Identifying root causes 

Moa Jamir

The school dropout rate has been a perennial challenge in Nagaland, and it persists despite initiatives to check the problem. The problem becomes more perceptible as the students move to higher classes. The latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2022 reaffirmed this conclusion.

The report analysing the status of schools in rural areas informed that almost 1 in 10 of Nagaland’s children in the age group of 15-16 years are not attending schools. Specifically, 'Not in school' designated as ‘children who never enrolled or have dropped out’ was highest in the age group at 9.4%.

To put things into context, the percentage of out-of-school children from 6-14 years was just 0.7%, below the national average of 1.6%, indicating that most students are dropping out after upper primary level or class 8. Such data is similar to results reflected in the Unified District Information System for Education Plus (UDISE+) report, which shows a high dropout rate in the Secondary (Class 9-10) level.

The problem is not restricted to rural areas alone. Similar data are reflected in the annual Unified District Information System for Education Plus (UDISE) Dashboard and report released by the Union Ministry of Education. As per the UDISE Plus 2021-22 (Flash Statistics) released last year, the dropout rate surged from just 4% in the upper primary level (Class 6-8) to 18.9% and 17.5% in the Secondary (Class 9-19) level, against the national average of 12.6%. 

Besides, retention rate, and rates of transition from the elementary to secondary education tend to be among the lowest in Nagaland. As UDISE reports are voluntarily uploaded by schools, the data can be considered more comprehensive. Dropout rate is defined as "the proportion of pupils from a cohort enrolled in a given level at a given school year who are no longer enrolled at any grade in the following school year" in the UDISE report.

It is not the case that the State Government, the Department of School Education (DoSE), Nagaland or other stakeholders, are not aware of the issue. Such issues are highlighted regularly by those at the helm of affairs. For instance, informing that there is a ‘moderate’ increase in student enrolment in schools, the DoSE issued a slew of directives for schools in Nagaland to address the issue, including an extension of the timeline for admissions to all classes in July 2021.

The directives, among others, included a special admission drive, contacting parents/guardians of dropout students with the help of teachers, as well as appeals to public leaders, NGOs, student bodies, and church leaders, to create awareness among parents of dropout students and to assist them in getting the children admitted to the nearest Government schools. A quick perusal of reports over the year also suggests that concerned authorities have made similar appeals over the years.

Significantly, however, the dropout rate rises just after the students move out of the mandated Right to Education Act 2009, with provisions for free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years to higher level. Accordingly, along with the appeals, it is imperative and an opportune time for the DoSE to ask why students are dropping out significantly after a certain stage and identifying the root causes. The answers to the question would give insights into appropriate corrective measures to address the issue.

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