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India losing edge in maths?

Raising concerns over the government’s efforts in improving the quality of schooling, the annual report on India’s rural school education by NGO Pratham has found that students in 2010 benefited less than in 2009 from classes. Charu Sudan Kasturi reports.

delhi Updated: Jan 15, 2011 14:45 IST
Charu Sudan Kasturi

Primary school students have slipped over the past year in maths, a subject for which Indian brains are tapped globally in research and technology firms, one of the country’s most credible non-government surveys of the nation’s rural schooling system has found.

The decline in mathematics and in the ability to perform routine calculations expected of students in primary school coincides with an increase in teacher absenteeism, according to the Annual Status of Education Report, 2010 released today. The drop in maths skills has come without any improvement in reading skills.

India losing edge in maths?

Only 65.8 % class I students could recognise numbers between 1 and 9 as opposed to 69.3% in 2009.

36.5% class III students could solve two digit subtraction problems as opposed to 39% in 2009.

35.9% class V students could solve basic division problems as opposed to 38% in 2009.

The findings, brought out by NGO Pratham, are bound to raise concerns because Indians have for long been regarded ahead of most others in mathematics and because the worrying outcomes come when the government is focusing on improving the quality of schooling.

“The findings are certainly worrying, because they effectively ask the uncomfortable question – how much is the student really gaining by going to school,” a senior human resource development (HRD) ministry official conceded.

The ASER, which Pratham has brought out every year since 2005 when the government introduced a 2 per cent cess on taxes to fund key school education initiatives, is not officially used by the government in policy making. But the HRD ministry and most states unofficially rely on its findings to verify the success – or failure – of their work.

The fraction of class I students who could identify numbers between 1 and 9 dropped from 69.3% in 2009 to 65.8% in 2010. The proportion of class III students who could perform two digit subtraction problems reduced from 39% to 36.5%, while the fraction of class V students who could solve simple division problems dipped from 38% to 35.9 per cent over the past year.

The survey also found that almost half of class V students (46.6%) could not read a basic class II text, almost identical to 2009, and worse than 2007 and 2008. The proportion of class III students who could not read a class I text also worryingly increased this year.

The average teacher attendance percentage has dropped from 89.1% (2009) to 86.9% for classes I to V and from 88.6% (2009) to 86.3% if classes I-VIII are considered.

The first ASER after the enactment of the Right to Education Act also found that 97 per cent schools do not have infrastructure requirements that are mandatory under the landmark law while about half the schools do not meet the required pupil-teacher ratio.

The survey was conducted across 522 districts, over 14,000 villages, 3 lakh households and almost 7 lakh children.