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Students flunk reading test

New Delhi, Jan. 17: A nationwide survey of rural schoolchildren has painted a bleak picture of their reading and arithmetic skills, with Kerala and Bengal doing comparatively well along with Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh.

The joint study by over 700 NGOs shows that a large chunk of the children do not learn to read even the simplest paragraphs or do the easiest sums at school.

The annual status-of-education report released here today says close to 35 per cent of children between seven and 14 can’t read a simple paragraph and almost 60 per cent a simple story. Some 17.2 per cent of the older children, aged 11 to 14, struggle to read easy paragraphs and 31 per cent to read stories. Yet, 93.4 per cent of the country’s children between six and 14 are enrolled in schools.

The math report card is worse. (See chart)

Kerala fares best, but Tamil Nadu and Karnataka cut a sorry figure along with Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

In Bengal, a high 72.6 per cent solved the division and subtraction problems and 74.5 per cent could read at level 2, which involves a relatively complex task of choosing letters and words out of a list.

Madhav Chavan of Pratham, the NGO that led the survey, said it is difficult to pinpoint the reason behind Bengal’s good showing. “There could be many factors: teachers, attendance, quality of teaching.”

This should be welcome news to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who has named education as one of the sectors where his government has come up short and is known to be unhappy with the ministers for school and higher education.

The dropout rate is still a problem. The report counts 1.1 crore out-of-school children, with Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa accounting for 71.2 per cent of them. The positive news is that the gender gap in this section has fallen from 65 per cent in 2001 to 52 per cent (6-10 age group) and 55 per cent (11-14).

Also, teacher truancy ' a serious blot on the schools system ' is declining. The survey found 77.2 per cent teachers attending class.

Experts, though, argue that mere teacher presence may not improve standards ' a claim borne out by the overall poor results in the survey.

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