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Numbers drop all over but Punjab still makes it count

Pratham’s education report shows how learning levels have plunged across states but Punjab has been an exception,its children improving in mathematics

Written by Anubhuti Vishnoi | New Delhi |
January 17, 2011 3:59:12 am

The Annual Status of Education Report 2010 released by the NGO Pratham last week has revealed how our schoolchildren,even when in the 5th standard,struggle with the alphabet,words and digits. Amid these revelations,however,Punjab stands out as a silver lining with its children making strides in mathematics.

In all other states,maths has remained the most dreaded subject,right from elementary level,and students have shown a general decline in abilities related to solving simple arithmetic problems. In Punjab,where just ober 40 per cent students in standard 5 could solve a division sum in 2008,the figure has risen to 70 per cent in in 2010. While nearly 35 per cent students in the 3rd standard could solve a subtraction sum in 2008,the figure is over 60 per cent in 2010.

While other states have shown how projects can help change the classroom environment to empower students,Punjab has focused on what counts: learning outcomes. In collaboration with Pratham,Punjab’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan wing initiated its very own novel experiment,‘Parho Punjab’,in 2007. Focused on children who were struggling with reading and writing skills besides maths abilities,the scheme also swung its attention to upgrading teaching skills. Children were grouped according to ability levels; young, well educated teachers were appointed; cluster-level leadership was created amongst teachers to assist students. This cluster leadership also went from school to school to help their peers,and community youths helped monitor the delivering of results.

Madhav Chavan,CEO of Pratham,notes that this major achievement in improving mathematical abilities has come about by instilling in students the knowledge about the importance of place value of digits.

“In Punjab,these two competencies are observed to have increased dramatically considering that the rest of the country has shown no change in arithmetic ability. The learning of these abilities requires substantial assistance from the teacher in and also activities of counting,saying,reading and writing of numbers in addition to understanding place values and formal writing of the sums. The Parho Punjab programme focused on all these and the result has been positive,” writes Chavan in the ASER report.

“Build the understanding of numbers,quantities and place value in the early years,and focus on operations in the late years as the curriculum prescribes,” he suggests.

Schools across states can use that advice. National level assessments show that nearly 30 per cent students in the 5th standard can neither subtract nor divide while barely 36 per cent can do both,with the remaining 34 per cent able to subtract but not divide. There has been little change over the years for either government or private schools. Between 2007-10,15-18 per cent students in the 3rd standard in private schools have been able to recognise numbers up to 100. The figure for government schools,too,has been largely unchanged,25-29 per cent.

In fact,the ASER 2010 report notes how,barring a handful,no state has yet reached high learning levels that are nearly constant.

Chavan notes that states must ensure that improvements in learning outcomes are not frittered away. While Chhattisgarh started off very well with visible results in learning outcomes like Punjab,the gains are now eroding,“suggesting a lack of focus on measurable learning outcomes”.

“A strong and consistent leadership is needed to bring about change… Often the problem is that such leadership may not always be open to changing or adopting new strategies to improve their work further. It is inevitable to start with a strong leadership. But it is important… to create a strong block,cluster,local,school level leadership that understands the goals to be achieved and is seriously committed to them. This is an area where reforms are needed,” writes Chavan.

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