Education quality worsens under UPA : Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)
New Delhi – Despite levying a tax to fund education and enacting a law to ensure access to education for all children between the ages of 6 and 14, the government hasn’t succeeded in improving learning outcomes in India’s schools, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) published on Wednesday.
The quality of learning – as measured by reading, writing, and arithmetic – has either shown no improvement or actually worsened in the nine years of the United Progressive Alliance government’s rule, said the report, prepared by the non-profit Pratham Education Foundation.
The proportion of all children in Class 5 who can read a Class 2 level text has declined by almost 15 percentage points since 2005. Similarly, the portion of students in Class 8 who can do divisions has declined by almost 23 percentage points during the same period.
While three out of every five students in standard 5 were able to read the text books prescribed for pupils who were three years junior in 2005, only one out of two is up to the task now.
Still, the enrolment level in schools has made significant strides with 97% of children now in schools, compared with 93% in 2005.
“There are several major challenges for the education sector, from introducing at least one year of pre-school education to building mechanisms for open learning, continuing education, vocational training and quality education and research at the university level,” Madhav Chavan, chief executive and president of Pratham Education Foundation, said in the report. “Political decisions are needed to address problems and they need to take into account the overall changing realities of India.” The two major issues needed to be tackled urgently are the dramatic shift to private school enrolment in rural areas and a crisis of learning, Chavan said.
“When ASER started measuring enrolment in 2005, the all-India rural private primary school enrolment was about 17%. ASER seems to have caught a big change in its early stages – rural private school enrolment rose to 29% by 2013,” Chavan added.
The data serves to underscore two key points – India’s aspiration to be a knowledge economy looks misplaced and the UPA government won’t have much to brag about when it comes to education.
“The problem is immediate and urgent. We have not moved forward for years,” said Chavan. “We have got students to schools but the learning outcome remains poor.”
The survey, carried out in 550 rural districts of India found that even the right to education (RTE) has not helped to improve education outcomes. Instead, the Act seems to have focused on enrolment at the expense of quality.
“In our country everything is input-driven but output measurement is not there,” Chavan said
Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who released the report, concurred. “(The) learning outcome is surprisingly disappointing,” he said.
He added that it is time a similar study is conducted in urban areas and the results compared with the national average. If the urban results are as bad, it would be a disaster and if the results are better, it would serve to highlight disparities in the educational system between the cities and the countryside, he explained.
The report paints a grim picture of the quality of education in government schools, even as it notes that there has been a steady increase in private school enrolment from 18.7% in 2006 to 29% in 2013. In some states such as Manipur and Kerala, nearly 70% of the students are in private schools. Even in states such as Uttar Pradesh, the proportion is close to 50%.
In states where enrolment in government schools is high, a higher portion of students were found to depend on private tuitions to supplement what they learnt in school. For example, in Bihar and Odisha, where only 8.4% and 7.3% of students are in private schools, respectively, 52.2% and 51.2% of students were taking private tuitions.
One reason for the lack of improvement in the educational system is that there is too much debate and too little action, said Ashish Dhawan, chief executive officer of Central Square Foundation, a philanthropic organization that’s active in the education sector.
“Education needs to get priority status. Even after 8 years of ASER telling us that children are not learning basics of literacy and numeracy, our policies continue to focus on outlays and inputs instead of talking about outcomes and impact,” added Dhawan who is also the co-founder of venture capital fund ChrysCapital.
“We now need to do systematic tests and a deeper analysis to understand where the problem lies and start acting to improve the situation. We need scientifically created learning assessments that are low-stakes, test conceptual understanding of every child in Classes 3, 5, 8 and 10 in every state and then use this data to improve teacher training programmes and feed into remediation strategies,” he said.