The 10th annual status of education report is as depressing as all the previous ones were. Despite near-universal enrolment in the 6-14 age group, basic learning achievements of students in reading and mathematics remain low and dismal. One of the highlights of the report is that if 59 per cent of Class V students in government schools could read Class II texts in 2006, only 39 per cent could do so in 2014. In other words, a large majority of the students in Class V have not acquired basic reading and mathematical skills. They will not be able to cope with the academic pressures as they get automatically promoted to higher classes.
It is in government schools that the problem is acute. There are many reasons for it ranging from the absence of quality teaching to the policy of all-promotion, which was to curtail the high drop-out rate. It is no surprise that the report found that one-fourth of the students in rural areas had the benefit of private tuition. It is a sad commentary on the state of teaching that parents have to engage private tutors for even primary class children. Over a decade ago, Nobel-laureate Amartya Sen demanded a ban on private tuition following the finding of a study undertaken by his Pratichi (India) Trust, which showed that many of the tutors had themselves failed to complete matriculation.
A silver lining in the otherwise dark horizon is that the students in Tamil Nadu have registered considerable improvement in their reading skills. The Centre should in consultation with the states try to address the problem, drawing appropriate lessons from Tamil Nadu’s success. Holding remedial classes for the weak students is one solution. If private schools can provide quality education, why can’t government schools? As a rule, teachers in government schools are better qualified, as they are selected through a more rigorous system of recruitment. Yet, if they fail, it is only because their work is not monitored or assessed. The students’ failure is the failure of their teachers.