Why students in India drop out

13 out of every 100 Indians between 5-29 years did not attend school because they did not consider education ‘necessary,’ according to NSSO data

Photo: Hemant Mishra
Photo: Hemant Mishra

It is common knowledge that financial constraints or domestic chores are the main reasons cited by people for dropping out of education. But data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) shows that 13 out of every 100 Indians between 5-29 years did not attend school or dropped out because they did not consider education “necessary.”

This proportion is significantly higher for school going kids between 10-14 years. In this category, one out of every three person who is not attending school said they considered education unnecessary. In a similar survey conducted almost a decade ago, only one in every four person cited the same reason for non-attendance.

This trend is more marked among rural students with 34.8% of drop outs (including those who have never attended school) indifferent to studies. A far lower proportion of urban students—about 22.8%—showed a lack of interest in education.

Interestingly, this tendency peters out among older age groups. In the 15-19 years category, only 17 out of every 100 non-attendees called education unnecessary. In the 20-24 years group, it was even lower at 12%. This data reiterates other evidence which shows that more Indians are becoming educated and consider education necessary.

“The demand for education has clearly increased as more people are now going to schools. But the increase in supply has not been commensurate. The quality of school infrastructure and teachers is still poor in India causing people to drop out,” said Jayan Jose Thomas, assistant professor at IIT Delhi.

Yet others believe it is the most common answer for people who do not have easy access to educational institutions. This is especially true of migrants. With the need for transfer certificates, residence certificates and other such formalities, people find the entire educational system burdensome.

“It is the educational system that is not encouraging people. It is much easier to change jobs than to change schools/ colleges these days with all the formalities needed. And once a child is out of school for too long, admissions become even more difficult,” said Himanshu, assistant professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

That said, among dropouts and non-attendees overall (5-29 years), the need to supplement household income still remains the prime reason for not pursuing studies. This was the reason cited by 36% respondents. Another 26.5% said they couldn’t attend school because they had to pursue domestic chores. What’s surprising is that the percentage of non-attendees citing domestic chores as a reason has spiked between 2004-05 and 2011-12.

This is especially true for girls over the age of 15. In this category nearly half the non-attendees do so because of their engagement in domestic activities. A good proportion would also have dropped out owing to marriage.

With the median age of marriage among women in India still remaining low, women are forced to assist with domestic chores at an early age, thus discontinuing with their education. This is visible over both rural and urban India. Similarly for boys over the age of 15, there is a spike in the drop-out rate owing to the need to earn.