India has made considerable strides in attempts to ensure that no child lacks access to facilities for schooling in the country.
By enacting the Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE), 2009 in 2010, the government legally bound itself to providing all children in the age group of 6-14 years, access to admission, attendance and completion of elementary education.
Several measures were also taken towards universalization of elementary education (through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan), to retain children in schools, i.e. arresting drop-outs (with help of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme) and enhancing enrolment in secondary education. As a result, considerable progress has been made by India, in achieving quantitative indicators like enrolment levels, completion rates and development of physical infrastructure. But what about the quality of education in schools? Mere attending schools does not guarantee learning.
This was also pointed out by the recent World Bank Report that focused on ‘learning’, released in 2018. It reported that, three quarters of kids in rural India are unable to perform simple 2- digit calculations till grade 5. The Report pointed out towards a ‘Learning Crisis’ stating that children are failing to learn in schools.
When children fail to learn at elementary levels, their foundation remains weak and often they as well as their parents lack the motivation to continue studying further. The problem then happens is that we are unable to fully exploit the potential of our human resources, which shows up as low productivity.
To measure the children’s learning levels in class III, V and VIII, three cycles of National Achievement Surveys (NAS) were conducted since 2001. The NAS cycle III; class V in 2010 and NAS cycle III; class III in 2012-13 reported vast variations in learning levels across different states/UTs and a vast range between the highest and lowest performance of students.
In 2012, the then Planning Commission acknowledged that the desired level of learning is not happening in schools and later the RTE Act was subsequently amended in 2017 to include class wise, subject wise learning outcomes.
This was done recognizing the need to collect and quantify data on learning in schools. ‘Learning outcomes’ – are assessment standards indicating the level of understanding a learner is expected to achieve in a particular grade and defining concrete measurable assessment standards (applicable to all schools ) would make data collection and analysis on learning in schools easier.
The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) through the years has reported slow progress as well as wide variations in learning levels in various states. In 2018 the Report notes that while some states show considerable improvement in reading and arithmetic abilities over last four years, the change at the national level is small. It eventually goes on to say that “… only are we not creating a sufficiently literate population but that most of our population is functionally illiterate”.
Another observation ASER makes is that the government schools are worse off than private schools when it comes to quality of teaching and learning. Some of the learning indicators it presents are that the Std. II level text readers in government schools were 44.2% of total whereas 65.1 % in private schools. Similarly, the arithmetic ability gauged by the ability to perform simple division by children was 22.7 % and 39.8% in government and private schools respectively (Table 1).
Table 1: Reading & Arithmetic Ability – Government vs. Private Schools
% Children who can do division (Std V)
% Children of Std V who can read Std II level text
Source: ASER 2018
The trends are not heartening and point to a deeper crisis that though we have got children going to schools, we are failing to ensure that they learn there.