About to be adults, can't read, do Math

About to be adults, can't read, do Math

It is a matter of serious concern that little learning is happening in rural schools across the country. According to NGO Pratham's Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for 2017, skills acquired by children aged 14 to 18 years in rural Indian schools are "worryingly low." Previous ASER reports studied learning levels of school children aged five to 16 years. These studies found that their skills in reading, writing and doing simple math were abysmal. The latest study explored skills of children on the brink of adulthood. It found that even after some eight years of schooling, learning skills are way below par. Worse, whatever little learning that children are doing in schools is not translating into life skills. Children are unable to do simple tasks such as counting money, reading time, locating the state they live in on a map, and so on. On the positive side, ASER-2017 found 86% of rural youth are enrolled in schools. However, a breakdown of this figure reveals a serious dropout problem. At age 14, just 5.3% are out of school, but by 17 years of age, the number of children not enrolled rises to 20.7% and then surges to 30.2% by the time they turn 18. These figures are instructive. Till age 14, children are entitled to free and compulsory education; hence the high enrolment. School enrolment drops subsequently as education is not free after 14. Children are dropping out as they cannot afford high school education.

The situation among Karnataka's rural school children is not encouraging either. Almost 56% of the children were able to read English sentences but only half of them understood instructions on an Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) packet. Familiarity with the use of mobile phones, internet and computers was found to be below average in the state, limiting the scope of digital means to spread literacy and life skills.

ASER-2017 confirms the importance of foundational skills. When elementary education is weak, subsequent learning is difficult. And with shaky reading and writing skills, our capacity to use these skills in our daily lives is crippled. The study shows that India's children are not lagging behind in aspirations. Some 60% of children in the 14-18 age group want to study beyond Class 12 and 25% of girl students dream of becoming teachers. It is unfortunate that our education system is not enabling these youngsters to fulfil their ambitions. Strengthening primary education, providing children with an interesting curriculum that is meaningful to their daily lives and environment, and improving the quality of teaching will go a long way in helping children realise their aspirations. The government must consider providing free education at the high school level, too.

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