LEARNING LEVELS in mathematics and language have shown a progressive decline from lower to higher grades in the government school system, even as the country inches closer to achieving the target of universal enrolment for six-14 year olds, according to the Centre’s first nationwide assessment of educational outcomes. According to results of the National Achievement Survey (NAS), released by the HRD Ministry last month, an average of 67.7 per cent of Class 3 students have performed well in language. This rate, however, drops to 58.4 per cent in Class 5 and 56.7 per cent in Class 8.
The drop in overall learning levels in mathematics is even sharper. In Class 3, it stands at 64.3 per cent and falls significantly, almost by 10 percentage points, to 54.14 per cent in Class 5. It is the lowest in Class 8 at 42 per cent. For now, the HRD ministry has only released district-wise report cards from the survey, which covers 2.2 million students from 1.1 lakh schools across 700 districts. However, according to official sources, a preliminary analysis of the results shows that female students demonstrated better learning than males.
For instance, in mathematics, 64.4 per cent of female students in Class 3 performed well, compared to 64.1 per cent male students. In Class 5, the success rate of girls in the same subject was 54.32 per cent and boys 53.94 per cent. As for Class 8, 42.3 per cent of girls answered questions correctly, compared to 41.8 per cent boys.
Another interesting revelation was that students of government and government-aided schools in rural areas performed better than their counterparts in urban schools in mathematics, across all three grades. The finding is contrary to the perception that the quality of education in urban areas is superior to that in rural areas.
Among social groups, OBC students in most classes performed better than their classmates belonging to general and SC/ST categories (see box).
The results also show that Karnataka and Rajasthan performed the best in mathematics and language. Arunachal Pradesh was among states with the least impressive performance on learning outcomes.
The NCERT is currently preparing state-wise report cards, which will be released later this month. According to ministry sources, the government will draft and share short-term, medium-term and long-term interventions, based on the results of NAS, with state governments.
The findings of the survey are significant as it covers the student population that has benefitted from provisions of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, which came into effect from March 2010.
Incidentally, the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), carried out by NGO Pratham, found that while 86 per cent of youth in the 14-18 age group were still in the formal education system and 73 per cent had used a mobile phone within the previous week, more than half of them (57%) struggled to do simple Class 2-level division.
ASER, however, is a rural household survey. The NAS, conducted by NCERT on November 13 last year for classes 3, 5 and 8, is the government’s first and the country’s largest sample survey of learning outcomes, spanning rural and urban areas.
The NAS survey assessed children in mathematics, language, environmental sciences (EVS), sciences and social sciences. In Class 3, there were 10 questions in EVS, two in language and 12 in mathematics. In Class 5, there were 13 questions in EVS, two in language and 15 in mathematics. In Class 8, there were one question in language, 20 in mathematics, 12 in science and 22 in social science.
Learning outcomes are assessment standards, which help teachers understand the learning levels of students in their respective classes individually as well as collectively. A learning outcome survey gauges students’ understanding of a subject, concepts and their application but not test their memory.
Last year, the central government amended the rules under the RTE Act making it compulsory for all state governments to codify expected levels of learning, which students in classes 1-8 should achieve in different subjects.
The NAS survey of November was a part of the effort to gauge students’ learning based on indicators drafted by the NCERT. For instance, in mathematics, Class 3 students were assessed on a bunch of learning objectives, including whether they read and write numbers upto 999 using place value, add and subtract three digit numbers, identify and make 2D shapes by paper folding and read time correctly to the hour using a clock or a watch, among other things.
The language test for Class 3 students gauged whether they can read small text with comprehension, identify main ideas, details and draw conclusions. They were also asked to read printed scripts on classroom walls, such as poems, posters and charts.