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New Delhi: Indian schools taught 265 million students in 2019-20, at least 4.2 million more than the year-ago period, while the number of teachers rose by 250,000 during the period, the union education ministry on Thursday said in its Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) report 2019-20.

Including pre-primary students enrolled in formal schools, the “total enrolment of all the schools in the UDISE+ system have crossed 26.45 crore in 2019-20, which is an increase of more than 42 lakh over the previous year 2018-19," the annual national report of the ministry showed.

The Indian school education system is one of the largest in the world with more than 1.5 million schools, of which almost two-thirds are government-run. Of the total schools, the UDISE report said almost 421,861 are either run privately or are private aided schools.

As per the report, a comparison of enrolment at different levels of education shows that enrolment at the primary level had reduced from 135 million in 2012-13 to 122 million in 2019-2020.

“At all the levels above primary, i.e. in upper primary, secondary and higher secondary, school enrolment has increased, showing an improvement in the ability of the system to retain more and more children in the system of school education over time," the report said.

To be sure, 2019-20 is a pre-pandemic year, these numbers may have reduced in 2020-21 due to reverse migration, closure of schools, and fragile economic condition of families that may have pushed kids out of schools. The 2020-21 data will be released in 2022.

The total number of teachers in 2019-20 was 9.68 million, an increase of more than 250,000 over total teachers in 2018-19, the annual government estimate showed. This growth in teachers’ number is a positive sign as it increases the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR).

“PTR for primary has reached 26.5 in 2019-20, which was 34.0 in 2012-13. Maximum improvement can be observed in PTR of higher secondary which has improved to 26.1 in 2019-20 from 39.2 in 2012-13," the union government said.

The education ministry said, between 2012-13 and 2019-20, the gender parity index (GPI) at both Secondary and Higher Secondary levels had improved. Improvement of GPI has been most pronounced at the higher secondary level, which has gone up to 1.04 in 2019-20 from 0.97 in 2012-13. This means the gross enrolment of girls in higher secondary is more than boys.

Overall gross enrolment ratio (GER) had improved across schools in 2019-20 over the year-ago period. The ministry said GER had improved by a little over 9% at the secondary school level between 2012-13 and 2019-20.

The outbreak of the pandemic has battered the education system forcing physical schools to shut down and leaving online education as the only way out. Experts argue that the digital divide and financial inequality has put millions of students career at stake.

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