Education forms the base for building and development of a nation. India has been striving hard to become an economic power and in such a scenario, increased investment in education, increase in enrolment rate and accessibility to quality education will have significant contribution in India’s path of growth. However, several statistics in the past years have shown that India’s education system is in quite a different condition with very poor learning outcomes even with increasing enrolment in schools. Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is a report published by NGO Pratham that provides reliable estimates of statistics of children’s schooling and basic learning levels on a yearly basis. ASER reports in the recent years have reflected the fact about India’s poor learning outcomes.
In 2015, as per ASER reports ‘only an average of 48% children of class 5 were able to read class 2 level text. In 2018, as per ASER reports about 72% of children of class 3 were unable to read a class 2 level book, about 27% of students of class 8 were unable to read a class 2 level book, around 55% children of class 8 could not complete simple arithmetic problems’. As per the 2018 ASER reports, India’s education scenario had worsened since 2008 when about 53% of class 5 students of rural government schools could read text meant for class 2 whereas this percentage had decreased to around 44% in 2018. Similar decrease was noticed in private schools also where the percentage in 2008 was about 70% and in 2018 it was around 65%. According to the reports even with 90% enrolment of children between 14 to 18 years, only about 25% were able to read basic text fluently.
In 2018, NCERT also conducted a competency test for class 10 students across 34 states and union territories in India and it was found that ‘about 60% of students lacked desired level of learning in maths and science.’ Even in other subjects, percentage of students who failed to answer most of the questions correctly was high like about 55% in social science, 58% in English, 45% in a modern Indian language. Delhi based District Information System for Education which is a database developed by the National University for Educational Planning and Administration also brought to the fore the dismal fact that hardly 10% of India’s schools satisfy the norms in relation to teacher availability and proper infrastructure as mentioned in the Right to Education Act.
In the previous years, surveys have also indicated poor learning outcomes in India despite high enrolment percentage. NCERT’S National Achievement Survey (NAS) report found out that ‘6 out of 10 students of class 5 were unable to read class 2 text, 8 out of 10 students could not complete simple mathematic problems, around 6 million children belonging to age group of 6-14 were out of school and around 36% of the children who enrol in schools drop out before completing their primary education.’ As per ASER reports of 2019, ‘about 16% of class 1 students in 26 rural districts that were surveyed could read text as per prescribed level, as high as 40% failed to even recognise letters and about 59% failed to recognise 2-digit numbers.
In 2019, ASER surveyors took into account about 37000 children from 26 rural districts and 24 states and the survey was conducted based on variety of tasks given to the students for testing their cognitive skills like sorting images by colour and size, recognise patterns, simple literacy and numeracy tests. According to the report, ‘out of the class 1 children who could complete none or only one tasks, about 14% could read words, 19% could do single digit addition.’ On the other hand, among the students who could correctly do all cognitive tasks, about 52% could read words and about 63% could solve addition problem. ASER also indicated that there were differences between government and private schools. ‘Among class 1 students of private schools about 41% could read words whereas the percentage was merely 19% in government schools. Similarly, in case of addition, about 47% of private school students could do simple addition and in government schools the percentage was 19%.’ The report also indicated a low enrolment percentage in case of girls compared to boys. Another important fact found in the report was that more than 25% of class 1 students in government schools were younger than the recommended age.
Reasons for Poor Learning Outcomes
Indian school system still exist with the view that the British established during the colonial era as per which teachers are mere dispensers of information and students are nothing but passive recipients of the education imparted by teachers and the education seldom has any connection with the lived realities. In the backdrop of such view of education system, Indian education has been focussed on an examination system which makes the students rehearse endlessly the skills and reproduce them from memory. Students have become more focussed in achieving marks in the examinations and the fear of failure either due to poor teaching or other reasons drives them to default on exams as was seen in Uttar Pradesh, where about one-sixth of students dropped out of ongoing class 10 and 12 exams after the government announced a crackdown on cheating. This approach has basically damaged the core values of education which is not only limited to memorising and reproducing in the exams.
Secondly, in the current digital age, there is need of disruptive thinkers and innovators not mere instruction-takers. However, Indian schooling system has not been able to push students towards innovation and above that attitude of parents of forcing their children to avoid risks, following the same old notions of opting for a secure line like engineering, medicine etc has suppressed the innovative skills of children. Third, imparting irrelevant skills combined with high dropout rates has given rise to a massive pool of unemployed, unemployable youth and also unskilled youth. Fourth, the school curriculum has been primarily focussed on literacy and numeracy skills which make it too ambitious and in a manner, it interferes with innovation. Fifth, as per ASER it has been found that too young children have been enrolled in schools irrespective of the recommended age. Such tendency in schooling system puts the underage children at a learning disadvantage which becomes difficult to overcome.
Further, it has been seen that in rural schools the competence levels of teachers is not up to the mark and sometimes even parents fail to provide conducive atmosphere for studying at home after school hours due to different reasons like illiteracy of parents which makes them incapable to help their children, poor socio-economic condition of the family which forces the children to divert their time to help at home with domestic chores or family trade after school hours. Lastly, although enrolment levels have gone up but there has been no significant increase or improvement in student and teacher attendance which disrupts the flow of education.
