In her last term of class VI now, Suhana has become good at writing essays. She can draft letters and is quick in solving comprehension questions. But for Shikha, who is in class VI too, memorising alphabets and learning to read and write small words is quite a challenge.
Though both girls have spent the same number of years in school, their learning levels are worlds apart. While students like Suhana easily gain command over written and spoken English as they progress in private schools, those in government schools fail to identify even alphabets till at least the secondary level — an issue raised by several annual surveys but not fixed till now.
“In most government schools, children come to class VI from an MCD school. So the first one to two years are spent in teaching them ABCD. This may sound shocking but while their syllabus is nearly the same as students in private schools, they haven’t been taught much in primary school. However, with no-detention policy in place, the gap never shows and they keep getting promoted,” said a teacher of English in a Delhi government school. Getting children to attend school regularly is a challenge in itself. While they still fare better at other subjects, if taught in their mother tongue, they get no support for learning English at home. “While we try to get their attention to teach an ‘alien’ language, children either just sit blank-faced or just talk among themselves.
ASER 2014 report on comparing government and private schools separately, between 2006 and 2010, found that only half of the children can read a class II level text in class V in government schools. The report shows that the percentage fell slightly from 51.4% to 50.7% in those five years. Private schools, however, posted learning gains during this period with the percentage of readers rising from 60.8% to 64.2%. After 2010, learning levels in government schools plummeted to a low of 41.1% in 2013, recovering slightly to 42.2% in 2014, while those in private schools remained more or less steady — 63.3% in 2013 and 62.5% in 2014. A recent NCERT report also pointed out that learning levels in English were poorer in rural schools than urban.
Finally, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government has made a start to improve the learning level. In collaboration with NGO Pratham, the government has started an intervention process aimed at improving the learning levels in 54 model schools. “It was a pilot project and the current phase is over. The project is aimed at improving reading, writing and arithmetic skills of students from standard 3-8,” said Shailendra Sharma of Pratham, who is looking after the project.
In the initial stages, a very close interaction was been held with teachers to try to understand why the problem exists and how could they help each student in improving the learning skills. Out of the 54 schools, 31 of them are Sarvodaya Vidyalaya’s and 23 of them are Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya. “For now one round of intervention has been done, after we present our findings then it will be decided on the other level,” said Sharma.
Elaborating on the issue, teachers of Delhi government schools point out that the learning levels are different even in the two above mentioned government schools. “In Sarvodaya Vidyalayas, students study in the school from primary and in the other they move from MCD schools. All of us have to accept that children from MCD schools do not have proper foundation,” said a teacher of a Rajkiya Pratibha Vidyalaya in Civil Lines. Hiring of guest teachers and those on ad hoc is also a reason why teaching and learning suffers, pointed out JS Rajput, former head of NCERT.
Government School Teachers Association (GSTA), however, blames the Right to Education’s (RTE) no detention policy which is now being reconsidered by the government. “Earlier there was a sense of fear among parents that their child would be detained in a class. So they would even get somebody to guide their wards, now that has gone away. Moreover, in Delhi the culture of hiring guest teachers has also affected the quality,” said Ajay Veer Yadav, secretary GSTA. Even ASER report suggests that learning levels have been declining every year since the RTE was introduced in 2010, and were stagnant before that.
However, Wilima Wadhwa, director ASER Centre, points that comparing learning outcomes of children in government schools with those in private schools is not comparing apples with apples. “It is a well established fact that household and other characteristics of private school children are very different from those of government school children. Since learning levels depend not only on the characteristics of a child’s school but also on her own characteristics and those of her household, attributing all the observed differences in learning levels to differences in schools is incorrect. This is the self-selection problem and therefore these other factors have to be controlled for in order to make a fair comparison,” said Wadhwa.