The just released ninth Annual Survey of Education Report on rural schools, conducted by the NGO Pratham Education Foundation, reconfirms familiar truths about the Indian education system and offers a reality check on the UPA’s achievements and failures in the education system through its decade-long rule. It has been getting more and more students to school but learning levels have continued to fall.
GETTING THEM IN
The ASER reports over the years, starting 2005, show how under the UPA, school enrolment has improved impressively and now faces just last-mile issues. With enrolment over 96 per cent for children in the age group 6-14 in 2013, and in fact consistently in the range 95-96 per cent for the last five years, getting children to school is one key result area where this government has delivered. Many have argued, however, that it should have reached 100 per cent by now.
BUILDING A SCHOOL
Over the years, the UPA has also managed to put together school infrastructure that is as much the right of schoolchildren as quality textbooks and pedagogy. The Right to Education Act that came into effect under UPA II has sharpened focus on the must-have standards and norms at schools. ASER 2013 data show that 76.3 per cent schools now have an office-cum-store, 62 per cent offer a playground, 56 per cent are protected by a boundary wall, 73 per cent have drinking water, 62 per cent have a useable toilet, 53 per cent provide girl students a separate, unlocked and useable toilet, 87 per cent were serving midday meals the day the ASER team visited them, and 40 per cent had children using library books the day of the visit.
The report notes the progress on many RTE-related norms. “Since 2010, there has been a significant increase in the proportion of schools with a useable toilet, from 47.2% in 2010 to 62.6% in 2013. In 2010, 31.2% of all schools visited did not have a separate toilet for girls. This number has declined to 19.3% in 2013. The percentage for useable toilets for girls has also increased from 32.9% in 2010 to 53.3% in 2013”.
The pupil-teacher ratio, which has a clear bearing on the attention a student receives from a teacher, has improved since the RTE came into effect. From 38.9 per cent schools meeting PTR norms in 2010, as many as 45 per cent schools have done so in 2013. The other essential, teacher attendance, was 85 per cent in 2013.
TEACHING & LEARNING
This is the one key indicator where the government seems to keep failing on. Though te government has pumped in funds and focused closely on building new classrooms, toilets, libraries and playgrounds, the quality of pedagogy has clearly not been a priority area.
While 52.9 per cent children of class V could read a textbook of II in 2009, only 47 per cent could do so in 2013. The decline in reading abilities is even more pronounced in government schools- 50.3 per cent children of V could read a II textbook in 2009, down to 41.1 per cent in 2013.
Again, from 36.5 per cent in III who could at least do subtraction in 2009, only 18.9 could do so in 2013. In private schools, the decline in this mathematical capability is less steep, from 49.7 per cent to 44.6.
In tests of class V students’ abilities, 36.1 per cent from government schools could divide in 2009 and just 20.8 per cent in 2013. Government and private schools combined, this is 25.6 per cent, down from 38.1 per cent in 2009.
Madhav Chavan, CEO-president of Pratham, points at “the unwillingness to admit that there is a problem” . Chavan writes in the report, “The data of 2013 further confirms the decline we observed over the last three years regardless what official response to our report is…the unwillingness to admit that there is a problem is not helpful. The problem won’t go away. It will only get worse.”
Pratham has over the last two years also pointed fingers at how the RTE Act may have played a role in the slide in learning levels. Chavan reiterates teachers are overburdened by the RTE that requires them to complete the syllabus leaving little focus on learning levels.
The continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) format that has come in with RTE, along with the clause for no detention of children up to the VIII, seems to be complicating things further. A number of state governments, parliamentarians and even government-backed school organisations such as the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sanagathan have raised questions about the efficacy of these new systems. Chavan has termed CCE a “dysfunctional” process. The Central Advisory Board of Education has set up a committee to look into CCE and no-detention and their impact on learning levels.
As per ASER 2013, 21.2 per cent schools had not heard of CCE at all, while over 30 per cent had little or incomplete information of CCE.
THE WAY AHEAD
While there are arguments that ASER paints too gloomy a picture compared to government-backed surveys such as those by NCERT, even independent global tests such as PISA have indicated that much needs to be set right in Indian schools. ASER’s gloomy reports have also shown a way forward — the need to assess learning outcomes. The 12th plan has strongly focused on this need — a cuefor the HRD ministry , which could acknowledge the trend and look for a course correction.