Evidence suggests that learning outcomes for children in Indian schools are far below corresponding class levels in other countries, and that the learning trajectories for children who remain in school are almost flat.
Are children going to schools? Yes, India is all set to achieve universal education, with enrolment level at 96% for the 6-14 age groups. Are they learning? No, they are not, especially if we monitor their progress in learning mathematics and English. The decline in learning levels is particularly acute among government school students. This is despite the fact that the elementary education has been the Government's top priority since the enactment of Right to Education Act (RTE), 2009. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, became operative on 1 April 2010.
The tenth Annual Status of education Report (ASER 2014), released on January 13, 2015, has revealed that despite being close to universal enrolment for the age group 6-14, elementary education system has failed to make progress on improving learning outcome. The survey, conducted by an NGO Pratham, says that in many states the reading status of children is largely unchanged.
Elementary Education comprising primary (Class I–V) and upper primary (Class VI–VIII) forms the foundation of the education pyramid. Unless this foundation is strengthened, it will not be feasible to achieve the goal of universal access to quality education for all. A major achievement in recent years has been the establishment of Constitutional and legal underpinnings for achieving universal elementary education..
The biggest concern in elementary education is the poor level of student learning—both scholastic and co-scholastic/non-cognitive. Evidence suggests that learning outcomes for children in Indian schools are far below corresponding class levels in other countries, and that the learning trajectories for children who remain in school are almost flat. Clearly, the additional time spent by students in school as they move from one class to another is not translating into much improvement in learning levels.
Despite higher levels of enrolment at all levels of education, and a massive increase in physical infrastructure, the value added by formal education is still weak. Poor quality of education resulting in weak learning outcomes at each stage of education is the central challenge facing the Indian education sector today.
Key Findings of ASER 2014
• 2014 is the sixth year in a row that enrolment levels are 96% or higher for the 6-14 age group. The proportion of children currently not in school remains at 3.3%.
• India is close to universal enrolment for the age group 6-14, with the percentage of children enrolled in school at 96% or above for six years in a row.
• Overall, the situation with basic reading continues to be extremely disheartening in India. In 2014, in Std III, only a fourth of all children can read a Std II text fluently. This number rises to just under half in Std V. Even is Std VIII, close to 75% children can read Std II level text (which implies that 25% still cannot).
• In many states the reading status of children is largely unchanged. However in some states, like Bihar, Assam, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra there are visible declines in reading levels over the last 5-6 years.
Math continues to be a serious and major source of concern:
• The All India (rural) figures for basic arithmetic have remained virtually unchanged over the last few years. In 2012, 26.3% of Std III children could do a two digit subtraction. This number is at 25.3% in 2014. For Std V children, the ability to do division has increased slighly from 24.8% in 2012 to 26.1% in 2014.
• There are other trends which are quite worrying. For example, the percentage of children in Std II who still cannot recognize numbers up to 9 has increased over time, from 11.3% in 2009 to 19.5% in 2014.
• Similarly, the ability to do division among Std VIII students has been dropping since 2010. The prportion of Std VIII students who could correctly do a three digit by one digit division problem was 68.3% in 2010. This number has dropped to 44.1% in 2014.
Ability to read English is unchanged for lower primary grades.
• Children's ability to read English is relatively unchanged in lower primary grades. In 2014, about 25% of children enrolled in Std V could read simple English sentences. This number is virtually unchanged since 2009.
• However, a decline is visible in upper primary grades. For example, in 2009, 60.2% of children in Std VIII could read simple sentences in English but in 2014, this figure is 46.8%.
• In 2014, of those who can read words (regardless of grade), roughly 60% could explain the meanings of the words read. Of those who can read sentences, 62.2% in Std V could explain the meaning of the sentences. Depending on the class, the ability to say the meaning (of words and sentences) was higher in previous years.
Improving Learning Outcomes
The National Policy on Education, as revised in 1992, had emphasized the need for a substantial improvement in quality of education to achieve essential levels of learning. The Programme of Action, 1992, stressed the need to lay down Minimum Levels of Learning at Primary and Upper Primary stage.
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) includes several features that seek to improve the quality of elementary education, (a) ensuring basic provisioning to enable improvement in the quality of classroom transactions; (b) large scale capacity building of States, for undertaking interventions for quality enhancement; and (c) evaluation of quality related processes and assessment of learning outcomes.
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan will make efforts to take a holistic and comprehensive approach to the issue of quality. Efforts to decentralize the whole process of curriculum development down (grassroot level) to the district level will be made. Some guiding principles in curriculum and evaluation reform will be as follows:
a) Teacher/ community participation in material preparation and in developing a school vision
b) Focus on good quality printing, illustrations for books alongside improvement in content; freedom from ‘cheapest syndrome’ in matters of children’s books
c) Use of local dialects as language in classes one and two
d) Community-based and school-based projects for work experience
e) Association of local artisans/workmen in school activities
f) Primacy to cultural activities, art, sports, etc
g) Content based and motivational training for teachers
h) Continuous assessment of students for all round development
i) Facilitating child-to-child learning
j) Looking upon quality improvement as integral to a holistic School Improvement Programme
Important Initiatives to improve learning outcome at elementary level have been listed below:
• An initiative called ADEPTS (Advancement of Educational Performance through Teacher Support) has been rolled out in 2007 – 08.
