New Delhi, Jan. 31: Bengal figures among the top four states in a government body’s assessment of Class V and Class VIII pupils, but experts conceded that the state’s high dropout rate may have played a part by weeding out the weaker students.
The National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) revealed the findings of its latest five-yearly surveys, carried out in government schools in 2010 (for Class V) and 2012 (for Class VIII), last Friday.
About a week earlier, the NGO Pratham had published its annual status of education report (ASER), painting a damning picture of school education in India. It showed that less than two in five Class VIII children could do simple division and over a third could not properly read a paragraph in their mother tongue.
But the government report merely gave the performances of the states relative to the national average without stating how good or bad these scores or the national average were.
An NCERT official associated with the survey admitted on the condition of anonymity that the average scores in the various subjects were “not good”.
“Although we have not determined an ‘expected level of performance’, the country-wise average score is not good. The students should perform better,” he said.
Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh topped the charts whereas Bihar and Jharkhand figured near the bottom.
Govt vs NGO
Current and former NCERT officials criticised Pratham’s report, though its findings about the relative performances of the states are not too different from the government survey’s.
They also questioned the methods used by the NGO, which conducted its latest study between September and November last year.
Pratham’s ASER Centre director, Rukmini Banerjee, on the other hand, termed the NCERT’s findings “confusing”, citing how states with high teacher shortages have performed better. For instance, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal have about three lakh teacher vacancies each.
Former NCERT director Krishna Kumar explained that these states also have high dropout rates, with about 40 per cent of the schoolchildren — presumably those weaker in studies and from the poorer families — leaving by Class VIII. Private tuition too is widespread in these states.
“You can’t compare Bengal with Karnataka or Kerala, whose dropout rates are much lower. So, the distribution of children (according to varying degrees of relative merit) in the sample is wider in these southern states,” he said.
The NCERT questions were of a level commensurate with the class in which the children were studying, but Pratham set them questions three classes below their standard.
For example, Class V students were set Class II questions by Pratham and Class V questions by the NCERT.
Kumar said Pratham’s findings were questionable: “Why they use lower-level questions has not been explained.”
The ASER Centre director, Banerjee, said this was because “we test basic understanding”.
Pratham tests only the children’s basic reading, mathematical and comprehension skills while the NCERT also tests their knowledge of science, the environment and social studies.
The NCERT surveyors visit 250 rural and urban government schools in each state and randomly pick out about 30 children at each. They are given written questions, and the tests are carried out in the school.
The Pratham surveyors only visit rural children and test them orally at home. “In a home environment, the child may be under (parental) pressure and may not perform well,” Kumar suggested.
An NCERT official cited another difference: “The Pratham survey gives uniform weightage to every question but we give varying weightage depending on the difficulty levels of the questions.”
The NCERT found that the average scores of Class V children in 16 states, including Bengal, were higher than the national average.
In the Class VIII test, children from 14 states bettered the national average in science, and those from 20 states did so in social studies. In mathematics and language (vernacular), 16 and 15 states outdid the national average.
Kumar said the NCERT surveys help states understand their problems better and address issues. The Union human resource development ministry considers the NCERT report a more reliable basis for policy planning.