More than two lakh students in Maharashtra dropped out of the education system over the past year which was ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who filled forms to appear for their tenth standard exams are over two lakh lesser compared to those who passed the ninth grade last year. The data has shocked the education department in Maharashtra and an urgent drive to get back these students to schools is being demanded from various quarters.
A total of 18,31,344 students passed the ninth standard last year. However, the number of applicants for the tenth standard this year were just 16, 57,000. Out of these, 56 thousand students were re-appearing for exams. That means only 16 lakh fresh students appeared for their tenth standard exams. When compared to those who passed class 9 last year, about 2,32,000 students have dropped out from the education system in a single year.
Sangita Malshe, senior education expert and CEO at the Zalkari Knowledge Foundation, said that there would be multiple reasons why students have failed to appear for the examinations. "Poverty, financial distrain, child marriages, the possibility of parents migrating elsewhere for work and child labour; such reasons would be behind it," said Malashe.
As per the Right To Education Act, it is the responsibility of the state government to provide an environment for students to come to school. Students are being cleared till class 8 using a grade system. There have been a number of incidents earlier too when students dropped out from the ninth standard, but this huge number of more than two lakh students is unnatural, and shocking for those concerned.
"The primary education department is supposed to reach out to students. We haven't seen any efforts of the sort from this department in Maharashtra. They should have come up with an immediate drive to find students and enroll them for the tenth standard. We really don't know whether the MVA government understands the seriousness of the situation," said former education minister and BJP leader Ashish Shelar.
MLC from Mumbai Teachers constituency Kapil Patil also had a similar appeal. "Teachers have been given other work like helping health workers. Instead, the government should ask teachers to find students. They would happily do that. Health-related work should be given to health department personnel and teachers should be allowed to do their own work. Only then will the number of dropouts go down," said Patil.
With Maharashtra under a lockdown, many people from marginalised communities have migrated to different cities and states with their families. This would possibly be the another reason why the number of dropouts has increased by so much. Education counsellor Ashutosh Shirke believes that a special program for counselling students and their parents would help to stem this fall. "Students from marginalised communities mainly leave education to help their families. In the current time when the financial stability of the poor classes is no more, it is obvious that they would look for more helping hands. That is why reaching out to such parents as well as students and counselling them to attend classes is important. It will help," said Shirke.
It seems that state will have to resort to the online education system for the second year in a row. Experts say the move will further push marginalised and poor students out of the education system. Though the state's primary education department keeps claiming that it is trying to accommodate all students, the reality shows that their plans have not worked. For a state government which calls itself progressive, this is definitely not sometthing to be proud of.