The Niti Aayog’s just-released School Education Quality Index (SEQI) has provided useful information on the comparative performance of states on various aspects of schooling, including teaching, learning and administration, which should help them to draw up policies and programmes for improvement. SEQI aims to drive policy reforms that will improve the quality of school education. The index seeks to institutionalise a focus on enhancing education outcomes by driving improvements in learning levels, access, equity, infrastructure and governance processes. The index recognises that school education is a subject on the Concurrent List and that State-level leadership is crucial for improving outcomes in a cost-effective manner. The index will serve as a regular and transparent review of the status of school education quality across the States and UTs. With 2015-16 as the base year and 2016-17 as the reference year, the report ranks 20 major states, eight smaller states and eight Union Territories on as many as 30 parameters including quality of education, accessibility, infrastructure and equity outcomes. The evaluation was comprehensive and threw up encouraging results in many areas, though the performance varied widely among the states. One positive finding is that most states showed a high net enrolment ratio (NER) of more than 90 per cent at the elementary level. But the NER figures fell considerably at the secondary level, indicating a high dropout rate. Most states have to address this problem. The report shows that 95 per cent of the schools have toilets for girls, which should help remove one negative factor in the enrolment of girls in schools in many places.
The index reconfirmed the gap between southern and northern states in learning outcomes but pointed to the efforts made by some backward states to move forward. Kerala leads the ranking of 20 major states in overall performance, followed by Tamil Nadu while Uttar Pradesh is at the bottom. Kerala, Rajasthan and Karnataka are the top performers in learning outcomes. Among the smaller states, Manipur, Tripura and Goa bagged the first three positions. Rajasthan, which has been a laggard in the past, has made good progress, but the challenge is to sustain it. It is also remarkable that among 20 large states, 18, including UP, showed high rates of improvement in overall performance. But the improvement is from a low base, so they have to move much further to better their overall ranking and performance in specific areas.
One important finding is about the unevenness of performance in the case of the underlying parameters among the states. While the scores of the top three performers in learning outcomes ranged from the 70s to the 90s, they scored less than 50 on infrastructure. Though Karnataka leads in learning outcomes, it has slipped in overall performance from the fifth position in 2015-16 to the 13th position in 2016-17. The data should incentivise states to improve educational standards in schools. The Centre has decided to link bonus grants for education to the states’ performance in learning outcomes. One important point is that states should pay attention to all aspects of education like infrastructure, access, teachers’ training and attendance of students, along with learning outcomes, so that they gain on overall performance.