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Poor are spending more on education

Sunil Jain in New Delhi | July 22, 2003

While private expenditure on education has grown a whopping 10.8 times in the past 16 years, for the country's poor, comprising 40 per cent of the population, it has climbed 12.4 times between 1983 and 1999.

As a percentage of average expenditure per household, the fraction spent on education rose from 1.23 per cent to 2.82 per cent in absolute terms, while per capita private expenditure on education rose from Rs 1.51 per month to Rs 16.35 per month.

Thanks to this, traditionally disadvantaged groups -- the Muslims and the Schedule Caste/Schedule Tribes -- have also seen a sharp spurt in their education levels, says economist Surjit Bhalla, who is working on a research project on the subject for the Planning Commission, based on data collected by the National Sample Survey.

While the average number of years in school for females aged between 5-14 was 1.91 in 1983, it jumped to 3.11 in 1999.

But what is more interesting is the jump in schooling years for SC/STs.

For females in this group, the number of years in school increased from 1.27 in 1983 to 3.05 in 1999. For Hindus, the rise was from 2.19 to 3.41.

In other words, SC/STs have caught up with mainstream Hindus in a big way as far as education is concerned.

There has also been a sharp hike in the average number of years spent by Muslim children in school, from 1.62 to 2.71, but the disparity between Hindus and Muslims has fallen only marginally.

While an average SC/ST girl child studied 0.58 times a non-SC/ST girl child in 1983, by 1999 this went up to just under 0.9.

On average, a Muslim girl child studied 0.74 times the number of years a Hindu female child did in 1983. However, by 1999 this improved only marginally to 0.80.

The female-male education ratio has also improved significantly. While the number of years spent by a female child in school was 30 per cent less than that by a male child in 1983, this difference fell to just 10 per cent in 1999.

While female children are sent to school for 17 per cent less years than a male child in the case of the poor, in the case of the rich the difference is negligible.

In 1999, an average rich, which comprises the top 20 per cent of the population, girl child in the 5-14 age group spent 4.52 years in school, an average rich boy spent 4.56 years.

In the 5-12 age group, where the number of years spent in school should be 3.5 in a no-dropout case, it was only 1.33 in 1983. This improved to 1.98 in 1999, but there is clearly a long way to go.

Similarly, in the high-school age group, where the number of years of schooling has to be 10.5 years, it was just 4.77 in 1983. This rose to 6.34 in 1999, an impressive achievement, but still far short of the ideal.

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