All is not well on the education front, especially in the quality of state-run schools. This is clear from the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), which is facilitated by Pratham, a non-governmental innovative learning organisation. The key findings of its 10th year report, which was released in New Delhi on Tuesday, was not different from the earlier ones. The enrolment levels are 96% or higher for the 6-14 age group for the sixth year in a row, the proportion of children enrolled in private schools has increased slightly from last year. Interestingly, a higher proportion of boys go to private schools, which are perceived to be better than State-funded ones by many parents, as compared to girls.
The reason for such a slow but steady shift towards private schools is easy to decipher: The quality of State-run schools is poor and this, as the report shows, reflects on the performance of the students. In the last 10 years, the report says, the overall situation with basic reading continues to be extremely “disheartening” in the country. For example, in the latest report, only a fourth of children in Class 3 can read a Class 2 text fluently. The ability to read English is unchanged for lower primary grades. In 2014, about 25% of children enrolled in Class 5 could read simple English sentences. This number is virtually unchanged since 2009. However, the decline is visible in upper primary grades. Math also continues to be a serious and a major concern. One of the main reasons why this dismal trend continues is that while the state governments have invested hugely in infrastructure and teaching personnel, the emphasis has always been on enrolment and not on learning-related activities. The thrust is always on finishing the syllabus and not on improving the learning abilities of students. However, the Right to Education (RTE) Act says it’s the duty of the teachers to assess each child’s learning ability and provide additional instructions if required.
After years of dilly-dallying, the erstwhile Planning Commission had emphasised on learning outcomes in 2012. The NDA’s Padhe Bharat Badhe Bharat, a sub-scheme of the RTE, has now set an outcome goal of 85% children in Class 1 and 2 reaching specified learning levels. This is a good move but what about older children who have huge deficits in basic skills? One way out of this mess could be to group students according to the level of learning capabilities. On the input side, teachers need better training and motivation. Like the UPA, the NDA too is focused on excellence rather than good quality learning at the basic level. This is the reason why we hear governments talking so much about building more IITs and IIMs but not enough quality primary schools. This thrust on excellence at the cost of every child is not what governments should aspire to.