Measures to Overcome the Problem of Poor Learning Outcomes
The ASER 2019 found that solving the issue of poor learning outcome does not lie in increasing the learning hours rather a focus must be shifted to develop the cognitive skills in the place of subject learning. ASER data also clarified the fact that cognitive skills play a vital role in increasing the ability of students to do early language and numeracy tasks. So, if focus is given to memory building activities, reasoning and problem-solving abilities by means of attractive methods like play-based activities, it will prove to be more fruitful compared to focus on content knowledge.
A number of factors affect a child’s quality of education like the background of family (because children from poor families are hardly able to give time to studies after school hours as they have to help in household chores or family trade and if parents are uneducated than they fail to assist their children in their studies which leaves the children free of guidance outside the school), type of school (whether with adequate facilities and efficient teachers or not), age of children in class 1 (whether students are of recommended age or are younger) etc. These factors need to be thoroughly addressed in order to ensure proper education of children. Sampark foundation that works in this field has adopted a primary school transformation programme that is a combination of 5 innovations- audio device for imparting knowledge, 3-D teaching and learning materials, board games, multimedia workbooks and mobile app. An approach of this kind would help to motivate children to learn and receive education. The Sampark Foundation also suggested that the process of education be broken down to small tasks with application of innovation so that output can be increased by making the process easier.
When evaluating learning outcome, 3 factors need to be considered that are the interface between teacher and student which actually created the learning outcome, the teacher who play a key role in creating outcome and the role of government, private parties and educators in establishing a framework so that teachers deliver better. These 3 factors can be strengthened by means of innovation and technology-based approach.
Further, it is necessary to ensure that children going to school are prepared and motivated to learn and gain knowledge, classrooms are well-equipped and schools have a safe and hygienic environment. Lastly, it is of utmost importance to ensure that the mindset of people change so that they do not force their children to become mere followers who memorise the information imparted by teachers and reproduce it in exams thereby scoring high marks rather, parents should motivate their children in a way that enhances their innovative skills even if it means taking certain risks and they must make their children realise the true essence of education which is not limited only to scoring marks.
Steps Taken by Government & Their Evaluation
Indian government enacted the Right to Education Act (RTE) in 2009 and it came into force in 2010. The act makes right to education a fundamental right of every child and describes the importance of free and compulsory education for children between the ages of 6 to 14 years. After the enactment of RTE, India witnessed a rise in enrolment in schools in the subsequent years. As per ASER data enrolment in India now touches the 96% mark. Also, in the last decade government has doubled the amount of investment in education. These steps by the government have been successful in increasing coverage and access to school education.
However, it has been seen that even after these steps the learning outcomes in India has not improved due to various reasons like lack of supportive framework to cater to the needs of learners from different backgrounds mainly from rural areas who cannot rely on additional coaching, lack of innovation in the education system which has led to increase in number of followers rather than increase in the much needed leaders who take risks and think outside the box, lack of quality of education etc. India has been striving to improve the quality of education and its decision to join the Programme for International Student Assessment and the merging of government schemes under Samagra Shiksha are welcome steps in order to improve the quality of education. India has also been trying to align itself with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG4)- ensuring quality education for all and is aiming to reduce and subsequently eliminate the learning poverty which is defined as the percentage of children who cannot read and understand a simple story by age 10.
Besides the efforts of central government, state governments have also adopted measures to develop education in their respective states. The Karnataka government has been working with 4 NGOs in the field of education in order to improve motivation of students and to strengthen capacity building. The government of Delhi has improved its schools and classrooms with trained teachers, good furniture, smart IT-enabled teaching aids, clean playgrounds and functioning toilets etc which has helped to increase the attendance of students mainly girls and government schools have also delivered better results compared to private schools.
However, Delhi government has adopted means of CCTV coverage in the schools which is seen as a hindrance in free working of the education system. Real education strives to nurture creative, sceptical minds and helps to enhance knowledge by questioning received wisdom but combining discipline with education is seen to be counterproductive as it would hinder creativity of children who would become conscious due to constant eye of the camera. Such approach would also discourage creativity of teachers and would convert the classroom into a process-driven workshop which would obstruct the children from gaining values that are learned from teachers and classroom friendships in a reasonably free atmosphere.
Schooling is the formative stage in the life of an individual in which one develops capabilities, gains awareness of responsibilities and shapes his/her attitude that would help in one’s civic engagement in the society. India aspires to become an economic power and it also professes a democratic form of government, in such a scenario it is crucial that India develops its education system which forms the base of a nation’s development and strengthens democracy. India’s RTE act has enhanced the learning environment and has increased the enrolment however now it is necessary to shift the focus on improving the quality of education and increase focus on innovation so that there is improvement in learning outcomes. India can learn from other nations like Kenya, where the government’s programme using technology enabled teacher coaching, teacher guides and delivering one book per child has helped to increase the percentage of grade 2 students reading at an appropriate level by more than 3 times. India needs to adopt multiple approaches by involving state governments, private parties, NGOs etc so that a supportive framework is established besides the RTE act that would help in improving the learning outcomes. India has a significant proportion of young people out of which large sections remain functionally uneducated and unskilled. India needs to take urgent steps and reform its existing education system by imbibing quality and innovation in order to prevent the conversion of its demographic dividend into a demographic disaster.