January 17, 2014 02:58
The ninth Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) by the non-profit Pratham, which focuses on the status of schooling and basic learning of children in rural India, makes sobering reading. In the third year of implementation of the landmark Right to Education Act, despite rapid expansion in enrolment — ASER reports that more than 96 per cent of children between the ages of 6-14 are enrolled — schoolchildren continue to struggle in simple assessments of literacy and numeracy skills. For instance, the proportion of children who, at the end of Class V, are able to read a Class II-level text is virtually the same as it was in 2012, at 47 per cent. Coming out of lower primary school, only one in four children could solve division problems that are typically part of the Class III or IV curricula in most states, recording a negligible increase from the 2012 level.
A slew of other studies — for instance, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which in 2011 evaluated 15-year-olds’ skills in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy on a comparative basis in 10 countries, including India, and in which the two participating Indian states ranked near the bottom — corroborate ASER’s findings, underscoring the depressing reality that despite increased outlays in education, especially after the RTE was passed, learning levels have remained stagnant. Yet, when confronted with empirical evidence, the government’s response has been to question the survey design or allege bias, as in 2012, when officials reportedly accused PISA of cultural disconnect and withdrew from testing.
ASER also finds a small but significant increase over 2012 in enrolment in private schools and in the number of children taking private tuition. Private schooling, particularly in the context of the RTE, has been an intensely contested issue, but it shouldn’t be. Where children go to school is less important than what they learn, and the UPA government must recognise that its narrowly drawn focus on getting children into school means little if it is unmatched by equal attention to properly educating them.