Dismal record

The Annual Status of Education Reports (ASER) have come to be regarded as a barometer of school education in the country, especially in rural areas, both in quantitative and qualitative terms. The ASER 2013  report also, released in Delhi on Wednesday, gives a picture of the state of education which is more troubling than encouraging.

There are some bright patches but they are overshadowed by the problems and deficiencies that the report has exhaustively brought to light. The spending on education has increased in recent years, especially at lower levels, but the results have not improved in proportion to the investment. Some quantitative indicators have shown positive changes but the quality and standards  have shown no improvement from previous years. That was why at the release function it was called a disappointing status report.

Reading, writing and arithmetic are the basic abilities that need to be instilled in children at the first stage of education. The ASER survey has this year also shown that there is no improvement in these areas. When children are unable to read and write and do simple sums even in late primary classes it is cruel and out of this world to even talk about developing their creative potential.

Teachers’ attendance in schools is a major factor in rural areas  and this remains the same at 85 per cent as last year. Students’ attendance has shown  a marginal decline. While these are  negatives, enrolment in the 6-14 age group in rural schools remains high 96 per cent.  One striking feature is the big increase of above 20 per cent in rural private school enrolment. This may be because rural incomes have improved and aspirations, especially to send children to English medium schools, have increased. It may also be a sign of no confidence in government schools. There is also better compliance with the right to education norms than in previous years. It was also noticed that there is more enrolment in private schools after the RTE law came into being.

The data collected in the ASER surveys and the inferences drawn from them are important for policy-making. It is the largest such exercise conducted in the country. This year’s survey covered six lakh children  from 3.3 lakh households in 16,000 villages of 550 districts. It is not easy to improve the levels of education all over the country in a short period. What is disappointing is that the pace of progress is very slow.

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