Why Indian Rural Teens are Struggling in School: A Mint Investigation

The educational landscape for rural teens in India is plagued by significant challenges that hinder their academic success. A recent survey conducted in 2023 found that despite a high enrollment rate of about 87%, many adolescents exhibited inadequate basic literacy and numeracy skills. This article delves into the factors contributing to the struggles of Indian rural teens in school and explores the implications of these educational shortcomings.

The Educational Landscape

The survey, encompassing 34,745 students from 1,664 villages across 28 districts in 26 states, evaluated their proficiency in reading in their native language and English, basic mathematics, and understanding written instructions. The results painted a concerning picture, indicating minimal progress in learning outcomes compared to a similar assessment in 2017. One of the root causes identified is the prevalent focus on completing the curriculum rather than ensuring comprehensive learning outcomes for every student. The lack of mechanisms to address the needs of children who struggle in school compounds the issue, leading to learning deficits that accumulate with each grade.

Enrollment and Attrition

At the age of 14, only about 4% of children were not enrolled in school. However, by the age of 18, this number significantly escalated, with nearly 33% not attending schools or undergraduate courses. The attendance in government schools or colleges decreased substantially by the age of 18, with only over 44% of both boys and girls continuing their education in these institutions. These trends underscore the challenges hindering the sustained educational progression of Indian rural teens.

Testing Their Abilities

The survey employed tasks to assess the adolescents’ skills, including reading proficiency in their native language and English, numeracy, and comprehension of written instructions. The results revealed alarming deficiencies, with only 74% demonstrating the ability to fluently read text in their regional language, and a mere 43% being adept at solving division problems. These shortcomings underscore the pressing need for renewed focus on foundational skills to bolster the educational outcomes of rural teens.
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Aspirations and Career Choices

Despite the educational challenges, most adolescents expressed aspirations to pursue education beyond standard 12, with girls especially keen on furthering their education, influenced by evolving social norms regarding marriage age. Career aspirations exhibited notable gender disparities, with boys leaning towards roles in the army, police, or engineering, and girls favoring careers in teaching, medicine, or nursing. It is evident that aspirations play a crucial role in shaping the educational and career trajectories of rural teens, necessitating targeted support and guidance.

Implications for the Economy

The subpar educational outcomes have far-reaching implications for India’s economic landscape. The limited proficiency in foundational skills could potentially confine young individuals to low-skilled, low-paying jobs or agricultural pursuits. Vocational training remains scarce, with only a meager 5.6% engaged in such programs, highlighting the need to enhance access to skill development initiatives. Without appropriate interventions to equip rural teens with essential knowledge and skills, the economic potential of this demographic segment may remain largely untapped.


The struggles faced by Indian rural teens in attaining quality education are multifaceted and require targeted, holistic interventions. By addressing the root causes of educational deficiencies and bolstering foundational skills, India can empower its young population to contribute meaningfully to economic growth and prosperity. It is imperative to prioritize equitable access to quality education, vocational training, and career guidance to unlock the full potential of rural teens and pave the way for a brighter future.


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