Failing the quality test

Updated: January 17, 2015 1:36:41 AM

While school enrollment levels in the country are at 96% for the 6-14 age group...

While school enrollment levels in the country are at 96% for the 6-14 age group for the sixth year in a row, and government spending on elementary education has increased, barely a quarter of rural students enrolled in the fifth grade can read a basic sentence in English; and only a similar proportion in the third grade is capable of doing subtraction.

The 10th Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) brought out by Pratham shows that the quality of state-run schools is poor and learning abilities of students have been declining over the years. As a result, the proportion of children enrolled in private schools has increased as parents are paying out-of-pocket for private schooling. Five states in the country—Manipur, Kerala, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Meghalaya—have private school enrolment rate in the elementary stage that are greater than 50%.

The outcomes in private schools have been improving over the years. The proportion of children in Class III who can read at least words is just over half in government schools, but is nearly 80% in private schools.

One of the main reasons for this dismal trend is that various state governments have invested in infrastructure and teaching personnel, and the emphasis has always been on enrolment and not on learning-related activities. For instance, the pupil-to-teacher ratio has gone up to 49.3% in 2014 as compared with 38.9% in 2010 and usable toilets from 47.2% to 65.2% during the same period. Drinking water is now available in 75.6% of the rural schools in the country. Increase in public expenditure alone will not work. Teachers in state-owned schools must be trained and motivated and must be held accountable for the outcome.

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