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Writing on the wall

300 million children in India enrolled in schools this decade. Chitrangada Choudhury saw images of the quality of their education in a Chhattisgarh village. It looks like this...

india Updated: Nov 13, 2009 23:21 IST

When Gita Thakur, 9, a class 4 student, was asked to subtract 27 from 39, one look at the numbers was enough to make her cry. When she finally arrived at an answer, it was 116. But it’s probably not entirely her fault.

Gita studies in the Parchanpal village school in Bastar — 290 kilometres south of Chhattisgarh’s capital, Raipur — where there is only one teacher instead of the mandatory four.

Navan Kumar, 21, has applied to become a contract schoolteacher. When tested, he could not divide 919 by 9.

Chhattisgarh has eliminated the career teacher and now relies entirely on ill-qualified para teachers hired on contract for government schools on lower pay. Undergraduate Navan Kumar, 21, has applied to become such a teacher. When surveyors tested him, he could not divide 919 by 9.

Hiramati Thakur, 50, was yanked out of school as a child. After adult education, she reads basic texts haltingly

According to the government 300 million children in India have enrolled in school this decade. The quality of education the majority of them receive is evidently poor.

One look at numbers was enough to make Class 4 child Gita Thakur, 9, cry. Subtracting 27 from 39, she finally arrived at an answer — 116

Each year in January, a citizen’s report card (ASER, or Annual Status of Education Report) is presented on the quality of education. ASER tests children to see if they can read and solve numerical problems of Class 2. In 2008, the survey found that 44 per cent of schoolchildren of ages 5-14 can’t solve Class 2 problems.

With thousands of contracted schoolteachers on a strike across the state demanding a hike from their current pay of Rs 4,000-6,000, B.Ed students such as Madhav Jadhav, 25, are currently filling in, teaching the schoolchildren three days a week. Children in Classes 1, 2 and 3 were being taught simultaneously in this cramped room

The 3-month-long effort, spearheaded by NGO Pratham, brings together over 30,000 volunteers — from students and scientists to investment bankers and picklemakers — who fan out across India to test children and look at school infrastructure. An estimated 7-lakh children are part of the exercise this year.