Despite various government initiatives and near-universal enrolment in the age group 6-14, basic learning achievements in reading and maths remain low and dismal, according to the tenth Annual Status of Education Report (ASER).
ASER 2014, released Tuesday, has found that the proportion of children enrolled in private schools has gone up as compared to last year, and that there has been an improvement in school facilities and compliance with the Right to Education Act.
According to the survey, basic reading levels remain “disheartening” with only a fourth of all Class III children able to read Class II text fluently, and under half in Class V able to do so. In fact, 25 per cent of Class VIII children could not read Class II level text. The improvement in reading levels in the last few years has, at best, been marginal. In 2014, 48.1 per cent of Class V children could read Class II level text, up from 47 per cent in 2013 and 46.8 per cent in 2012. Again, 40.2 per cent children in Class II were found able to read Class I text, after 38.7 per cent in 2012.
The all-India rural figures for basic arithmetic have remained largely unchanged on most parameters over the last few years. In 2014, only 25.3 per cent of Class III children could do two-digit subtraction, down from 26.3 per cent in 2012. For Class V children, the ability to divide has increased slightly. The percentage of children in Class II who cannot recognise numbers up to 9 has increased, from 11.3 in 2009 to 19.5.
The ability to read English has remained largely unchanged in lower primary grades (25 per cent of Class V students could read simple English sentences in 2014 — unchanged since 2009), but has seen a visible decline in upper primary grades (from 60.2 per cent in Class VIII in 2009 to 46.8 per cent in 2014). Roughly 60 per cent of those who could read words could explain the meaning of those words.
A key finding of the survey is that even as enrolment levels for the age group 6-14 are 96 per cent or higher, the figure is not as encouraging for the 15-16 years age group, with 15.9 per cent boys and 17.3 per cent girls in these ages currently out of school. The RTE Act covers the 6-14 group.
Meanwhile, a greater proportion of parents has started reposing faith in private schools. According to the report, the proportion of 6- to 14-year-olds in rural India enrolled in private schools has gone up from 29 per cent in 2013 to 30.8 per cent in 2014 — and as in previous years, a higher proportion of boys go to private schools as compared to girls.
Compared to 2013, private school enrolment has increased in almost all states except Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Nagaland and Kerala. In fact, five states — Manipur, Kerala, Haryana, UP and Meghalaya — showed over 50 per cent private school enrolment rates at elementary stage.
In yet another indication of a lack of faith in government schools, ASER says about a fourth of all children in rural areas pay for private tutors. In fact, the fall in learning levels comes mostly from government schools.
School facilities continue to improve, as does compliance with the RTE Act. The percentage of schools complying with the mandated parent-teacher ratio (30:1 primary, 35:1 upper primary) has risen from 38.9 in 2010 to 49.3.