Karnataka records dip in reading ability of govt school students
Bengaluru Reading ability among children studying in primary classes of government schools across Karnataka has dipped by almost half in the past two years, indicating not just the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic but the inequitable development of the southern state, a flagship nationwide survey said on Wednesday.
The Annual Status of Education Report (Aser) for 2021 found that the proportion of children in the third grade, who could read grade one text, fell sharply from 41.8% in 2018 to 24.2% in 2020 in Karnataka. The report also revealed a steep drop in children’s foundational skills, particularly in lower primary grades.
“In reading for example, the proportion of children in Standard 2 in government schools who were as yet unable to read even letters (beginners’ level) had increased by 13 percentage points over 2018 levels. The proportion of children in Std III who could read at least Std I level text had fallen sharply from 41.8% to 24.2% over the same period,” according to the findings of the report.
In Karnataka, the percentage of children who can at least recognise double digit numbers has come down from 78.3% in 2018 to 60.7% in 2020, data showed.
“Covering almost 20000 children age 5-16 across 24 of Karnataka’s 30 districts, the learning data shows a steep drop in children’s foundational skills, particularly in lower primary grades when these foundations are often still shaky” the report added.
A statewide assessment was conducted in March this year in Karnataka. The study, done by the non-profit organisation Pratham, covered almost 20,000 children age 5-16 across 24 of Karnataka’s 30 districts.
Karnataka was the only state where Pratham conducted a survey to gauge the learning levels of students and evaluate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their education. In other states, Pratham said, it was unable to conduct the learning level survey, as schools were closed due to the pandemic.
The report also highlighted how the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the challenges of the public education system in Karnataka.
The state government had resumed physical classes for pre-primary students on November 8, but teachers are still struggling to bridge the digital gap.
One of the main reasons for reopening physical classes in Karnataka, as explained by the technical advisory committee (TAC) in its recommendations, were not particularly centred around education.
“Any further delay in school reopening may push children into malnutrition, child labour, child marriage, child trafficking, begging etc., making their condition further Worse,” according to the report, submitted to the BS Yediyurappa-led government on June 22.
Data from the Karnataka government shows that around 9.3 million students, out of the total 10.05 million across private and public schools in Karnataka, have been accounted for in terms of access to devices, internet, TV, radio and even email.
However, of these 9.3 million, only 5,859,907 have smartphones/tablets while around 3,127,524 have no access to such devices. The survey also revealed that 5,134,386 students have access to the internet while 3,779,965 students do not, rendering the exercise of online classes redundant, especially for those belonging to rural and backward regions of the state.
Interestingly, Karnataka stands at 16th in the country when it comes to the number of enrolled children who have a smartphone available at home which has gone up from 43.1% in 2018 to 71.6% in 2020, ASER data shows.
The all-India average has gone up from 36.5% in 2018 to 67.6% in 2020.
Kerala has the highest number of enrolled children who have a smartphone available at home from 80.9% to 97.5%, data shows.
In India’s IT capital, Bengaluru (rural, south and north), there are 178,612 students who have been accounted for out of the total 1,992,100. Of this, only 1,387,299 have a mobile number in which they can be contacted and just 1,452,207 have access to smartphones or tablets. Only 1,305,527 students have access to the internet and at least 401,269 have no access, data from the education department shows.
Rishikesh.B.S who leads the Hub for Education, Law & Policy at Azim Premji University, said: “We see that children have not fallen just by the missed year but by two more grades. Similar to the summer loss where a holiday needs a bridge course just after two months. When that two month extends to 18 months, it is a very natural thing that there is not just a learning loss but a learning regression.”
“It is basically adding to the problem which we anyways had pre-covid. The 18 months of closure has exacerbated the problems further.”
Rishikesh said that this should warn us that the government cannot just reopen schools and continue as though its business as usual which could leave behind a third of the class. He added that one way to deal with this is to give more autonomy to the teachers and we had said that this bridge course should go on till March 2023 or 500 days to bring these children on par.