India has made encouraging progress in raising schooling participation in recent years. Yet, as is well known, improvement in the quality of education remains a challenge. Though government data on education typically deals with outlays and quantitative indicators like enrolment ratios, the status of school infrastructure and so on, qualitative indicators are missing. To fill in this gap, a nationwide survey of children's reading and arithmetic capabilities in rural India is conducted every year by NGO Pratham. Given its scale and comprehensive coverage, the Annual Status of Education Report (Aser) is a path-breaking initiative, being the only Indian nationwide survey, albeit rural, which assesses the learning achievement of children between class I and VIII.
There are four basic tests of increasing difficulty to gauge arithmetic competence and students are asked to perform each only after clearing the lower level: recognition of randomly chosen numbers from one to nine, recognition of randomly chosen numbers between 11 to 99, subtraction of two-digit numerical problems with borrowing and division of three-digit by one-digit numerical problems.
The survey results in 2010 reveal the low standard of education in rural India — merely 37 per cent of the children in class III could recognise numbers up to 100. Furthermore, just 27 per cent of the students could reach the next level, that is, subtraction.
What is more worrying is that the proportion of children reaching the highest test level has consistently declined since 2005, when the survey was first conducted. At least 15 per cent of the children in class III in 2005 could perform all the tests, while in 2010 only nine per cent of the children could do so. Also, 67 per cent of the children in class VIII in 2010 could reach the highest level, while the corresponding figure in 2005 was 70 per cent. Clearly, pushing enrolment does not automatically translate into improved learning.(Click here for graph)
State-level data show wide disparity across India. For instance, in Kerala and Nagaland, 98 per cent of the children in classes I-II could recognise numbers, while less than 70 per cent of the children in Puducherry, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Bihar could do so. The capability of solving the higher tests of subtraction or more in classes III-V displays a wide variation from 84 per cent in Mizoram to a mere 40 per cent in Uttar Pradesh. States like Mizoram, Kerala, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim are among the top five states in which more than 70 per cent of the surveyed children from class III to V could solve subtractions or more. At the other end of the table, in Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Assam, Gujarat, Daman & Diu and Rajasthan less than half of the surveyed children of the same standard could solve subtraction or more.
Several states have initiated various programmes to improve the level of learning. Yet in most cases, efforts have not translated into better learning. One exception is Punjab that has shown significant improvement in learning levels compared to the previous survey. The new policy of not keeping a child back till the Std VIII has to go hand in hand with ensuring that basic learning outcomes are achieved.
Indian States Development Scorecard, a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics, focuses on the progress in India and across the states across various socio-economic parameters.