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Schools dumbing down, reveals ASER report

- Slide in grasping ability of kids linked with less teachers

Ranchi, Feb. 24: If in 2010, half of Jharkhand’s Class V children in government schools could read Class II textbooks, only 34 fifth graders out of 100 could do so in 2013. But don’t blame the child, blame the lack of teachers.

The standard of Jharkhand’s state-run schools is plummeting through the years, says Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2013, prepared by NGO Pratham, which annually undertakes an assessment of the quality of education between Classes I and VIII across Indian states.

The pan-India report was released in Ranchi on February 23, five weeks after Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia made its contents public in New Delhi on January 15.

The report sampled 23 districts of Jharkhand, barring Ramgarh, comprising 683 villages, 13,800 households and 30,000 children between the ages of five and 16 years.

Children from Class I to VIII, tested in reading and arithmetic across government and private schools, were found to be lagging behind in basic learning skills.

The downward curve in reading ability has been consistent through the years.

For instance, the percentage of Class V students capable of reading a Class II textbook were 49.6 in 2010, 41 in 2011, 37.7 in 2012, and finally, 34 in 2013.

Nationally, according to this reading parameter, the percentage is higher than Jharkhand, but still on a downward slope — 53.7 in 2010, 48.3 in 2011, 46.9 in 2012 and 47 in 2013. It means that less than half of India’s Class V children can manage to read books meant for those who are three classes junior.

The figures go down shockingly where simple maths is concerned. In 2010, 40.8 per cent children of Class V could do simple division, which fell to 24 per cent in 2011, 24.3 per cent in 2012 and 21.9 per cent in 2013.

Though state-run schools fare worse, falling standards are evident in private schools too. If in Jharkhand’s government schools, the percentage of third graders who can read Class I textbooks was 34.7 in 2009 and 25.3 per cent in 2013, corresponding figures of children in private schools showed the same dipping trend — 67.1 per cent in 2009 and 64.5 per cent in 2013.

The findings belie the thrust of the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) on education, which places the greatest emphasis on “learning outcomes”.

But there are too few teachers to ensure that. “In Jharkhand, only 19 per cent of schools have a pupil:teacher ratio of 30:1 mandated under RTE Act. The national average is 45.3 per cent,” said Job Zachariah, Unicef chief.

State human resource development department principal secretary K. Vidyasagar, when asked about the much-hyped 22,000 new teachers who were to be appointed in primary and middle schools on Republic Day, said appointment letters were still under process.

“You have to check with deputy commissioners concerned as they will issue the appointments after the scrutiny process,” he said.

ASER 2013 points out that teacher attendance in upper primary or middle school (Classes VI, VII and VIII) jumped from 62.1 per cent in 2012 to 88.3 per cent in 2013. In primary sections (Classes I to V), teacher attendance increased from 78.3 per cent in 2012 to 86.5 per cent in 2013.

Student attendance in upper primary went up from 52.8 per cent in 2012 to 56.8 per cent in 2013. In primary, student attendance improved from 58 per cent in 2012 to 62.4 per cent in 2013.

Even these silver linings have not brightened the scenario marginally.

Principal of state middle school in Nagri, Ajay Kumar gave a succinct assessment. “In my school, there are 700 students and 15 teaching staff of which almost half are para-teachers. Now, most para-teachers are matriculates or have passed their intermediate. They can’t provide the insight needed to teach children. Obviously, the understanding power of a child goes down,” he said.


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