The World Bank's 'World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realise Education's Promise' provides shocking insights into how little learning is happening in India's rural schools. There is a "learning crisis" in global education, the report says, stressing that schooling without learning is a wasted development opportunity as well as "a great injustice to children and young people worldwide." Learning outcomes in India are depressingly low, the report points out. In 2016, three-quarters of students in Grade 3, half the students in Grade 5 in rural schools were unable to do simple subtraction. Around 85% of Grade 2 rural children could not read a single word of a short text. The situation in Karnataka is no less distressing. Worryingly, this state of affairs is worsening. In 2014, 47.3% of rural students were able to read a Class 2 level text. In 2016, this figure dropped to 42.1%. Parents often prefer to send their children to private schools, in the hope that learning outcomes here will be better. However, private rural schools are no better in this regard. In 2014, just 33.4% of children in rural private schools were able to solve simple division problems. Two years later, that figure had dropped to 28.1%.
Improving learning outcomes is not impossible. Other countries have managed to achieve this despite huge challenges such as civil war and poverty. Take Vietnam, for instance. Fifteen-year-old Vietnamese students perform on par with German ones in tests evaluating their reading, writing and math skills. In Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Tonga, early grade reading improved substantially over a short period due to concerted efforts by the government. India needs to draw inspiration from them to improve learning outcomes among its rural students. It needs to learn from the experience of other countries.
India's Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All) and an array of other programmes have played a huge role in improving education, enrolment and literacy in the country. Access to schools has improved, for instance, as has school enrolment. A high rate of school dropouts remains a challenge, as is the poor quality of teachers and teaching. Teachers are poorly educated themselves, with little or no skills in teaching, communicating or inspiring children. Lacking knowledge themselves, they discourage students from asking questions. In many schools, teachers do not show up. Unless teachers are provided periodic training in school curriculums and in teaching skills, India's young citizens will not be able to benefit from schooling. Time in school will end up being time wasted. India has managed to get most of its children to go to school; the challenge now is to ensure that learning happens in classrooms.