In Class III, but can't read schoolbooks of juniors

Ranchi, Jan. 22: A national status report of education by a reputable agency has revealed Jharkhand's latest shame score ' nearly 70 per cent of Class III children can't read Class I textbooks and 55 per cent eighth graders can't read English.

Pratham Education Foundation's Aser, or annual status of education report, released on January 17 in New Delhi, said the standard of Jharkhand's schooling ' covering vernacular medium state, aided and private schools ' had nose-dived, particularly in language and numeric ability of children.

Overall, India's schooling scorecard ' across states and Union territories ' has also deteriorated said the report, the much touted Right to Education (RTE) Act notwithstanding.

The annual Aser report ' it debuted in 2005 ' assumes importance as it is referred in policy documents such as Planning Commission's approach paper to the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-12), mid-term appraisal of the 11th Five Year Plan, Economic Survey 2011-12 and World Bank's Fast Track Initiative.

In Jharkhand, Aser 2012 covered 22 districts, leaving out Latehar and Khunti. English medium schools have been left out of the study. Broadly speaking, the report revealed that most students could not understand or retain what is being taught in class, both in terms of language and numbers. This explains why in Class III, only 31 per cent can read textbooks of Class I and 11.9 per cent of children can't make out alphabets.

In 2010, around 32 per cent Class III students could do maths subtraction. Two years on, only 22 per cent can. It takes no maths whiz to do the subtraction and arrive at a 10 per cent dip in ability. Worse, 8.1 per cent can't recognise numbers.

While around 40 per cent Class V students could do division in 2010, only 24 per cent could in 2012.

In terms of language learning ability, the reality is as scary. In 2010, nearly 48 per cent Class III students could read the contents of Class I textbooks. In 2012, the number has come down to about 31 per cent.

English, a global communication tool, is also a case study of more misses than hits in Jharkhand. In 2012, only 18.8 per cent Class V students were found to be able to read easy English sentences in their textbooks. The rest could not read any. In Class VIII, the students who could read easy English sentences remained less than half of the class ' 45 per cent.

Parents were also spending money on private tuition ' a finding that points to the general decline in quality of schooling. Facilities such as drinking water and cleanliness on campuses had become slightly better, stated Aser's sole silver lining.

State human resource development (HRD) bureaucrats, however, differed with the findings.

"We have put in a lot of effort to improve education in the state during the last two years. I cannot agree with the findings of the agency," said Mamta, director of both primary and secondary education in the state.

The Telegraph spoke to educators and Pratham personnel to seek the reasons behind the shockers.

"The report proves the real issue is despite so many years, we have not been able to create awareness among people about the importance of education. Add-ons such as midday meals, bicycle distribution are good but they can't be substitutes for genuine education inside classrooms," said V.P. Sharan, former pro vice chancellor of Ranchi University.

He added that in most rural families, the family and society view an adolescent boy or a girl as an earning member, not student.

Kumar Katyayini, Jharkhand head of Pratham, spoke candidly.

"Our survey revealed that during the last two years, the standard of education has decreased nationwide, not just in Jharkhand. Here, we did a sample survey in 22 districts, except Latehar and Khunti. The findings don't augur well for India's children," said Katyayini.

The study also pointed a finger at the quality of inputs in schools. The education system is dependent on poorly paid, untrained parateachers. Regular government teachers are engaged more in non-teaching activities.

"Poor quality of teachers and teaching attitudes leads to many problems. Where the examination system is withdrawn, teachers don't or can't develop alternative systems to evaluate children," said Ramesh Sharan, a professor of Ranchi University.

Ganesh Reddy, state representative of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, said the poor teacher-student ratio led to overcrowded classrooms that hindered learning.

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