In their second year in power, AAP government in Delhi focused on the reading ability of students. The government found out that 3.5 lakh students in class 6-8 could not read and launched a campaign to ensure they gained basic reading abilities.The two-month long campaign ended on November 14 last year with the government claiming that 1 lakh students between class 6-8 were able to read their textbooks.
HT takes a look at the challenges that were faced and what lies ahead for the government in this sector.
July 2016: 3.5 lakh students unable to read textbooks
Rahul, a student of Class VI at a West Delhi government school, kept his textbook open, but none of the sentences in it made sense to him. Rahul was among the 3.5 lakh students enrolled in government schools in class VI-VIII, identified by the government in July last year as “non-readers” or students who were unable to read their own textbooks. Many of them could not even identify letters.
The government soon announced “Chunauti Mission” and teachers, officials and other authorities pledged on Teacher’s Day — September 5, 2016 — to ensure that every child enrolled in government schools is able to read at their own level by Children’s Day on November 14, 2016.
These students were given special attention and every day two hours were spent teaching them basic reading skills, using different methods such as videos and interactive stories to teach alphabets.
November 2016: Govt claims improvement, critics dismissive
By the end of the campaign, it was reported that 1 lakh students were able to read their textbooks, including Rahul, of West Delhi. The rest also saw some changes. At the start of the campaign, 26% could not identify characters and words, but after the campaign this number came down to 10%.
The figures have been called dubious by many including members of the Government School Teachers’ Association, who in a statement released in November alleged that “the number of ’non-reader’ students was inflated in July, as this would then help them show greater ‘change’ later.”
The results have not been uniform over schools. While Shaheed Captain Sandeep Dahiya Sarvodaya School in Rohini was able to give a 100% result with all of its non-readers becoming readers, at the Nandnagiri extension F1/F2 Government Girls Senior Secondary School, only 110 out of the initial 265 non-readers became readers and 155 were still non-readers when re-tested in November 2016.
“Students can now recognise words, sentences and paragraphs, but we still need to work on making sure they understand the text they read,” said Nisha Verma, a Science teacher at the Nandnagiri school.
Experts such as Anaki Rajan, a professor in education at the Jamia Milia Islamia have also questioned the effectiveness of such “crash courses” in language. “If they can’t read any fresh, unseen texts, then we can’t claim that they have made ‘progress’. Then it becomes training, not real education,” said Rajan, when asked about the campaign in November 2016.
Anita Rampal, professor and former dean faculty of education Delhi University, said segregating students on the basis of their academic performance is discriminatory in nature.
“This is not justified. Students will start doubting themselves and their confidence will take a hit. You can’t label students as good at studies or not good at studies and segregate them. Learning is not an individual process but a social one. It has been found that a mixed ability group is always better,” she said.
Rs 10,690 crore in 2016 budget
February 2017: What lies ahead?
Teachers have also said that there needs to be a follow up of the scheme and leaving the students in the present state may undo the efforts. Atishi Marlena, advisor to education minister Manish Sisodia, told HT that they are focusing on making students learn rather than completing syllabus and plan to restart the campaign.
Sisodia also conceded that the campaign needs to continue as there are many students who are yet to improve. “I agree that there are many students who still can’t read, though we have seen significant improvement in many. So once, the exam period is over, we will resume the programme in the next academic year,” said the minister.