Data | Covid impact on Indian higher education: More promotions, poor learning outcomes


SC/ST students have been impacted disproportionately by the pandemic as their learning outcomes have declined the most

SC/ST students have been impacted disproportionately by the pandemic as their learning outcomes have declined the most

Higher education in India is entering a worrying phase due to the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on school education. On the one hand, with policies mandating the promotion of students, promotion rates at the secondary school level rose significantly and repetition rates nosedived during the pandemic years (2020-21 and 2021-22). On the other, the inability to attend physical school and the lack of access to digital education caused a massive drop in learning levels after the COVID-19 outbreak. Simply put, compared to students from the pre-COVID-19 years, more students were promoted from secondary to higher secondary school and graduated from school to college during the pandemic years even though their learning outcomes were poor. This is significant as even in the pre-COVID-19 era, the employability of engineers had been reducing fast due to the poor quality of education and the lack of conceptual understanding.

The Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE+) survey for 2021-22 shows that the promotion rate among secondary school students continued to increase even during the pandemic years.  Chart 1 shows the promotion rate of secondary school students across communities. Notably, the promotion rate among Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) students increased sharply after the outbreak. The promotion rate among Other Backward Classes (OBC) students continued to rise unabated.

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Chart 2 shows the repetition rate of secondary school students across communities. The repetition rates too drastically came down in the pandemic years with some 1% students repeating their class across all communities. Notably, the gap in the repetition rate between SC/ST students and general category students declined greatly after the outbreak.

While the promotion rate surged and the repetition rate declined, the marks scored by school students in National Achievement Survey (NAS) exams dropped significantly across classes and in most subjects. NAS exams were conducted in November 2021 across select schools. Similar tests were conducted in 2017/2018.  Chart 3 shows the difference between the mean score in 2021 compared to the score in 2017/2018 among Class VIII and X students (SC/ST/OBC and general category) in various subjects. For instance, in the Class X Science exam, the score of general category students dropped by 34 marks, while that of SC, ST and OBC students declined by 45, 48 and 40 marks, respectively. So, there will be a disproportionately greater impact on SC and ST students as their learning outcomes reduced the most while their promotion rates saw the highest degree of rise among all the communities.

Chart 4 shows the dropout rate of secondary school students across communities. Despite reports such as a UNICEF poll and an Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) survey pointing out that dropout rates increased in India during the outbreak, UDISE+ data do not reflect this drop.

Table 5 shows the percentage of children not enrolled in school across age groups in 2018, 2020 and 2021, according to the ASER survey. ASER showed that except in the 15-16 age group, the share of children who were “not enrolled” in schools in 2020 and 2021 compared to 2018 increased in every other age group.

However, the UDISE+ shows an increase in enrolment rate across all levels of education ( Table 6). This contradiction in data necessitates further scrutiny of the UDISE+ data.

Source: UDISE+, ASER, National Achievement Survey

Also read: Data | Pandemic impact: Average exam scores decline drastically in Maths and Science across India


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