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DISMAL SHOW

By no stretch of optimistic or wishful thinking can the effect of education be reduced to quantitative measurements. The progress made in the field of education is ultimately indicated by the quality of life and work that the learning acquired from it ensures, for individuals, for society and the economy in general. This is precisely the cause for worry in the South Asian countries, as shown by a report called Student Learning in South Asia published by the World Bank. Between 2001 and 2010, the primary net enrolment rose in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan from 75 per cent to 88 per cent. In India, it is now about 96 per cent. Yet, attendance rates remain low — about 75 per cent in government schools — and all other indicators show that the learning outcomes remain discouraging. In the learning of English and the vernacular, as well as in basic mathematical skills, the findings in all these countries remain dismal at the primary and secondary levels. This affects the quality of students coming out of private and government schools, pulling down the over-all social and economic markers. The factors affecting this, as well as being affected by this, are both specifically in the realm of education and more general. Nutrition, for instance, is a crucial determinant of how children can benefit from the schooling that they might have increased access to.

South Asia continues to have the world’s highest rates of childhood malnutrition. Sexual inequality and injustice — no toilets for girls, for instance — is often the reason for a high drop-out rate for girls. The other factors, more intrinsic to the quality of education being provided, would include inadequately trained teachers, teachers not turning up at work, and poor infrastructure. And, in these matters, there are huge disparities between the facilities afforded by private and government schools. So, unbridgeable and permanently disabling inequalities result from these disparities that affect the way people live for the rest of their lives. The dismal nature of these outcomes are not confined to the less privileged sections of society, but pervade the entire primary, secondary and higher education systems, including elite institutions, lowering the quality of the human resources available for every profession — from agriculture to technology and science.