• NCERT's guidelines talk about 'Reflective Teaching' which requires teachers to be 'mindful enquirers' into their own experiences, to guide children meaningfully.
• 2% of the total SSA outlay for each district has been made available for ‘Learning Enhancement Programs’ that aims specifically at improving the quality of learning processes and learning outcomes.
• In 2013-14, 9 States have been supported for carrying out Learning Enhancement Programs focused on the primary level (especially for strengthening early reading and mathematics skills), and all the States have been supported for Learning Enhancement Programs with a focus on strengthening Science and Maths learning at the upper primary level.
• NCERT has launched a Reading Programme for the early primary grades, as an exemplar for States to build their own programmes for strengthening children’s reading skills. This includes a prototype graded series of 40 early readers, a teachers’ training manual, and a dossier of materials on reading pedagogy.
• Similarly, NCERT has initiated a programme for strengthening the teaching of Mathematics at Early primary grades, which includes development of a prototype maths learning kit for Class I and II, and a teacher training manual with appropriate pedagogic strategies.
• National Surveys on learning achievement of students are conducted by NCERT every three years to assess the level of achievement of children in different subject areas at the end of classes III, V and VII/ VIII.
• A computerized District Information System for Education (DISE) is operational in the country which looks into several quality related parameters like student-classroom ratio, teacher-pupil ratio, teachers’ profiles and examination results.
• Government of India, with the help of NCERT, has operationalised a quarterly monitoring system in the form of Quality Monitoring Tools (QMTs) to monitor quality aspects such as student attendance, teacher availability in schools, classroom practices, student learning achievement, academic supervision provided by BRC/CRCs, community support, etc.
• The Government of India has come up with the National Curriculum framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE) 2009, which mainly emphasis on the following 5 issues: i). Reflective Teaching, ii) Inclusive Education, iii) Constructivist environment, iv) Technology introduction, v) Teaching for democracy
• Scheme for Providing Quality Education for Madarsas (SPQEM): SPQEM seeks to bring about qualitative improvement in madrassas to enable Muslim children attain standards of the national education system in formal education subjects.
Twelfth Five Year Plan’ Goals
• Quality in education is inherently dependent on the following six aspects: (i) curriculum and learning objectives, (ii) learning materials, (iii) pedagogic processes, (iv) classroom assessment frameworks, (v) teacher support in the classrooms, and (vi) school leadership and management development.
• SSA will continue to be the flagship programme for developing elementary education during the Twelfth Plan for realising the rights to elementary education for each and every child. There would be four strategic areas under SSA during the Twelfth Plan. These are: (i) strong focus on learning outcomes; (ii) addressing residual access and equity gaps; (iii) focus on teacher and education leadership; (iv) linkages with other sectors and programmes.
• Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-17) aims to provide at least one year of well-supported/well-resourced
pre-school education in primary schools to all children, particularly those in educationally backward blocks (EBBs).
• It also aims to improve learning outcomes that are measured, monitored and reported independently at all levels of school education with a special focus on ensuring that all children master basic reading and numeracy skills by class 2 and skills of critical thinking, expression and problem solving by class 5.
Learning from International Experience
There are several international initiatives that have recognised the centrality of moving from focus on enrolment to learning outcomes. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Centre for Universal Education (CUE) at the Brookings Institution have recently set up a ‘Learning Metrics Task Force’ to investigate the feasibility of identifying common learning goals to improve learning opportunities and outcomes for children and youth. India should both learn from these international efforts, where possible, and more importantly, play a leading role in defining and implementing these standards, since it has the largest primary school education system in the world and also has the world’s largest number of children who do not meet basic learning levels.
In September 2013, Learning Metrics Task Force had laid out an ambitious agenda for measurement of learning. These are:
Recommendation 1: A Global Paradigm Shift: The task force calls for a global shift in focus and investment from universal access to access plus learning.
Recommendation 2: Learning Competencies: All children and youth develop competencies across seven domains of learning.
Recommendation 3: Learning Indicators for Global Tracking: The task force recommends a small set of learning indicators to be tracked globally (meaning in all countries). These are: Leaning for All, Age and education matter for learning, Reading, Numeracy, ready to Learn, Citizen of the world, Breadth of learning opportunities.
Recommendation 4: Supporting Countries: Countries are supported in strengthening their assessment systems and, ultimately, in improving learning levels.
Recommendation 5: Equity: Measurement of learning must include an explicit focus on equity, with particular attention to inequalities within countries.
Recommendation 6: Assessment as a Public Good: Measures for globally tracked indicators must be a public good, with tools, documentation and data made freely available.
Recommendation 7: Taking Action: Stakeholders must take action to ensure the right to learn for all children and youth.
Global Framework of Learning Domains:
Based on research, existing global policies and dialogues as well as consultation with the education community, the task force sets forth a broad, holistic framework of seven learning domains as the aspiration for all children and youth around the world by the time they reach the post-primary level.
These are: 1. Physical well-being, 2.) Social & Environment, 3.) Culture & the arts, 4.) Literacy & Communication, 5. Learning approaches & cognition, 6.) Numeracy & mathematics, 7.) Science & technology.