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Gap in school quality and quantity

New Delhi, July 1: The increase in enrolment in primary education in South Asian countries between 2001 and 2010 has not been matched by an increase in learning outcome of children, threatening economic growth in the region, a World Bank report has said.

The report titled Student Learning in South Asia has analysed several studies in areas of learning outcome and the link between poor quality primary education and its impact on economic growth.

The primary net enrolment rate rose from 75 per cent in 2001 in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan to 88 per cent in 2010. In India, it is about 96 per cent. But the attendance rate is low, about 75 per cent in government schools. It is 60 per cent in Bihar and 92 per cent in Kerala.

In South Asia, employer surveys increasingly suggest that inferior education systems and shortage of skills are a bar to private sector investment and growth.

Poorly prepared graduates of government and private schools in South Asia constrain not only the growth and competitiveness of the private sector but deter creation of better jobs, the report said.

A recent study found that about 43 per cent of Grade 8 students could not solve a simple division problem. Even recognition of two-digit numbers, supposed to be taught in Grade 2, is not often achieved until Grade 4 or 5, according to a Pratham report.

In Bangladesh, only 25 per cent of Grade 5 students have mastered Bangla and 33 per cent have mastered math competencies specified in the national curriculum.

Tara Beteille, one of the authors of the report, told reporters the factors for poor learning outcome in South Asian countries are low level of nutrition among young children, poor teachers’ quality, teachers’ absenteeism, etc.

“Nutrition of children is a key area governments need to focus on. South Asia has the world’s highest rates of childhood malnutrition,” she said.

The countries should encourage the private sector to be involved in education in Public-Private Partnership mode, Beteille said.

Better learning outcomes could translate into better labour market outcomes because workers can adapt to new technology. Farmers who have higher skill levels are better able to process codified and complex information and thus benefit from a programme that used mobile phones to communicate current market, production, transport and meteorological data, the report said, quoting another study.

Better quality education helps to improve social outcomes, such as better health, lower infant mortality and narrowing income inequality, the report said.

While gaps in enrolment between disadvantaged groups and population average have narrowed, historically disadvantaged and economically weaker children still have significantly lower learning outcomes.

Learning outcomes tend to be much more unequally distributed than school access or enrolment. Large and growing learning gaps threaten the equity gains in enrolment because children who learn less are more likely to drop out.