NEW DELHI: Standards of education in rural areas in India are declining despite huge investments by the government and landmark legislation guaranteeing schooling to all children, according to a major new study.
The annual survey by Indian education research group Pratham showed that basic reading and writing skills among pupils had declined for the second year running which was “a cause for very serious concern.”
Two-thirds of India's vast 1.2-billion population lives in rural areas and the country views its aspirational young people as a “demographic dividend” and a ticket to future economic superpower status.
The left-leaning Congress government has ploughed billions of dollars into education as a pillar of its “inclusive growth” agenda aimed at ensuring the benefits of economic development reach the poor.
A Right to Education Act passed in 2009 guarantees state schooling for children from six to 14 and enrolment levels reached 96.5 per cent of children in this age category in 2012, according to the study.
But Rukmini Banerji from Pratham told AFP that the focus on enrolling children, building new schools and recruiting teachers might have shifted attention away from teaching the basics.
“For two years continuously standards have been falling. There is a trend and that is a source of worry,” she explained after the publication of the 2012 study, which surveyed 600,000 children attending public and private schools.
In 2010, 53.7 per cent of children in standard five (children aged about 10) were able to read a text for standard two (children aged about six). This fell to 48.2 per cent in 2011 and to 46.8 per cent in 2012, the survey said.
In maths, 70.9 per cent of children were able to solve a simple two-digit subtraction problem in 2010, but this figure had fallen to 61 per cent in 2011 and 53.5 percent in 2012 – the designated “year of mathematics” in India.
“The main point is that focusing on the basics is urgently needed,” Banerji added. “That something urgently needs to be done is clear.”
Pratham was co-founded by UNICEF in 1994.