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Indian standard of schooling rank 2nd last in global test

Monday January 23, 2012 07:56:15 PM, M. Burhanuddin Qasmi

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Observing the high level of illiteracy, the constitution of India under article 45 made it obligatory on the government to achieve 100 per cent literacy within ten years from the enforcement of the constitution in 1950. The Article 45 also states that ‘the State shall endeavour to provide free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years’. Cent per cent literacy, with free and compulsory education, in India should have become a reality by 1960 – isn’t it?

A tragedy for all Indians that the target set by the constitution to be achieved in 10 years in 1950 never became a reality even after 62 years! A country which has started from 20 per cent national literacy rate with 361.09 million populations in 1950 is still struggling at half-way mark 62 years later. In 2011 India has 74.04 per cent total literacy (82.12 % males and 65.46 % females), when we have a chunk of 1210.19 million populations, according to the provisional data from the census 2011.

On the contrary, India is propagated as ‘education powerhouse’ by the corporate world, based largely on the reputation of a few islands of academic excellence such as the IITs or IIMs. But scratch the glossy surface of our education system and the picture turns seriously bleak. We are just paper tigers.

Our fifteen-year-old Indians who were put, for the first time, on a global stage stood second to last, only beating Kyrgyzstan when tested on their reading, math and science abilities.

India ranked second last among the 73 countries that participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), conducted annually to evaluate education systems worldwide by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Secretariat. The survey is based on two-hour tests that half a million students are put through.

China's Shanghai province scored the highest in reading. It also topped the charts in mathematics and science. China has been on top for last several years and it seems the country’s youngsters are unbeatable – they are far ahead than their counterparts.

"More than one-quarter of Shanghai's 15 year olds demonstrated advanced mathematical thinking skills to solve complex problems, compared to an OECD average of just 3 per cent" noted the analysis.

Our participants from Tamil Nadu and Himachal, showpieces of India's education and development, fared miserably at the PISA.

The average 15-year-old Indian is over 200 points behind the global topper. Comparing scores, experts estimate that an Indian eighth grader is at the level of a South Korean third grader in math abilities or a second-year student from Shanghai when it comes to reading skills.

The report said: "In Himachal, 11 per cent of students are estimated to have a proficiency in reading literacy that is at or above the baseline level needed to participate effectively and productively in life. It follows that 89 per cent of students in Himachal are estimated to be below that baseline level."

Clearly, India will have to ramp up its efforts and get serious about what goes on in its schools. "Better educational outcomes are a strong predictor for future economic growth," OECD secretary-general Angel Gurria told the media after the results was out.

"While national income and educational achievement are still related, PISA shows that two countries with similar levels of prosperity can produce very different results. This shows that an image of a world divided neatly into rich and well-educated countries and poor and badly-educated countries is now out of date."

In case of scientific literacy levels in TN, students were estimated to have a mean score that was below the means of all OECD countries, but better than Himachal. Experts are unsure if selecting these two states was a good idea.

The 93rd Constitution Amendment Bill 2001 enacting ‘free and compulsory education for all children is a fundamental right’ provided a ray of hope to millions of children in the age group of 6-14 years. The fundamental right to free education was received with paramount importance by all. But the irony of the fact is that the then BJP lead NDA government tried to garner all credit for the 93rd amendment and did little practically to enforce it for betterment of the children or nation.

Now, 10 years later, the Congress-led UPA government has pulling all stops together just to undo the hypothetical credit from the NDA with a new RTE Act of 2009. And in the process the government has paved the way for a bunch of ill-equipped degree holders across the country, thanks to the RTE Act, which legalizes education free of examinations and competition till 10+2 standard. According to the Act, 75 per cent children belonging to one kilometer radius of the institution have the right to take admission in the same institution even if they are unskilled.

I am happy that now there is accurate fact that lets people know how far we still have to go in the field of standard schooling. Remember, it is not the USA, UK, France or any other developed country from Europe or America that tops the list in consecutive years. It is the Asian countries that mostly on top of this standard education test. China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Dubai are far better than us.

The better way out for us is to fight with our strongest but unfriendly neighbor – China, is that we need to fight and win our own educational battle at home.

I am afraid, how many of our education experts or people from Mr. Kapil Sibal’s office might have analyzed or at least gone through the PISA results? It is time to understand that children’s schooling must not be the part of a corporate world nor it can be the subject of political gimmicks between NDA and UPA governments.



The author M. Burhanuddin Qasmi is editor of Eastern Crescent magazine and the director of Mumbai based Markazul Ma’arif Education & Research Centre. He can be contacted at




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