Parents of schoolchildren in rural areas of northern states, who want them to learn English for a better future, have a reason to rejoice. Their kids are not only doing fairly well, they also seem to be surprisingly faring better than the children in rural schools in most southern states.
An All India study conducted by Pratham, a renowned non-government organization, on education in rural India has revealed that 86.9 per cent children of Class VIII in government and private schools in rural Himachal Pradesh can read simple sentences in English. Of these, 91.6 per cent can comprehend their meaning as well. There is hardly any Class VIII child in these schools who cannot read capital letters. In Class V, roughly 60 per cent children can read easy sentences in English and 82.3 per cent of them get their meaning also.
Compare this with the national average of 65.9 per cent children of Class VIII who can read sentences and roughly 86 per cent of them are able to comprehend the meaning. In Class VIII, 2.4 per cent children cannot even read capital letters. In Class V, only 27.8 per cent are able to read easy sentences of three to four words and 78 per cent of them can comprehend their meaning, according to the survey titled Annual School Education Report (ASER) 2007 Rural released last week.
Other northern states such as Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Haryana are also well placed. In J&K, roughly 80 per cent children of Class VIII can read sentences and understand the meaning as well. While 42 per cent children of Class V can read simple sentences, their number starts climbing thereafter. In Haryana, the number of Class VIII students who can read easy sentences is 80.9 per cent and roughly 90 per cent of them are able to comprehend their meaning as well.
In Punjab, it is slightly lower at 76.8 per cent, but 93 of those who can read simple sentences in English are able to comprehend their meaning. However, some southern states such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have not done as well. In Andhra Pradesh, 68.3 per cent children of Class VIII in rural schools can read easy sentences. Of them, 82.9 per cent children are able to comprehend their meaning also. In Class V, only 31 per cent children can read simple sentences. In Karnataka, 57.3 per cent children of Class VIII can read simple sentences and 88.5 per cent of them get their meaning. In class V, the number of children who can read easy sentences is just about 14 per cent. "One reason could be the easy acceptance of English as a subject in northern states whereas it saw protests in some of the southern states. In Karnataka where parents were for introduction of English from Class, Kannada activists opposed it by alleging that the interests of their language were being sacrificed. However, the governments have introduced English as a subject in most states in the last few years," according to an education expert. The North-Eastern States have done the best.
SRF Foundation Director and former Director of Elementary Education in HRD Ministry Amit Kaushik described the increased focus on English as a positive trend which is only going to become stronger in the coming years as aspirations of parents have got connected with it. "As per the survey, nearly two-third children could read easy sentences in English and 86 per cent of these children could comprehend their meaning. Given that we are considering the situation in rural schools, t he encouraging number of children who can comprehend English has implications for those planning vocational and secondary education initiatives, as well as potentially for the job market," he said.
Kaushik attributed the better performance of northern states to the popularity of private schools in rural areas. In Haryana and Punjab, 36 per cent and 32 per cent children in the age group of six to 14 years to private schools respectively as against the national average of 19 per cent.
Delhi-based Pedagogy Consultant Subir Shukla, however, was not enthused by the findings. "The policy makers in the states should not try to ape the private schools as introduction of English as a subject from Class I is leading to dual language disadvantage. The children are most comfortable in their mother tongue in the initial years and the second language, which is English in most parts of the country, should be introduced only in Class III or IV irrespective of what the survey has shown. In several states, the governments introduced the language in primary classes after they felt threatened by the migration of children from state-run schools to private schools," he said.