It appears that the RTE is ensuring right to schooling and not right to education. According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), published by NGO Pratham, the RTE has improved the facilities, brought more kids to the school and increased number of toilets but has failed to provide them with right or quality education. This year’s report has exposed the dismal status of schooling and basic learning in rural India. While school enrolment numbers have gone up (96.5% of all children in the 6-14 age group go to school) and school infrastructure has improved, attendance (in government schools) and the overall ability of children to read and do simple mathematical exercises have dipped in India’s rural classrooms.
The survey also revealed that most children in primary schools today are at least three grades behind from where they should have been now and the situation appears worsening. For example, while half of the Class 5 children in government schools were able to read Class 2 texts in 2010, the number has gone down to 41.7% in 2012. Similarly, in 2012, around 50% of the Class-5 students were able to do a two digit subtraction as against 71% in 2010. In fact, barring Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, every state registered a drop in arithmetic learning levels. Only 30 per cent of class 3 students could read a class 1 text book in 2012, down from 50 per cent in 2008. The number of children in government schools who can correctly recognize numbers up to 100 has dropped to 50 per cent from 70 per cent over the last four years, with the real downward turn distinctly visible after 2010, the year RTE came into force.
The generally poor training and status of the primary school teachers, decline in classroom teaching and scrapping of exams and assessments are major factors for the decline in the quality of education. In the absence of the traditional annual examination (students cannot be detained in the same class up to class VIII) the student’s poor learning cannot be detected until class IX. The ASER report also claims that primary school outcomes have deteriorated since the RTE Act came into force in 2010. It is also found that children in private schools seem to be doing better academically than their counterparts in government schools. The study also showed that students from government schools across states tend to go for private tuition classes more than their counterparts in private schools, underlining again the absence of quality education in government schools.
Although some of the infrastructural parameters under the RTE Act have improved, it’s far from where it should be. For instance, 27% of all schools visited had no drinking water facility in 2012, proportion of schools with useable toilets is only 56.5% and mid-day-meal was served in 87% of the schools. The desired student-teacher ratio is missing in nearly 60% of the schools across India.
On the healthy side, quality has been found to improve whenever the community as a whole has been involved and village representatives have a say in teacher recruitment, monitoring and accountability. Hence, involvement is the key to the issue of quality.
Poor quality of government run schools is encouraging migration to private schools where enrollment has risen from 18.7% in 2006 to 28.3% in 2012. If the trend continues, then by 2018, India may have 50% children in private schools. It means they have to pay for their own education even in primary level. In fact, more than 40 percent of the children in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Meghalaya were already enrolled in private schools. In Kerala and Manipur, the figure was even more than 60 percent. The irony is that most of the government schools not only have better infrastructure but better paid teachers compared to the many small private schools. Private schools have proved to be better than government schools because of higher level of commitment of teachers, though government school teachers are more competent generally but indifferent to teaching.
About a quarter of elementary school children in rural areas take private tuitions. The report also said that tuition-going students were much clearer with their arithmetic concepts. Whether enrolled in government school or private school, children receiving this addition support have better learning outcomes than those who do not. It also said that in 2012, of all the children enrolled in standard I to VIII, close to 45 per cent were going to private schools or taking to private tuitions.
For overall improvement in the quality of education, the qualities of teacher training, infrastructure, teaching resources and community involvement in ensuring teacher and school accountability must go hand in hand.
In Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, adivasi children need special attention: both their enrollment and dropout rates are rather high. Naxal violence is another factor that causes internal migration and lower school enrollments. In Rajasthan, dropout rate of girls in the age group 11-14 years is a cause for concern.
Two Major Trends
The ASER report reveals two major findings which are not very flattering for the right to education movement in India and universalization of education.
A. Poor quality of education
In 2008, only about 50 percent of Standard 3 students could read a Standard 1 text, but by 2012, it declined to 30 percent – a fall of 16 percent. About 50 percent of the Std 3 kids cannot even correctly recognize digits up to 100, where as they are supposed to learn two digit subtraction. In 2008, about 70 percent of the kids could do this.
Not only that the country is unable to improve the learning skills of half its primary school children in the last four years, it has fallen to alarming lows. Similar deterioration in standards of education was also noted among Std 5 students.
The report further notes that the decline is cumulative, which means that the “learning decline” gets accumulated because of neglect over the years. The poor quality of education from Std 1 pulls down their rate of learning progressively so that by the time they are in Std 5, their level of learning is not even comparable to that of Std 2. The private schools are “relatively unaffected” but their low standards remain low. They have also shown a “downturn” in maths beyond number recognition.
The poor quality of education and rate of decline are however not uniform across India. Some states are low in quality, but are staying where they are (Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh) while some have higher levels of education, which are neither improving nor deteriorating (Himachal Pradesh, Kerala and Punjab). The decline is more noticeable since 2010, when the RTE came into effect, indicating targets of blanket coverage compromising quality and standards.
The report notes that the private sector is making huge inroads into education in rural India. Before 2020, private schools will be the majority service provider. Private schools have problem admitting children from poor parents, but not when somehow parents can arrange for fees.
Quoting DISE (District Information System of Education) data, the report says that Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Goa have more than 60% of private enrollment in primary schools. Andhra, Maharashtra and Karnataka are at 40 percent, while UP is at 50%. Ironically, the highest private sector enrollment is in Kerala, where successive governments claim commitment to welfare policies, particularly on education and health. Besides private schools, parents also spend considerable amount of money on private tuitions, making quality education more inaccessible to people without money.
Read detailed pdf report: Status of Implementation of RTE 2013