It's startling but true. In a state with 82.8 percent literacy, 20 per cent of Class 3 students in Himachal Pradesh's government schools cannot identify alphabets or numbers.
Moreover, 74 per cent of eighth standard students don't have class-appropriate competence, says a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). Additionally, 31 percent of schools in the state, catering to 118,036 students, are running from either one or two-room structures.
The survey was conducted by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a countrywide programme of the central government to attain universal elementary education, to assess learning achievements and progress of students.
Chief minister Virbhadra Singh said the issue of students' level of learning has come to the fore in various government reports and surveys.
"It's a serious issue. Now the teachers have been made accountable to ensure that each child acquires these competencies. The teacher has to provide remedial teaching to the students who are lacking in learning," he told IANS.
So how has this dicothomy come about?
A senior official in the state education department said after the introduction of the comprehensive and continuous evaluation system, there is noticeable decline in the standards of education at the primary and elementary levels, adding that there is need to amend the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009.
"Only those students should be promoted from Class 8 who have attained certain quantum of knowledge. There should be reintroduction of fail or pass system and not giving compulsory promotion to every student till the age of 14. This affects the quality of attaining education by students, who scored low grades, in higher classes," the official, who wished not to be named, told IANS.
The saving grace for the state, though, is that 97 percent of government schools have a separate toilet for girls, 98 percent schools have a library and 84 percent have a playground.
The CAG also pointed out inadequate school infrastructure in government schools.
It said 577 (four percent) out of 15,162 schools with an enrolment of 17,824 students were running from a single classroom.
Similarly, 4,075 (27 percent) schools with a student strength of 100,208 were running from two rooms.
Poor infrastructure in government schools, said the CAG, is the main reason for the students opting for private schools.
It said the enrollment of students in government primary and upper primary schools had decreased by 18 percent and 23 percent, respectively, in 2009-14.
At the same time, it had increased by 32 percent in private and private-aided schools, Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas.
The CAG report points out that of the 508,944 students of classes 2-8 surveyed, 16,823 (3.30 percent), 13,785 (2.70 percent), 16,555 (3.30 percent) and 12,066 (2.40 percent) scored 0/100 in English, Hindi, mathematics and science, respectively.
Also, that 50 percent of the students who entered Class 2 did not acquire class-level competence.
The government auditor, in the report tabled in the assembly last week, cited non-availability of teachers as one of the reasons for deteriorating standard of education in the state.
An audit review of student-teacher ratio for five years from 2009 revealed that the number of primary schools with less than two teachers ranged between 877 and 1,252.
Likewise, the upper primary schools with one teacher ranged between 50 and 113 and with less than three teachers ranged between 193 and 363 at the state level.
The hill state had 15,162 schools till March 2014. These included 10,650 primary and 4,512 upper primary schools.
The CAG has also picked holes in implementation of computer education in 4,512 upper primary schools.
It said in 3,435 schools the computer-aided learning scheme was not implemented till March 2014. Interestingly, in 1,077 schools, where the scheme was started, there were 282 schools where there was no computer-trained teacher.
The government in the last two years has opened 100 new primary schools, upgraded 160 to middle schools, 233 to high schools and 225 schools to senior secondary level.