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OOSC in India

Varying Estimates in India

India, with a population of 123 million 6-10 year-olds in 2006¹, is home to 19% of the global population of primary school aged children (ISCED definition of primary, UIS data). With such large numbers, even small changes in the estimated percentage of out of school children can have a dramatic effect on the global count. Even as UIS estimates that non-enrollment had fallen as low as 5% in 2006², household survey data for 2006 indicates a rate closer to 17% (see table to right). The gap between these percentages amounts to nearly 15 million primary-aged children– an enormous figure, given that the entire UIS global total of out of school children in 2006 ran at 71 million. In part, this discrepancy may be explained by the difference between enrollment and actual attendance: all things being equal, we generally expect attendance rates to yield higher estimates of exclusion, since it is possible for a child to enroll and not attend school.

In the case of India, however, the difference is substantially larger than the norm: using an age-adjusted non-attendance rate for children of ages 6-10, which correspond to primary school according to ISCED 1997 classification, we arrive at an out of school rate of 17% (NFHS, 2007)³, as compared with a rate of 5% based on administrative sources reporting to UIS.

The 17% NFHS-based out of school rate is not out of alignment with the findings of other surveys and censuses carried out in India. In a 2011 report, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation acknowledges the large, albeit decreasing gap between administrative instruments and survey- and census-based out of school rates. Far from questioning the validity of the household-based measurements, the Ministry sees the gap as an impetus for a concerted effort to improve school attendance. Non-attendance rates from the survey and census sources, as well as comparable national non-enrollment rates for the same period, are reproduced in the table to the left.

Data collection for the 2005-2006 India DHS took place over an extended period of time, beginning in December 2005 and concluding nine months later in August of 2006. This means that, according to data published in the UIS database, enumeration spanned the 2005-2006 (April-March) and the 2006-2007 (April-March) school years. Without adjusting downwards to account for this elapsed time, it is possible to mistakenly identify as ‘primary aged’ a 6-year old who was actually only four years old in April 2005. In the case of India, adjusting ages reduces the age 6-10 non-attendance rate by seven percentage points, from 24% to 17%. The graph below displays the non-attendance rate by adjusted single-year ages for the 2005-2006 India DHS.

In sum, the gap between estimates of both the rate and the number of out of school children in India for 2006 based on household survey and administrative data is large. The magnitude of the gap is made all the more apparent by the outsized effect of India on the global count of out of school children.

¹ The latest school year for which a household survey is available.

² Administrative estimate of the out-of-school rate for 2008 fell even further, to 2% of primary school aged children (UIS database accessed in March 2013).

³ The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) is carried out by Macro International under the auspices of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and follows the methodology, format and structure of the Demographic Health Surveys.


Discussion Question

  • How can the gap between estimates of both the rate and the number of out of school children in India be explained?


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