Only one in five children in Class III were able to read a Class-II level text in 2022 — a scenario observed in both government and private schools across India — which saw a sharp drop in basic reading abilities of children enrolled in primary classes (Classes III to V) over the past two years due to school closures during the Covid-induced lockdown. This has apparently “reversed” a slow progress of over a decade, as per a nationwide survey.
The latest Annual State of Education Report (ASER) 2022, led by Pratham Foundation, covers parameters such as school enrolment and attendance; basic reading, math and English abilities; and school facilities, across rural districts in the country. It was resumed after a gap of four years, reaching 19,060 villages across 616 districts. A total of 3,74,544 households and 6,99,597 children in the age group of 3 to 16 were surveyed.
The last ASER report, based on the physical household surveys, was released in 2018. Hence, the present report draws a comparison from it. Since there was no nationally representative data available during this time, the data was collected using phone surveys.
Increase in govt school enrolment visible in almost every state
The latest ASER report showed that enrolment has increased in government schools, but private tuitions have witnessed a jump as well. The report highlighted that after the pandemic, the number of students enrolled in schools in the 6 to 14 age group increased to 98.4 percent in 2022 as compared to 97.2 percent in 2018 with higher enrolment in government schools than private schools. However, the number of those going for paid private tuition also recorded a major hike.
The proportion of children (6 to 14 years) enrolled in government schools increased sharply to 72.9 percent in 2022 from 65.6 percent in 2018. The increase in government school enrolment is visible in almost every state in the country, the report stated.
“Nationally, the proportion of children in Classes I to VIII going for paid private tuition increased from 26.4 percent in 2018 to 30.5 percent in 2022,” the report highlighted.
The survey findings are important in view of the last two years during the pandemic, which were marred by prolonged school closures and learning loss. Also, according to the surveyors, the report assumes importance at a time when the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which lays major focus on foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN), is under implementation.
Drop in reading ability for both boys and girls
Nationally, children’s basic reading ability has dropped to pre-2012 levels, reversing the slow improvement achieved in the intervening years. This is visible in both government and private schools in most states, and for both boys and girls, the report said.
The percentage of children studying in Class III in government or private schools, who can read a Class-II level text, dropped from 27.3 percent in 2018 to 20.5 percent in 2022. “This decline is visible in every state and for children in both government and private schools,” the report stated.
The states that show a decline of more than 10 percentage points from 2018 include those that had higher reading levels in 2018, such as Kerala (from 52.1 percent in 2018 to 38.7 percent in 2022), Himachal Pradesh (from 47.7 percent to 28.4 percent), and Haryana (from 46.4 percent to 31.5 percent). According to the findings, a massive dip in also visible in Andhra Pradesh (from 22.6 percent to 10.3 percent) and Telangana (from 18.1 percent to 5.2 percent).
Coming to the proportion of children enrolled in Class V nationally in government or private schools, who can at least read a Class-II level text, fell to 42.8 percent in 2022. The figure stood at 50.5 percent in 2018. States where this indicator held steady or improved marginally include Bihar, Odisha, Manipur and Jharkhand, the report highlighted.
The report further points to states showing a decrease of 15 percentage points or more — Andhra Pradesh (from 59.7 percent in 2018 to 36.3 percent in 2022), Gujarat (from 53.8 percent to 34.2 percent), and Himachal Pradesh (from 76.9 percent to 61.3 percent). Drops of more than 10 percentage points are visible in Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
For those enrolled in Class VIII, although this dip is visible, it is smaller. “Nationally, 69.6 percent of children enrolled in Class VIII in government or private schools can read at least basic text in 2022, falling from 73 percent in 2018,” the report stated.
According to the report, the drop in basic arithmetic levels is not that steep. “Nationally, children in Class III, who are able to at least do subtraction, dropped from 28.2 percent in 2018 to 25.9 percent in 2022, while for those enrolled in Class V, who can do division, has also fallen slightly from 27.9 percent in 2018 to 25.6 percent in 2022,” it stated.
What the experts say
Analysing the findings of the report, educationist Meeta Sengupta said the gaps in learning were showing through mainly on account of schools being shut down for long. “The drop is sharper in reading abilities, as it requires a more structured school learning than, for say, arithmetic, which is used in daily life and through community learning. We need more research on community learning to understand the situation better. The gaps, however, can be recovered over the next few years given the focus on foundational learning in NEP 2020 that we can call well-timed,” she said.
Sengupta further said with respect to enrolment moving to government schools, it clearly showed economic rationale post the pandemic. “We don’t know if this is a trend at the moment and will need to observe the situation for the next few years. As for the spike in private tuition, this is because parents don’t necessarily trust the quality of education in government schools and with the coming of tech in education with number of portals and apps offering learning tips, it may even rise in the future,” she added.
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