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Grade F

New report, same old story: learning outcomes are poor, and stagnating

By: Express News Service |
January 15, 2015 1:49:55 am

Each year, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) by non-profit organisation Pratham measures basic learning levels of children in rural India. Since its inception in 2005, the story has followed a distressingly familiar script: enrolment is near-universal, especially post-RTE, and learning outcomes are dismal, showing few signs of improvement. The 10th edition was no exception. Despite 96.7 per cent enrolment, fewer than one out of every two children in Class V can read a Class II text — up marginally from 47 per cent in 2013. Basic arithmetic skills have actually declined — only 44.1 per cent of Class VIII students could solve division problems typically part of the curricula in lower standards in most states, down from 46 per cent in 2013. The ability to read and understand English, too, appears to have stagnated since 2009, when the landmark RTE act was passed.

More than four years after it came into effect, the egalitarian promise of the RTE remains unfulfilled. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan can be more accurately credited with the rapid expansion in primary school enrolment, and the RTE’s input-heavy focus on infrastructure — building toilets, playgrounds and classrooms — has, in fact, had the perverse effect of shuttering thousands of budget schools that were unable to meet these criteria. ASER finds that school facilities are now improving, as is compliance with the act’s mandated pupil-teacher ratios. Yet, the act has failed in its presumed intent behind stipulating these minimum standards — to create an environment conducive to learning — as all independent evaluations, not just ASER, show that schoolchildren continue to struggle in simple assessments of literacy and numeracy skills.

The RTE’s preoccupation with infrastructure requirements has come at the cost of outcomes. Studies have shown that infrastructure has little bearing on learning levels and is a poor predictor of quality. To address the crisis in education, the government must debate the provisions of the RTE and re-orient it to emphasise the quality of learning. For instance, ASER finds reading levels in Tamil Nadu jumped 15 percentage points to 47 per cent over the last year. Reportedly, the state’s “multi-age” classes, where children are grouped by learning levels, not age, and an “activity-based learning” approach, have borne fruit. Such experiments can, and must, be replicated.

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