Published: 18th August 2021
Does the union government's data on educationally backward TN districts portray the real picture?
In PhD and MPhil courses, Tamil Nadu tops the country in enrolment by a big margin, while in the same courses, Tamil Nadu also ranks number one in women enrolment
The Union Government last week informed the Lok Sabha that about 70 percent of the districts in Tamil Nadu are educationally backward. This data has caused doubt and disbelief among many sections including educationalists and experts as to how the Union Ministry classified the majority districts of the State as educationally backward when it leads in almost all the parameters in education.
Replying to a question by MPs Harish Dwivedi and Rama Devi, Union Minister for Education Dharmendra Pradhan on August 9 presented a data in Lok Sabha, that says out of the 38 districts in Tamil Nadu, 27 are educationally backward and the State stands fourth in the country, in having the highest number of educationally backward districts. Districts such as Coimbatore, Madurai, Tiruvallur, Vellore, and Kancheepuram are also featured in this, raising doubts in experts on the basis of the report. Experts believe this data may not portray an actual picture of the State's education and questioned its authenticity as Tamil Nadu's Gross Enrolment Ratio in 2019-20, as per the All India Survey of Higher Education, is 51 percent, higher than almost all the major states like Maharastra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Bihar.
It is at almost twice the number of India's GER which is 27 percent. Similarly, in the average enrolment per college in major States, Tamil Nadu is at the third position between 2019 and 20, with about 800 students joining a college every year, only next to Bihar, Delhi, and West Bengal. In PhD and MPhil courses, Tamil Nadu tops the country in enrolment by a big margin, while in the same courses, Tamil Nadu also ranks number one in women enrolment, by a huge margin.
In terms of male-female enrolment in higher education, Tamil Nadu is at number three in the country, only next to Uttar Pradesh and Maharastra. Educationalist M G Dawood Miakhan, who is the General Secretary of Quaide Milleth Educational and Social Trust, said he also went through the report and, unfortunately, the Union Government has not given any statistical data to justify it. "Going by the yearly surveys, Tamil Nadu stands on top three in the country and my feeling is, there is a flaw in how the current data was formed. I totally reject the information," he said.
Miakhan, who is also aware of the yearly admissions at the popular Quaid-E-Millath Government College for Women, said the number of women being admitted is steadily increasing every year and the State is also at the forefront, in giving quality education to women and marginalized children. "I am not sure if this data is a ploy to impose the National Education Policy in Tamil Nadu as first would they create an impression the education system here is bad and later, they would say they will give special attention," he added. The Union Government data puts all the western belt districts including Coimbatore, as an educationally backward district.
Arulanantham, Auditor of TN higher secondary school teachers association, who is based in Coimbatore region, said Coimbatore and surrounding districts have one of the top educational systems and there may be some decline in admissions in hilly areas like Valparai and Velliangadu. "However, these issues are a bit marginal as the enrolment ratio of both boys and girls, and pass percentage of students are very high. Generally, except for the hilly regions, the dropout rates are very lesser in the Coimbatore district. I am surprised this is called an educationally backward district," he said, adding that in case there's a dropout, teachers immediately visit the village of the student and enquire the issue, and take measures to join them in schools.
He also said that going by the results of 10th and 12th every year, Coimbatore comes in the top five districts of Tamil Nadu. Even in UG enrolment, Tamil Nadu is at number three position in terms of the number of girls going to college. While Uttar Pradesh has 27.42 lakh girls entering college in 2019-20, followed by Maharastra with 13.41 lakhs, Tamil Nadu stands third with 11.94 lakh girls entering that year. However, going by the GER which may be proportionate with the population, TN is leading all the major states in women enrolment as well. Prince Gajendra Babu, Educationalist and State General Secretary of State Platform for Common School System, said there was no doubt the State was leading in education and questioned the authenticity of how the Union Government arrived at data on Tamil Nadu's backward districts. "In 1924, TN brought in the elementary education rule which provides free and compulsory education in a selected panchayat in elementary levels. In 1950, a law was passed to have schools every ten kilometers. There was also mid-may meals scheme to provide food to children from poor backgrounds," he said.
Gajendra Babu said that Tamil Nadu is established in its public school system and the data did not show real input and he wondered how people could believe it. "If there is a deficiency in learning outcomes, it should be clearly stated. Simply releasing numbers does not show the cause nor effect," he said, expressing concerns over whether if this was a ploy to implement the NEP in the State.
S Prabakaran, a high-school teacher from the KENC Government High School in Tiruvallur, a district bordering Chennai, and termed as educationally backward, said the enrolment of women as well as marginalised community members are high in Tamil Nadu, as well as Tiruvallur district, as teachers are advised to visit the villages to identify eligible children to bring them to school. "In fact, we visit even tribal villages and are now conducting tuitions for them. We are making efforts to include them in school. Apart from this, we give pamphlets to families in the surrounding villages to publicize admissions," he said, pointing out that such efforts have raised the enrolment of students from 600 in 2016 to 1070 in 2020. Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu also ranks number one in presence of Schedule Caste and OBC teachers with 22,508 teachers belong to the SC community while 1.43 lakh teachers belonging to the Other Backward Castes. Experts opined that if the Union Government is highlighting a problem on Tamil Nadu's education, it needs to be explained further. "They have to come forward and justify it," concluded Makhan.