Millennium Post

India has a learning crisis...

The quality of learning in schools in rural India has declined and remained neglected in the nine years of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, says the annual status of education report (ASER) 2013 prepared by Pratham, a non-profit organisation.

While there has been a lot of improvement in infrastructure, a continuous decline in learning levels is seen since the right to education act (RTE) has been implemented, the report says. Despite levying a tax to fund education and enacting a law, the government has failed to improve learning levels for children in rural India’s educational system, the report said. The report, released by deputy chairman of planning commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia on 15 January, covered 5,69,664 children from 15,941 villages of 550 districts across the country.

According to the report, there has been no significant improvement since last year in children’s ability to read. Nationally, the proportion of children in class III who can read class I-level text increased slightly to 40.2 per cent in 2013 from 38.8 per cent in 2012. But this increase came mainly from improvement of children’s enrollment in private schools. But the proportion of government schoolchildren who are able to read this text remains unchanged from 2012 – it still hovers around 32 per cent, according to the report.
States that show steady improvement in reading ability since 2009 are Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.

‘Many of us call the RTE Act as the right to school act. Enrollment has increased; infrastructure has improved – there is a school within walking distance in 99 per cent of villages. (But) the problem is the declining learning levels,’ Madhav Chavan, chief executive and president of Pratham Education Foundation, said at the event held to inaugurate the report. He added that the pressure on a teacher to complete the syllabus in an academic year and continuous comprehensive evaluation (CCE) are perhaps the reasons behind poor learning outcomes. Specifying that the results are disappointing, the planning commission deputy chairman said it would be interesting to see the outcomes in urban areas. ‘If the result of the urban areas is also bad, then it is a disaster. But if it is not then we can say that the national average is not that bad,’ Ahluwalia said. ‘Apart from the two per cent tax, there is also now two per cent corporate social responsibility (that companies have to mandatorily spend under the new law). I am sure corporate houses would be interested to invest in this sector.’

Preference for private schooling continues among villagers. The report also highlights the increasing preference of people to educate their children in private schools even in rural areas. Nationally, 29 per cent of children in rural areas are enrolled in private schools, but the per centage is very high in some states. In Manipur, the report points out, more than 70 per cent children in rural areas are enrolled in private schools, while the figure is more than 68 per cent for Kerala.

The top two states are followed by Puducherry (with 54.3 per cent students in rural areas enrolled in private educational institutions), Haryana (51.4 per cent) and Uttar Pradesh (49 per cent).
The corresponding 2012 figure nationally was 28.39 per cent, while it was 66.53 per cent for Manipur, 61.82 per cent in Kerala, 46.11 per cent for Puducherry, 52.16 per cent for Haryana, and 50.05 per cent in case Uttar Pradesh.

The good news, the report says, is that facilities have improved in recent years in most schools – more schools now provide midday meals, and have drinking water facilities and useable toilets, including those for girls, within the premises. The report found that there has been a significant increase in the proportion of schools with usable toilets – up from 47.2 per cent in 2010 to 62.6 per cent in 2013. Also, nationally, mid day meal was served on the day of the visit in 87.2 per cent schools, the report says.
The proportion of schools that comply with RTE student-teacher ratio norms has increased to 45.3 per cent in 2013 – up from 38.9 per cent in 2010. Also, the per centage of schools with no drinking water facility has declined from 17 per cent in 2010 to 15.2 per cent in 2013. In seven states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab, more than 80 per cent schools visited had the facility, and drinking water was also available.

By arrangement with Down to Earth magazine
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