education sector.

Schools could be broadly categorised as elementary — imparting primary and upper primary education (Class I to Class V and Class VI to Class VIII, respectively) — and secondary (Class 9 to 12). Based on ownership, classified as government-run and those by private institutions. 

Enrolment in private schools as a percentage of total elementary enrolment increased from 28 per cent in 2006-07 to 38 per cent in 2015-16. Accountability Initiative, a Delhi-based think tank, says a quarter of elementary school students also undertake private tuitions, irrespective of being from a government or private school, as of 2014. Showing that private education is slowly becoming an integral part of education as a whole. 

Enrolment in elementary schools grew until 2014-15 but then reduced, from 198 million children in that year to 197 mn in 2015-16. Enrolment in government schools has been steadily reducing, from 130 mn in 2011-12 to 117 mn in 2015-16. In the same period, secondary school enrolment improved from 54 mn to 64 mn. Showing that the percentage of children actually opting for secondary education after elementary education is on a positive rise (see chart).

There are some outliers. Tamil Nadu, despite the reducing number of its schoolgoing population, went from 36,500 in 2011-12 to 38,200 in 2015-16 in elementary schools run by the government. Bihar’s went from 69,400 to 71,400, despite having India’s youngest population. 

Government-run elementary schools are reducing even in under-developed Chhattisgarh, along with faster developing states such as Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra. 


There is a shortage of about 900,000 teachers in government schools nationwide, shows data given to Parliament. As the preference for private schools started rising, teacher vacancy worsened in government ones.

Some states have tackled this by filling of vacancies. Gujarat reduced its vacancies from 25,000 to 4,000 in a year (2015-16 to 2016-17), while Assam improved its shortage from 40,000 to 20,000. Bihar, where two-thirds of schools were without electricity, had no improvement in school teacher vacancies over the year and, with Uttar Pradesh, led all states with the highest vacancy. These two states had a combined vacancy of over 400,000 teachers.

Though the need for schools, or school benches, to be specific, is reducing due to the demographic shift, the number of children per teacher, reducing until 2014-15, has risen from 2015-16, meaning more burden per teacher and possibly hampering the quality of education. Compliance with the rules on the national Right to Education Act is slower than expected, says the report by Accountability Initiative.


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