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Why this dismal performance?

Pratham has been conducting an Annual Survey of Education Status (ASER) for the last 10 years. What it has been revealing is the dismal state of education, both in the government and private schools in India.

This should have shocked the nation, but it has failed to have much impact.

The percentage of children in standard V who can read at standard II level has gone down from 51 per cent in 2006 to 43 per cent in 2014 in government schools.  In private schools, it was 69 per cent in 2007 and  63 per cent in 2014.  The ability to perform simple two digit subtraction problems which a reasonably well taught second-grade child should do is not any better. For example, the percentage of standard V students who could do such subtraction was only 42 per cent in 2006 and it dropped to 26 per cent in 2012.

Undoubtedly, there has been an improvement in ensuring children being enrolled in schools. Currently only 3 per cent of girls and boys of ages 6 to 14 are drop-outs, partly thanks to the availability of schools close to where they live. But their attendance and performance, leave much to be desired. Had there been no mid-day meals, attendance would have been worse.


The contrast...

It is not that the government is incapable of managing good schools and colleges. Just look at Kendriya Vidyalayas, Morarji Desai Schools, Regional Education Institutions, IITs and IIMs. All these government educational institutions are known for their excellence.

Why has the government failed to allocate resources and adopt policies to manage elementary and high schools better? It looks as though our political leaders want India’s children to remain illiterate. This way they can ensure winning election using factors like caste, religion, beef eating, giving freebies, etc., rather than developmental and poverty removal related issues. The recent election in Bihar is a perfect example.

My recent experience of visiting two government schools – one in the urban setting in the South and the other in a rural area in the North succinctly conveys the problems faced by state schools. The one in Mysore had five students of standard I to VII in one classroom handled by one teacher. Because of poor enrolment of 25, only three teachers are assigned to this school. However, mid-day meal staff was preparing food as though it is a school with full strength.

The one Kohar village of Rajasthan had 27 students of standard I to VIII taught by just one teacher. The school has been recently renovated thanks to a grant by Mosaic, a fertilizer company and has sufficient infrastructure with a beautiful campus. But the school has failed to attract students. Just 20 metres from this school there is a private school with inadequate infrastructure but with 250 students and ten teachers (all were present the day we went) and was humming with activities.

Since Pratham failed to put pressure on the political system by publicising the results of ASER, it is implementing a new strategy this year called, Lakhon Mein Ek (LME).  With the political system ignoring the effects of ASER, private action is a must.


Community will put pressure...

Pratham plans to mobilise volunteers in 100,000 villages to conduct reading and arithmetic tests and share the results with the parents as part of this LME. When they realise how little their children have been benefited by attending either private or government schools, the community will put pressure on the political leadership to act.

Industrial Economist has been promoting the idea of handing over the management of government schools in Chennai to corporates who, as  part of their CSR, can help improve their operations. With the advent of new CSR regulation that enforces every large company to spend at least 2 per cent of profit to support socially significant issues, this may be an opportune time. This idea is similar to the famous Charter School concept in the US where NGOs are given grants to open and operate schools. Perhaps with the successful implementation of LME, the government may be forced to adopt such a strategy.

Pratham’s success in implementing LME campaign depend upon the involvement of volunteers, teachers, parents and the government officials – in other words the entire community. Then only million mutinies will take place to bring about the much-needed reform in the education sector.

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