New Delhi, Jan. 17: A survey today suggested that the reading and arithmetic skills of India's schoolchildren were declining from an already poor level, at a time the government has been claiming an improvement in infrastructure at primary schools.
Three years after the Right To Education (RTE) Act came into effect, learning outcomes have fallen rather than improved, says the annual status of education report prepared by Pratham, a voluntary organisation.
The NGO has been conducting this survey every year since 2005. The survey for 2012 covered 5.96 lakh children from 14,591 primary and upper primary rural schools ' 90 per cent of them run by the government ' in 567 districts.
About 25,000 surveyors assessed the children's ability to read simple texts and do basic arithmetic. Some findings:
In 2010, 46.3 per cent of all Class V children in the country had failed to successfully read a Class II text. This proportion increased to 51.8 per cent in 2011 and 53.2 per cent in 2012, the biggest declines being witnessed in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kerala.
The proportion of Class III children who had failed to read a Class I text increased from 54.4 per cent in 2010 to 59.7 per cent in 2011 to 61.3 per cent in 2012.
In 2010, a substantial 29.1 per cent of Class V children had failed to do simple two-digit subtractions. This figure increased to 39 per cent in 2011 and 46.5 per cent in 2012.
The proportion of Class V children who were unable to do division increased from 63.8 per cent in 2010 to 72.4 per cent in 2011 to 75.2 per cent in 2012. Barring Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka, almost all the states have shown a substantial drop in arithmetic learning levels.
Madhav Chavan, CEO of Pratham Education Foundation, did not offer any specific reasons for the decline but said the RTE Act may have led to a relaxation in teaching standards since all children are now promoted automatically to the next class till Class VIII.
The act, however, suggests the introduction of Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) in schools to assess how well the children were learning.
"Several states are attempting to implement some form of CCE as they understand it. Does the CCE catch this decline? Are teachers equipped to take corrective action as the law prescribes?" Chavan wondered.
One of the problems in government schools is that the teachers wait for the authorities to tell them what should be done, he said.
"It is important for all to adhere to the policy of achieving the basic learning outcomes rather than completing the syllabus, as the RTE Act says," he said.
Releasing Pratham's report, human resource development minister M.M. Pallam Raju expressed surprise at the findings.
He seemed to be questioning the sample size by referring to the study as a "dipstick survey" but added: "Our ministry will go through and analyse the report thoroughly. We will speak to the states on quality issues."
The RTE Act, which stresses quality improvement in schools, came into effect on April 1, 2010. It says schools must comply with all the quality norms within three years, a deadline that expires on March 31 this year.
The Centre has repeatedly claimed an improvement in school facilities such as the availability of classrooms, separate toilets for girls, drinking water, ramps for the differently abled, boundary walls, libraries and playgrounds.
Nearly half the country's 13 lakh government schools are close to meeting these norms, the government says. Teacher vacancies, however, remain a big problem at primary schools.