New Delhi: Primary education was made compulsory through a central Act a year and a half earlier, but that’s done little to raise the quality of teaching or learning in schools.
Several students of class III were not able to read texts of class I, teachers were missing from classrooms, and the government derives achievement from enrolment without factoring in attendance, found a report published by non-profit body Pratham with support from UNESCO and UNICEF.
The study focused largely on rural India and interviewed at least 30,000 students. It looked at school organizations, teachers’ backgrounds and capabilities, classroom processes, and learning outcomes, among other parameters. The report, released on Friday, holds significance as the Right to Education (RTE) Act promises to improve the quality of primary education by assuring eight years of schooling to all students in the 6-14 age group. The government expects to invest Rs 2.31 trillion on this scheme over five years beginning 1 April 2010, when the Act became effective. “Going beyond the evaluation of inputs that are provided to schools, in terms of classrooms, teachers and textbooks, it requires an analysis of the ways in which these inputs are organized and used by schools,” said the study, adding that learning outcomes need to be mapped.
The study found that 33.87% of the standard III students it interviewed in Rajasthan and 50.92% of those in Andhra Pradesh could read only two-letter words—a level expected of standard one students.
In Mathematics, the situation was worse. “In standard IV, less than a fourth of all children could do a numerical three-digit subtraction problem,” the report said.
A key pointer of the RTE is to make learning student-friendly but the on-ground situation is far from ideal, the study said.
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It adds that though the Union human resource development (HRD) ministry claims a student enrolment of above 95% in primary schools, attendance was low. In standard IV, for example, nearly half of the students were found absent.
“There is an urgent need to move the focus from tracking the enrolment to tracking and understanding participation in school. This includes basic measurement of who is in school and for how long,” the report underlined. An official in the HRD ministry said the government was aware of some of the problems and was working on ironing them out. “The Act has three years to be implemented and you have to make the first move someday. While we appreciate reports on the state of school education, it is unfair to expect a golden system on day one. Things are changing and the real impact can be seen few years from now,” the official said, requesting anonymity.
Vimala Ramachandran, head of ERU Consultants Pvt. Ltd, a firm that tracks the education sector, said that at the primary level “there is a cumulative burden of non-learning”.
Teachers are not properly trained and all training activities are an eyewash, she said, pointing out that according to Pratham’s Assessment Survey Evaluation Research, in a 30-minute class, teachers were absent from the classroom for at least one-third of the time. “I think the government must devise a way so that teachers training improves in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17).”
The report suggests that for successful implementation of the RTE Act, school textbooks need an urgent revision with a realistic vision on teaching and learning.
“Teachers recruitment and training policies need to assess teachers’ knowledge but more importantly their ability to explain content to children, make information relevant to their lives to use teaching learning materials and activities other than the text book,” it said. The report adds that involving families in the teaching process will improve learning outcome and schools need to promote instruction in the mother tongue.
The HRD ministry official said the ministry has introduced an eligibility test for teachers to gauge aptitude. The first national test was conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education in July.