Slip in school standards - Decline in reading, math skills despite right to study

The Telegraph
News Dated: 

New Delhi, Jan. 16: The quality of elementary education is falling in rural schools almost two years after education was made a fundamental right in April 2010.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2011, a survey of government and private schools in rural areas conducted by the NGO Pratham, shows a decline in schoolchildren’s “learning outcome levels” compared with the previous year, whether in reading or arithmetic skills.

However, students of private schools have done slightly better than those of government schools, reveals the annual survey, started seven years ago and considered most authoritative.

For example, 56 per cent Class V students at government schools were unable to read Class III-level text but the figure was 38 per cent in private schools.

The survey says that the declining standards at government schools has led to parents increasingly putting their children in private schools even in rural areas.

India has about 13 lakh elementary government schools and 1.82 lakh private schools, where enrolment of children aged 6 to 14 has risen steadily, from 18.7 per cent in 2006 to 25.6 per cent in 2011.

The report says that between 30 and 50 per cent children in rural Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh now study in private schools.

On the other hand, in the eastern states, where the government schools have done very badly, children are increasingly taking paid private tuition — though even this hasn’t arrested the slide.

In Bengal, the percentage of Class V children who could do simple division fell from 37.7 in 2010 to 31.4 in 2011.

Rukmini Banerjee, director of Pratham’s ASER Centre, however, insisted: “Paid tuition does help improve standards.”

The lone silver lining seems to be that enrolment in elementary schools has risen marginally, from 96.5 per cent in 2010 to 96.7 per cent in 2011.

The findings appear to mock the Centre’s claim about education receiving greater focus under the 11th Plan (2007-12). The Prime Minister has often described the 11th Plan as an education plan since 19 per cent of the allocation (Rs 2.5 lakh crore) went to education against 7.7 per cent in the 10th Plan.

Public spending on education, which was 3.3 per cent of the GDP before 2007, increased to 3.8 per cent during this period, and Parliament enacted the historic Right To Education (RTE) Act, making education a fundamental right of every child aged 6 to 14.

Amid all this, the quality of education seems to have taken a backseat.

“We are staring at a demographic disaster if the quality of elementary education does not improve. The main problem is in the Hindi heartland, where the quality is going down. The focus has to turn towards improving quality,” said Pratham president Madhav Chavan.

“Today, more children are going to school but what they are learning is not clear. Can they get any job in the market if they continue such education? Can industry get the professionals it is looking for? Can India’s growth continue if the quality of education does not improve?”

He said the government needed to define the goals on learning outcomes and go all out to achieve them.

Human resource development minister Kapil Sibal, who released the ASER report, blamed state governments.

“Much of the problem in quality of education has to be addressed at the local level. State governments have to ensure quality of infrastructure, quality teachers, services and education delivery. State governments will have to be far more pro-active,” he said.

Sibal said the RTE had not completed two years, and many states had not yet notified the rules for its proper implementation. “It will take five to seven years to get results.”