For those who have been following the Annual Status of Education Report (Aser) for some time now and were present for the release of its ninth edition — Aser 2013 — in New Delhi on Wednesday, the report card must have given them a distinct sense of déjà vu. The data is not old, in fact, it is just hot off the press. Then why do we say this?
Simple, because, like in the earlier years, the 2013 results are the same: enrolment in the 6-14 age group in government schools in rural areas continues to be high with more than 96% of the children enrolled in schools but the quality of learning — as measured by reading, writing and arithmetic — has either shown no improvement or actually worsened in the nine years of the UPA regime.
Aser is the largest annual household survey of children in rural India that focuses on the status of schooling and basic learning. Facilitated by Pratham, an NGO, in each rural district, The Aser survey is conducted by local organisations and institutions. In 2013, Aser covered 550 districts and close to 16,000 villages; 3.3 lakh households and six lakh children in the age group of 3-16 years.
According to the new Aser data, since last year there has been no significant improvement in children’s ability to read; children are struggling with basic arithmetic. This is definitely worrisome and the long-term effects on the nation would be disastrous.
While teacher attendance in both primary and upper primary schools shows no change over the 2012 level of 85%, there is a slight dip in students’ attendance, especially in upper primary schools from 73.1% to 71.8% in 2013. The good news is that compliance with the most measurable Right to Education (RTE) norms continue to grow.
But what is new and must be taken seriously by the government is that rural private school enrolment rose by 29% in 2013. In fact, after the RTE law was passed, the pace of enrolment in private schools quickened. Three factors could be responsible for it: migration, improvement in household income and the aspiration to send children to ‘English-medium schools’ even if they are not really up to the mark and the failure of government schools to deliver.
Considering that tax-payers fork out a 2% education cess, it’s not very heartening to hear that much of that money has been not of any help to the children who need it the most. At the release function of Aser 2013, Planning Commission chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said that the Aser results are “surprisingly disappointing”. That, to all those who have seen the report, would sound like a very mild assessment of the government’s failing in this critical sector.