UNICEF is committed to ensuring all children in India have access to inclusive and equitable quality education.

Students pose for photograph inside their classroom at government primary school.

Every girl and boy in school and learning

India has many accomplishments to celebrate in education. More than 70 million children attend pre-primary school, there is a near universal primary enrolment and there is a consistent increase in upper primary (lower secondary) participation.

Out of 100 students, 29 per cent of girls and boys drop out of school before completing the full cycle of elementary education, and often they are the most marginalized children. 

The Government of India’s Right to Education Act has been instrumental in the reduction of the number of Out of School Children (OOSC) aged 6 to 14 years, from 13.46 million in 2006 to six million in 2014 (Source: RI-IMRB Surveys, 2009 and 2014). Out of the six million children that are still out of school a majority are from marginalised communities including Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and religious minority groups.

Challenges remain because most of the children who are in school are not learning at grade appropriate levels. Poor quality teaching and learning practices result in lower school attendance and children drop out due to early marriage, child labour or because they are subject to violence or abuse. Seasonal migration, poverty, lack of access to and awareness of social protection measures also lead to children dropping out of school.

Inequities in access to quality early childhood education: In India, there are approximately 20 million children, between the ages of 3-6, that are not attending preschool. This is primarily because of lack of basic infrastructure, qualified early childhood educators and appropriate learning materials. Low school readiness levels in cognitive and language skills prevail for children in government-run Anganwadi Centres (AWCs) as well as the private preschools. (Source: Longitudinal study, Center for Early Childhood Education and Development, Ambedkar University, ASER Centre)

Large numbers of out of school children (OOSC): There are close to six million out of school children in India. Out of 100 students, 29 per cent of girls and boys drop out of school before completing the full cycle of elementary education, and often they are the most marginalised children. The majority (75 per cent) of the OOSC are concentrated in six states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal.

In school and not learning: Large scale learning assessments and surveys[1] have consistently pointed to the poor learning levels of children even after eight years of elementary education. A critical factor impacting learning outcomes is the absence of strong foundation provided by quality early childhood education. Another is the dearth of well-qualified and trained teachers.  Even when recruited, teacher absenteeism remains a concern due to poor governance.

[1] National Achievement Survey/ State Learning Achievement Surveys, Annual Status of Education Report  and Programme for International Student Assessment                      

The solution

UNICEF is working closely with the Government of India, civil society and private sector across 17 states to make sure all children, particularly the most disadvantaged, participate in quality early childhood and elementary education with learning outcomes at grade appropriate levels, by 2022.

The aim is to ensure quality, grade-appropriate education from early childhood through elementary for all boys and girls. This is done through system strengthening with government at all levels and effective coordination, implementation and monitoring of the education programme.

Girls taking part in the menstrual hygiene management (MHM) intervention programme in Agarwal Vidyalaya (School) in western Indian state of Gujarat.
Girls taking part in the menstrual hygiene management (MHM) programme in their school in western Indian state of Gujarat.

We aim to reduce the number of out of school children by three million through timely enrolment, regular attendance and flexible learning for elementary and secondary aged children.

UNICEF also supports the government in strengthening life skills development (skills for learning, self-empowerment, social skills and employability) for children aged 3 to 18. These soft skills are prerequisites that allow children to negotiate the very dynamic Indian societal context.

With a special focus on girl child, UNICEF is working with the Government to improve learning levels by 15 per cent while ensuring foundational and transferable skills development.

Government schools in India are the largest providers of education. However, data indicates that parents are increasingly enrolling their children in private schools. The government has opened its doors to Public-Private Partnership to introduce innovation and create models of quality within the government system. 

UNICEF advocates for and ensures rights based and democratic education that addresses social and gender inequalities in education, in its work with the private sector.