It is not so much about the issue of access as it is about the quality whenever the subject of discussion on the table is education. The falling education standards or the declining quality of education is also, often, fiercely debated in the two houses of the Parliament. What we tend to overlook while we point to the many factors that apparently lead to the falling standards of education, though, are certain nitty-gritties that often do not present themselves ostensibly as the elements contributing to the reality.     

Shortage of teachers, high student-teacher ratio, irrelevant curriculum, and poor quality textbooks are almost always the factors numbered as the causes leading to the falling quality of education in the country. While it cannot be denied that all these factors individually and together affect the quality of education, we can ill afford to discount or omit other factors that play their part. For instance, do our schools have conditions in place that are conducive to learning?

Sanitation and hygiene, the lack of it rather, has serious impact on a child’s learning abilities. There may be visible decrease in the instances of open defecation but that does not mean that our sanitation practices have improved. In fact, many of our communities and institutions still are facing problems of regular water supply for toilets as well as for bathing and washing. Schools continue, intermittently, to report lack of water and safe sanitation facilities.

According to the latest education statistics, a significant number of schools reported not having enough water supply. Only 54 percent of the schools (day and boarding) have sufficient water for bathing and for sanitation needs, and close to 40 percent of the schools do not have sufficient water for cleaning toilets. Although all schools have at least a basic toilet, the number of girls’ toilets in lower, middle and higher secondary schools does not meet the national standard of one toilet compartment for every 25 girls. In terms of functionality, 82 percent of boys’ toilets and 83 percent of girls’ toilets in schools are fully functional.

Figures, however, do not give us the true picture because not all schools in the country were included for the study.

Falling education quality merits serious and in-depth national debate. While we have taken bold steps towards improving it, the system of central schools being the latest, we cannot discount the significance of other small and often-forgotten elements that go into the making of our schools. The readings from the report tell us where we are falling short. We have a lot more to do.