According to the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2010, the percentage of rural children in the age-group 6-14 years enrolled in schools is almost 97 per cent; enrolment has increased steadily from 93 per cent since 2005. Despite this encouraging statistic, a large section of the rural children receives only the most basic education. The survey conducted annually by Pratham revealed that only 53.4 per cent children in Class V can read a Class II-level text. The survey assesses reading capabilities through four tasks: recognition of commonly used letters, recognition of randomly chosen words, reading sentences from Class-I texts and, finally, from Class-II texts. Students are asked to perform each task only after they have cleared the lower level. Not only do a large proportion of children perform behind their grade-level skills, these figures have also remained almost unchanged in the last five years. In 2006, about eight per cent of Class-II students could read sentences from their texts; in 2009, this figure increased to only nine per cent. In 2006, 84 per cent of Class-VIII children could perform Class II-level skills; in 2010, that share stood at 83 per cent. With the new policy of “no child left behind till the VIIIth”, the country must pay greater attention to clearing basic reading skills.
The diverse state of education in the country is reflected in the disparity in the state-wise survey results. In Kerala, about 98 per cent of the rural children in Class I and Class II could read letters. More than 95 per cent of such children in Mizoram, Tripura, Goa, Manipur, Sikkim and Nagaland could do the same. However, tests showed Tamil Nadu at the bottom; just 63 per cent of children in Class I and Class II could read letters or more. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are the other two low performers; less than 70 per cent of rural children in these classes were declared competent in the tests. In Odisha, Assam, Jharkhand and Rajasthan, around a quarter or more of the children could not read letters or more. The wide disparity is also reflected in higher classes. More than 80 per cent of rural children in Classes III to V in Mizoram, Kerala, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh could read sentences of Class-I text. In Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand, just 53 per cent could clear the test. In Karnataka, Daman and Diu, Assam, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, and Rajasthan, less than 60 per cent children in Classes III to V could read Class-I text or more. This makes it eight states in which more than 40 per cent of children in Classes III to V cannot read basic sentences. Children who are unable to perform even the most basic skills are at a greater risk of dropping out of school. Therefore, it is important to focus on these capabilities.(Click here for graph)
The economic and social costs of leaving a large section of children practically illiterate are huge. Improving the quality of learning should be a top priority now. Unless efforts are stepped up in primary schools, disparities are bound to become accentuated.
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.