IN THE academic year 2020-21, more than 2 lakh students between Classes 1 and 12 moved from private schools to government in Andhra Pradesh. Around 60,253 are estimated to have dropped out of the system.
In total, 3,57,873 students either dropped out of school or took transfer certificates for moving to other schools. The number of students who moved from private schools to government is exactly 2,02,599, as per Education Department data, while 8,448 moved from government to private. While enrolment is still on, as of now, the student strength in government schools is estimated to be 72,33,040 compared to around 10 lakh in private schools.
The move from government to private schools is in line with what has been observed in other states in the 2020-21 academic year, which coincided with Covid-19 and consequent economic distress.
Officials said the number of dropouts in districts in 2020-21 was three or four times previous years, going up to nine times. For instance, 19,800 dropped out in Visakhapatnam in 2019-20 compared to 36,016 in 2020-21. In East Godavari, the numbers stand at 3,800 versus 36,237; and in Kurnool, the numbers have surged from less than 10,000 in 2019-20 to 42,328 in 2020-21.
Apart from students whom schools have simply not been able to trace, Education Department officials consider those who have taken transfer certificates and not enrolled at other schools as dropouts. A number of students are also believed to have dropped out due to lack of access to devices for online classes.
Education Minister Audimulapu Suresh said they are trying to trace students who have dropped out to bring them back into the system before schools reopen on August 16.
A high number of dropouts are girl students, Suresh said. “The dropouts can be attributed to Covid-19 lockdowns, closure of schools for a long time, job or income loss of the main breadwinner, and migration to native places.”
An Education Department official said, “Due to loss of income some parents can no longer afford to send their children to private schools and have enrolled them in government schools. Another reason is the improvement of infrastructure which has transformed government schools, attracting many students.”
Officials of the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan said they have recorded instances of hundreds of families shifting from cities and towns back to villages due to the pandemic, displacing students.
The government has developed a mobile application, Mana Badiki Podam, on which house-to-house surveyors, including teachers and anganwadi workers, upload details of the dropouts. An online data monitoring system, Children Info Drop Box, helps track them.
In East Godavari district, coincidentally the worst hit by Covid in Andhra Pradesh, seeing 2.75 lakh cases, 36,237 students are no longer on government records. The migration from private to government schools here, at 28,205 students, is also the highest in the state.
A survey on school dropouts here revealed many instances of girls in Classes 9, 10 being married off by distressed families. District Educational Officer S Abraham said, “Due to financial problems, boys have dropped out and taken up work in brick kilns. We found students from as far as Srikakulam and Vizianagaram working in brick kilns at Mandapeta in our district… As small businesses folded or parents lost jobs, many boys went to Kadiyam, where they could earn Rs 400-500 for four-five hours of picking flowers daily. Income generation has taken priority over school for a majority of the dropouts.”
Abraham added that while the government has set up residential schools and hostels that offer free accommodation and food to students, migrant workers mostly take their children along as they consider them an extra hand to contribute to the family income.
Officials are hopeful that some of the dropouts may be temporary, with students having left to work on fields during the harvest season.
In Visakhapatnam district, where 36,016 students are now registered as dropouts, the DEO has managed to trace 3,000. “We are trying to get them to residential schools. They dropped out due to intra and inter-district migration or income loss in the pandemic,” said DEO Lingeshwara Reddy.
DEO, Krishna, Tahera Sultana said they had found that students who could not afford devices to attend online classes or had no access to the Internet fell out of the school system.
In Guntur district, where over 37,900 students have been identified as dropouts, DEO R S Ganga Bhavani said they are trying to trace all and bring them back into the school system. “The main reason for dropping out is migration for work by parents, who lost livelihoods due to the pandemic,” she said.