One in four children in rural Maharashtra is completing elementary schooling without acquiring basic reading skills, revealed the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2016. Less than 75% Class 8 children in government and private schools can read a Class 2 text, found the report released nationwide on Wednesday.
Although enrolment and learning outcomes in Maharashtra showed an upward trend, the report found that students were unable to cope with the high-level reading and math in Class 6 to 8. Around 26,300 children were surveyed from 33 rural districts including Pune, Thane, Aurangabad, Konkan and Nashik.
Maharashtra fared worse than Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and north-eastern states in the reading test. Reading levels of Class 8 students have been declining since 2011, when it fell to 85% from 92% in 2010. This was when the ‘no-detention policy’ — which permitted the automatic promotion of students till Class 8 — was introduced.
Educators said this is why a large number of students are failing in Class 9. This trend matches the data collected by the government database, SARAL which found 53,000 students failing across Maharashtra. “This shows that students’ basic skills are weak even after they complete elementary school,” said Farida Lambay, co-founder, Pratham, the NGO that conducted the survey.
What’s surprising is that while students perform poorly in higher grades, reading and math levels are improving in lower grades. The percentage of Class 3 students who can read a Class 2-level text jumped to 41.2% in 2016 from 33.1% in 2015 in government schools and 38.8% from 37% in private schools.
The percentage of Class 3 students who can subtract increased from 22.6% in 2015 to 29.2% in 2016 in private schools, and from 17.9% to 22.5% in government schools. But, only 21.5% Class 5 students and 31.2% Class 7 students can divide.
To bridge this gap, the education department has developed special tools to teach math, said Vinod Tawde, education minister. “We need to rid students of the fear of math and make it student-friendly,” said Tawde. He said the survey has highlighted the need to improve learning-levels., “Although Maharashtra’s performance in ASER has improved over the past two years, there is plenty left to be achieved,” he added.
Educators said teaching-learning practices in higher classes must be improved. “Students are gaining mastery over basic concepts but are unable to cope with complex topics,” said Usha Rane, director, training and academic, Pratham. “This happens because we have a grade-wise approach to learning. There needs to be a special programme to help lagging students to catch up.”