Editorial: Need to reflect on education quality

Editorial: Need to reflect on education quality

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Friday, January 19, 2024, 11:58 PM IST
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Various iterations of the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) have revealed the attainments and shortcomings in India’s basic education system over the years. The latest report, focused on 14- to 18-year-olds in rural areas of the country, typically has some good news and some not-so-good. It notes, among other gains, that “more children in India have more years of schooling than ever before” which points to the fact that the enrolment trend has not dropped over the last few years and that, despite the multiple challenges at the school education level in rural areas, 86.8 percent were enrolled in an educational institution. Beyond this, the report reveals the cracks and flaws in the education system that cannot be limited to only the school stage but asks hard questions about the country’s famed demographic dividend.

 The report, an analysis of surveys among 34,000 young people between 14 and 18 years of age in 28 districts in 26 states, found the study cohort lacking in both literacy and numeracy skills. About 25 percent of 14–18-year-olds could not read a Class II text fluently even in their local or regional language while more than half of the surveyed could not solve basic calculation sums like simple division (3-digit by 1-digit division) that is expected from students of Class III or IV.  The report also pointed to two interesting trends: that many of these learners, especially girls, have to balance family work and farm labour along with the demands of school education, and that nearly 95 percent of the households surveyed owned or used a smartphone.  

 This is a grave deficit, any which way the numbers are sliced. It should force an honest reflection among those in power about the quality of education available to this cohort of India’s young and that the smugness about enrolment can come undone by the level of accomplishment that students reach. Such astounding lack of skills at the basic education level can make the world’s best higher education system and a skilling programme useless. Without strong basic literacy-numeracy skills, India’s rural young can hardly be counted as part of the promising demographic dividend. This calls for reforms in the basic education system beyond the NEP 2020. Digitalisation may provide ways out of this but technology alone cannot make good the gaps in policy or vision.

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