First, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wanted every child in school. Now, he wants to know if they are actually learning something.
The Indian government will try to test and quantify the results and quality of education in its flagship programme, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) on which some Rs28,077 crore has been spent between 2002 and 2007, excluding additional money spent by states.
The programme is financed through a cess on all tax-paying Indians, and is aimed at putting every child in school. It has been largely successful, with 96.5% of children in the 6-14 age group in school, according to the ministry of human resource development.
Report card: Children at a government primary school in Bangalore. The government says that since the launch of the SSA, enrolment is up from 131
In separate evaluations, the Planning Commission and the ministry of human resource development plan to test the quality of learning and the quality of teaching in this programme.
The Planning Commission’s arm, the Programme Evaluation Organization, will advertise to get an independent agency to do the quality of learning test. “We will involve a third party. It will be a countrywide sampling and evaluation”, said A.N.P. Sinha, senior adviser on education in the Planning Commission.
The SSA was formally launched in 2001-02. Since 2004, it has been financed by a cess on tax on personal income, corporations and services. The government has stressed the numbers that the SSA has notched up: enrolment is up from 131 million in 2001-02 to 182 million in 2004-05 and out-of-school children have reduced from 32 million in 2001-02 to 7.1 million in 2006, a 78% reduction. Hundreds of schools have been built and teachers hired.
But experts and not-for-profit organizations have said that quality of education in the SSA has never been quantified and that one in every two children in the SSA target group drops out of school.
One of the few surveys on student learning is done by Pratham, a Mumbai-based NGO which has just launched its third annual test on status of education in rural areas.
“In our last survey, we saw some noticeable improvement in learning in the first and second standard in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh,” said Madhav Chavan who heads Pratham.
This year, with some quality initiatives from a few states such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, Pratham expects to see further improvement in reading, writing, arithmetic and comprehension, the four skills in which it tests children in the 5-16 age group.
Chavan says any quality evaluation of the SSA must not only test learning but also test the quality of inputs—teachers and money reaching the school.
The ministry of human resource development will undertake a study in five states to show how much time teachers spend in teaching, and if that teaching is able to involve students creatively or is mere rote learning.
Last week, the World Bank, one of the development partners in the SSA, or those who support the programme with research but not money, came out with a study of teachers based on 5,040 classroom observations in three states— Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The study is part of a joint review of the SSA by the government and the development partners.
It found that less than half— only 45-48%—of a teacher’s time was spent in instructing students in the classroom. “What we find is that there is lot of time leakage for the teacher where he or she is deployed for work outside school,” said Deepa Sankar, education economist for the World Bank who co-authored the study. This work could range from participating in census to administrative duties to preparations for cultural or sports activities. “Also, in most schools, teachers are in multi-grade situations but able to focus on only one class at a time while rest of the students are disengaged.”
Within the classroom, teachers devoted 24% of their time to analytical or higher-order thinking. The rest is spent on traditional teaching, rote learning and other tasks.