A nationwide study carried out by the Centre in March has found that 37 per cent of students enrolled in Class III have “limited” foundational numeracy skills, such as identifying numbers, while 11 per cent “lack the most basic knowledge and skills”.
With a sample size of 86,000 students in 10,000 schools, the study — the largest ever in terms of scale at the foundational level — also assessed the literacy skills of students in 20 languages including English. While 15 per cent lacked “basic skills” in English, 30 per cent were found to have “limited skills”.
The study was carried out jointly by the Union Ministry of Education and the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) between March 23-26.
Unlike the National Achievement Survey (NAS), which evaluates learning outcomes of students in Classes III, V, VIII and X through a test based on multiple choice questions (MCQs) every three years, the findings of the Foundational Learning Study (FLS) were based on one-to-one interviews with each participant.
“Since the study was interview-based, a dry run was carried out so that the interactions of the students with the field investigators were standardised. Otherwise, the same student would be assessed differently by two different investigators,” said an official.
Depending on their performance, the students were categorised into four groups: those who lacked the most basic knowledge and skills; those who had limited knowledge and skills; those who had developed sufficient knowledge and skills; and those who had developed superior knowledge and skills.
According to a copy of the report seen by The Indian Express, students who could partially complete their grade-level tasks were put in the “limited skills” group, while those who failed to complete even the simple grade-level tasks were categorised as “lacking the most basic skills”.
In numeracy, Tamil Nadu, at 29 per cent, had the maximum number of students who could not complete the most basic grade-level tasks, followed by Jammu and Kashmir (28 per cent), Assam, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat (18 per cent).
At the national level, 11 per cent did not have the basic grade-level skills; 37 per cent had limited skills; 42 per cent had sufficient skills; and 10 per cent had superior skills.
The tasks included number identification, number discrimination (identifying the bigger number), addition and subtraction, division and multiplication, fractions, identifying patterns comprising numbers and shapes.
The states and Union territories where over 40 per cent children fell in the “limited skills” category included Arunachal Pradesh (49 per cent), Chandigarh (47 per cent), Chhattisgarh (41 per cent), Goa (50 per cent), Gujarat (44 per cent), Haryana (41 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (46 per cent), Nagaland (56 per cent), and Tamil Nadu (48 per cent ).
In literacy, the findings were based on phonological awareness, decoding letters, decoding words, decoding non-words, reading fluency and comprehension. For instance, a child was made to read a text aloud and asked questions based on that text, which was not from the school syllabus.
In English, 15 per cent students were found to be lacking even basic skills, 30 per cent had limited skills, 21 per cent had sufficient skills, while 34 per cent had fairly superior skills.
In Hindi, 21 per cent fell under the worst performing bracket, while 32 per cent had limited proficiency.
Among other Indian languages, the proportion of students who lacked basic skills was: 17 per cent in Marathi, 20 per cent in Bengali, 17 per cent in Gujarati, 17 per cent in Malayalam, 42 per cent in Tamil, and 25 per cent in Urdu.
The proportion of students who had limited skills in these languages was: 39 per cent in Marathi, 43 per cent in Bengali, 40 per cent in Gujarati, 39 per cent in Malayalam, 35 per cent in Tamil, and 40 per cent in Urdu.
That the findings are important is underlined in the report, with Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan describing the study as “critical”, stressing that the ability to read and write, and perform basic operations with numbers, is a necessary foundation and an “indispensable prerequisite for all future schooling”.
School Education Secretary Anita Karwal has said that “80-90 per cent of the brain develops by the time a child is 6-7 years old. That is why the focus on building a strong foundation for better growth, development and learning in early years becomes one of the most important indicators for the development of a productive and efficient human capital”.
According to the report, the findings will set the baseline for NIPUN Bharat (National Initiative for Proficiency in Reading with Understanding and Numeracy), the Centre’s scheme to improve foundational learning. “The study also aims to establish reading proficiency benchmarks for fluency and comprehension for each of the languages being assessed. It will also provide data to report on Sustainable Development Goals at the global level,” it said.