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School enrollment at record high, but numeracy, literacy standards remain sub-par: Study

The ASER survey is a nationwide household survey, covering 596 districts in rural India

Thursday January 17, 2019 7:51 PM, ummid.com News Network

India School Enrollment

[The results for arithmetic ability show a similar picture: Just 28% of grade V students are able to do division, compared with 37% in 2008. (Photo: UNICEF/UNI14632/Vishwanathan)]

Mumbai: No more than 2.8% of children are out of school in India, the first time the figure has fallen below 3%, bringing the total school enrollment to a record 97.2%.

The proportion of girls out of school has also declined, from 6% in 2010 to 4% in 2018. The number of states where the figure is higher than 5% has dropped to four major states, compared to nine states eight years ago, IndiaSpend reported citing Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2018.

The achievements are attributed to the Right To Education Act 2009 (RTE) legislation, which mandated free and compulsory education for six- to 14-year-olds and is credited with reducing “inequalities in access between states” and “beefed up infrastructure in government schools”, the report said.

Such improvements, however, mask latent issues in the country’s rural school network, where numeracy and literacy standards remain sub-par and in many instances lower than standards recorded 10 years ago in 2008.

The ASER survey is a nationwide household survey, covering 596 districts in rural India. A total of 354,944 households and 546,527 children between ages three and 16 were surveyed to evaluate learning outcomes.

After five years of schooling, at age 10-11 years, just over half (51%) of students in India can read a grade II level text (appropriate for seven- to eight-year-olds). This figure is lower than in 2008, when 56% of grade V students could read a grade II level text.

The results for arithmetic ability show a similar picture: Just 28% of grade V students are able to do division, compared with 37% in 2008.

Learning outcomes witnessed a decline following the “push towards univeralization” after the RTE came into force in 2010, the report noted. One explanation given is that the exercise to ensure every child was enrolled meant children that had dropped out, or were never enrolled in from the beginning were brought back in to schools and lowered average learning levels in government schools.

But while there have been improvements across numeracy and literacy indicators since 2010, levels remain below those seen a decade ago and significant disparities in learning outcomes across the nation’s states persist. For example, while over three-quarters of students in grade V in Kerala can read a grade II text, significantly higher than the national average (51%), the proportion drops to no more than 34% in Jharkhand.

Poor performance in school-based reading and math tests also signals future problems in adulthood, as the lack of foundational skills impedes children’s ability to carry out basic life tasks. Under a third of 14- to 16-year-olds (29.3%) were able to calculate the 10% discount applied to a T-shirt costing Rs 300.

“The fact that we are seeing some improvement in learning outcomes now is a welcome change,” the report said. “But, first of all, the positive change is slow and uncertain. It has to be understood that we are struggling even with basic literacy and numeracy.”

“This means that not only are we not creating a sufficiently literate population, but that most of our population is functionally illiterate,” said the report. “We are far from becoming an educated nation.”

ASER said Indian classrooms are filled with students grouped together by age-group, rather than attainment, a situation which has not altered over the past ten years. For example, 12% of children in grade III could not even recognise letters of the alphabet, while 27% are able to read an entire grade II-level text.

‘Multi-grade’ classes, where children with varying levels of ability are mixed together, can leave struggling students behind, as teachers following the grade-level textbook reach only the top of the class, the report said.

Improvements to the pupil-teacher ratio could help tackle varying abilities in classrooms, as more resources help reach a larger number of children and address specific learning challenges.

The percentage of schools complying with the RTE-mandated pupil-teacher ratio--of 30:1 for primary schools and 35:1 for upper primary schools--has almost doubled since 2010, rising from 38.9% to 76.2% in 2018.

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