Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Dismal rural education

The recent reports aimed at assessing the learning and reading capabilities of the students in rural areas of the country paint a very dismal picture of the entire infra-structure and the facilities provided therein. One report points out that there has been no dramatic improvement in learning outcomes of the students in all the education level from primary to secondary education. The situation has gone from bad to worse in past over four years because of the fact that budgetary curtailment has choked the supply of modern teaching aides in the schools besides doing away with refresher courses for the teachers with the modern education system and trends. Apart from the students, the teachers, in the absence of modern training systems, have been found lagging behind in learning the new syllabus prescribed for the school students across the country in the rural areas. The scenario that emerges from the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), Rural – 2018 is one of a primitive system of early schooling in many states, with no remarkable progress from the base year of 2008. Except for a small section at the top of the class, the majority of students have obviously been let down and provided with no education at all. It is unfortunate that the students have been promoted to the higher classes with no learning abilities of the previous classes. It is shocking to learn that some students in high schools classes do not have the knowledge of basic alphabets and no reading ability. The teachers have resorted to such practices only to save their skin and bag promotions by showing 100% pass percentage in the annual results. But the students miserably failed in the board examinations in the higher secondary boards. The survey for 2018 had a reach of 5.4 lakh students in 596 rural districts. It should put administrators on alert that while 53.1% of students in Class 5 in rural government schools could in 2008 read a text meant for Class 2, the corresponding figure for 2018 stood at 44.2%; for comparison, private schools scored 67.9% and 65.1% for the same test in those years. Arithmetic ability showed a similar trend of under-performance, although there has been a slight improvement since 2016 – an improvement of about 1.5 percentage points in government schools and 1.8 percentage points in private institutions, among Class 5 students. Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala and Haryana did better on the arithmetic question with over 50% students clearing it, compared to Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and even Karnataka, which scored below 20%. A significant percentage of students were not even able to recognise letters appropriate for their class, bringing into focus the severe barrier to learning. With reports and the samples available for the last ten years, which paint a dismal picture of the school education system, the centre should wake up from its deep slumber and make course corrections for improving the entire gamut for the years to come. The learning abilities that have been found deficient need to be augmented for the next few years with focus on better teaching training and improvement in educational aides for students. The centre needs to institute a review mechanism involving all the states for both government as well as private institutions covering both the elementary and middle schools. A public consultation on activity-based learning outcomes, deficits in early childhood education, and innovations in better performing states can help in learning abilities of the students. The enactment of the Right to Education Act was followed by a welcome rise in enrolment, which now touches 96% as per ASER figures. Only enactment of law is not sufficient for improving the education system in the country, it has to be backed by a supportive framework to cater to learners from different backgrounds, who by and large cannot rely on parental support or coaching. Many educationists have expressed their concern over the high expectations on literacy and numeracy increasing unnecessary peer pressure on the students of all ages. This concern needs to be addressed through reforms process. The solutions lie in multi-pronged approaches to increase the learning abilities of the students. One thing is amply clear that the governments of the day are not doing enough to educate India’s children, who are the future citizens of the country.