results of ASER-2005 are mixed. There is happy evidence
of increased allocations to, and emphasis on, school education
through various programmes like Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and
Mid-day Meals improving enrollment and retention in schools.
93.4 percent of all children (6-14 years) are at school.
There are of course, inter-state variations. But the overall
situation has improved. 75.1% of all children are in government
schools, and 16.4% are in private schools. About 3% are
in madarassas and alternate schools, leaving 6.6%, or 11
million children, out of school. More than half of those
out of school were never enrolled.
the learning levels of the children in schools reveal a
far more distressing picture. 34.9% of all school-going
children in 7-14 year age group cannot read even a short,
easy paragraph (level 1; Std 1 level difficulty), and 51.9%
cannot read a simple story (level 2; Std 2 level difficulty).
Even in the 11-14 year group, 31% children cannot read the
level-2 passage. While private schools fare better than
government schools, the difference in outcomes is not high.
While over 65 percent of children (Std II-V) in government
schools cannot read a level-2 passage, over 52 percent of
children in private schools too cannot read! Clearly, the
problem transcends the usual analysis of public sector vs
private sector debate.
in Arithmetic tasks is equally distressing. Over 41% of
children (7-14 years) cannot do a simple two-digit subtraction;
over 65% of children cannot divide a three-digit number.
Even among the children in 6th and 7th standards, 40% in
government schools and over 33% in private schools cannot
do a simple division. For a country which prides in its
technical manpower pool, proficiency in mathematics and
ability to provide back-office services to the world, this
is an alarming situation.
the children who are either genetically better-endowed,
or are fortunate in being born to educated parents or having
caring, competent teachers do very well, and are able to
find jobs demanding high productivity. Some of them successfully
compete with the best in the world, and bring laurels to
India and make us proud. While the best products of our
education are a match for the best in the world, the average
is appallingly low. That is why, nearly 80% of our gene
pool is untapped and the productive potential of the bulk
of people is wasted. The results are low productivity, poor
skills, and massive unemployment even after several years
of schooling, or even college education.
ASER - 2005 also dispels some other myths. The states traditionally
regarded as better-governed are doing as badly as others,
or in some respects even worse!
there is hope. Our society values learning, and parents
are willing to pay any price for giving their children a
head start. ASER shows that the debate on education is now
moving a few notches up, and is focusing on outcomes. A
few practical steps can dramatically improve school education.
at the very minimum, we need State Testing Boards and a
National Testing Board to regularly monitor education outcomes
and provide invaluable data.
is axiomatic in education that what is important is what
gets tested! These Testing Boards could adapt the best practices
elsewhere to suit our conditions. Standardized assessments
practices in the US, France, Germany, Sweden, England, New
Zealand, Scotland and Japan offer as excellent models. Our
own NCERT has developed both the "National Curriculum
Framework", and "Minimum Levels of Learning",
both of which can form the basis for evolving sensible criterion-referenced
assessments across the country. The current examination
system is extremely flawed. Pressure on teachers to improve
pass percentages often leads to rampant mass-copying. I
remember a Chief Minister extolling the virtues of his minister
for enhancing the X Std. pass percentage from 26 to 94 in
six months, little realizing that these inflated numbers
only demonstrate the ingenuity of teachers under pressure,
not better outcomes! Testing Boards can first take up random
sampling tests and identify the weaknesses in outcomes and
facilitate strategic interventions for remedial action.
Such a low cost initiative will build pressure on the system
to deliver, and sensilize parents and community. Stake-holder
empowerment through School Boards, and nation-wide standard
tests for university admission can follow.
2005 has provided an invaluable tool to improve school education.
There is nothing more important for enhancing our productivity
and giving opportunity to poor children. Will the government