Education and health constitute the social sectors, and the status of education and health indicators are yardsticks for assessing the level of social development in a country. Sadly, India is far behind many less developed countries, especially on health indicators like maternal mortality and infant mortality, and education indicators with respect to school education.
T hese poor outcomes are a reflection of the low share of plan outlay set aside for the social sectors. This hovered between 16 and 18% between 1956 and 1990 (Second to the Seventh Plans). The outlay has increased only from the Eighth Plan onwards due to a greater emphasis on social justice and inclusive growth.
But it was still less than 30% of the total outlay. It crossed the one-third mark only in the Twelfth Plan. Expenditure on education as a percentage of total GDP has been less than 5% in India, and compares unfavourably with China and other Asian countries. Literacy levels have increased in India from 18.3% in 1951 to 74% in 2011. Female literacy still lags behind the male literacy rate at 65% as compared to 82% among men. There has been a great increase in the number of schools from the primary to senior high school level and in the growth of institutions of higher learning. In 2014-15 there were 12.72 lakh primary and upper primary schools, 2.45 lakh secondary and higher secondary schools, 38, 498 colleges and 43 Central Universities, 316 State Universities, 122 Deemed Universities and 181 State Private Universities in the country. Enrolment in primary schools stood at 96%, and 40% in the secondary and higher secondary schools.
However, the drop-out rate is 51% in primary schools, and as high as 62% in secondary and high schools. Children dropping out of school mostly belonged to the poorer families in rural and urban areas and socially backward castes (SCs and STs). The drop-out rate is particularly high among girl children. T his is because they are often withdrawn from school either because the family is not able to afford to keep all the children in school and more often because they have to assist in household chores and looking after younger children in the family. There are great inter-regional variations in the drop-out and enrolment rates, so that backward states and regions have the poorest record on school education. A further problem is that government schools at all levels are perceived to be functioning very badly. Teachers are often absent and seem to show little interest in providing good education to the students. This has resulted in most parents, including low income parents, opting to take their children out of government schools (which are free) and putting them in private schools, paying high fees, because these are supposed to give better education. Since private schools are rarely set up in backward regions with high levels of poverty, the regional disparities in school education have become more accentuated.
(b) Science and Technology
India has made great strides in developing institutions of scientific research and technology. T he only science research institute in India before Independence was the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) established in 1909 in Bangalore with funding from J.R.D. Tata and the Maharaja of Mysore.
T he Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) was set up in 1945 on the initiative of Homi J. Bhabha, with some funding from the Tatas. It was intended to promote research in mathematics and pure sciences. The National Chemical Laboratory, Pune and the National Physics Laboratory, New Delhi were the first institutes set up in India around the time of Independence. Since then there has been a steady increase in the number of institutes doing research in pure sciences, ranging from astrophysics, geology/geo-physics, cellular and molecular biology, mathematical sciences and so on. T he Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is the umbrella organization under which most of the scientific research institutions function. The CSIR also advances research in applied fields like machinery, drugs, planes etc. T he Atomic Energy Commission is the nodal agency for the development of of nuclear science which is strategically important, focusing both on nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons. The Atomic Energy Commission also funds several institutes of pure science research. Agriculture is another area where there has been a significant expansion of research and development. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is the coordinating agency for the research done not only in basic agriculture, but also associated activities like fishery, forests, dairy, plant genetics, bio-technology, varieties of crops like rice, potato, tubers, fruits and pest control, to name only a few of the activities covered by the Institute. Agricultural universities are also actively engaged in teaching and research on agricultural practices. There are 67 Agricultural Universities in India, and 3 in Tamil Nadu. IIT, Chennai Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) were set up as centres of excellence in different fields of engineering. The first IIT was located in Kharagpur, followed by Delhi, Bombay, Kanpur and Madras (Chennai). There are now 21 IITs in the country, in addition to 30 NITs (National Institutes of Technology) and about 10 IIITs (Indian Institutes of Information Technology). T here are about 3500 engineering colleges in the country, but government engineering colleges only number around 100. There has been an explosion of private engineering colleges, particularly in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Unfortunately, the colleges vary significantly in the quality of education that they provide, and there are many graduates with engineering degrees who are not able to get jobs because they do not meet the standards and skill sets required by corporate employers. In spite of advances, the general perception is that science research in India still has a long way to go to catch up with the more developed countries and China. The research output in theoretical fields is rather disappointing and scanty in spite of the number of research institutions in the country.