By Ankit Vyas
ABSTRACT: All India surveys such as ASER and the Planning Commission Evaluation Report indicate the existence of low learning outcomes in primary schools across India, specifically in reading and mathematics. These outcomes are linked to poor teacher training and quality of teaching in the classroom. In turn, these learning outcomes affect achievement at higher levels of education. Significant dropout rates exist at the higher level of education, with only a fraction making it to the tertiary level. The low quality of education at a primary level threatens to leave a large part of Indias future workforce uneducated and unproductive.
The Indian education system has 8 years of primary education, which is free and compulsory, followed by twoÂ years of secondary and another two of higher secondary. Primary education starts from 1st grade and has an official entry age of six years. However, this entry age does not hold true in reality and classes generally tend to have a wide age-range. Students are enrolled in public schools as well as private schools, with those in private schools, making up close to 28% (ASER 2012). Education is a fundamental right, according to the Right to Education Act, 2009. Currently, Indias literacy rate is 73%. (Census 2011)
Programs such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and other government initiatives have traditionally been focused on increasing access to schooling. This aspect of education has been fairly successful in India, with a 96% enrolment rate at primary level. (ASER 2012) However, the enrolment rate peters down significantly by the end of the secondary level and only a fraction of the students who enrolled in first grade are still a part of the system by the time their peers go to college.
II. PROBLEM DEFINITION
Too many students are not learning basic skills such as reading and numeracy in primary school and thenÂ dropping out before completing secondary education. A large part of the student population doesnt develop skills that will help them participate actively in the economy.
III. LOW LEARNING OUTCOMES IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS IN INDIA
According to the ASER 2012-13 report, the number of students unable to read a second grade text in 5th grade is close to 54% of total students. A similar trend was observed for grade 3 students, who were administered a grade 1 text.
The findings of the Planning Commission Evaluation Report on the SSA(2010) reinforce this. Only 41.7% at a second grade level were able to read alphabets in their local language. It follows that basics not being built up at the 1st-2nd grade level are reducing the ability to learn in higher grades. Students fared worse in writing, with an average score of 30. This is indicative of the procedural and rote learning methodologies followed in school, which ill prepares students for problems that require application.
In 2010, of all children enrolled in Std. V, 29.1% could not solve simple two-digit subtraction problems with borrowing. This proportion increased to 39% in 2011 and further to 46.5% in 2012. The proportion of all children enrolled in Std. V who could not do division problems has increased from 63.8% in 2010 to 72.4% in 2011 to 75.2% in 2012. (ASER 2012-13) Not only is student performance low, learning outcomes are declining and are likely to decline further unless remedial measures are taken.
The disturbing fact to be noted here is that even though the most basic of concepts were tested, student performance was dismal. While policies talk about teaching analytical skills and building meta-cognitive skills, the current performance of the students indicates a gap between the policy framework and reality.
The EI-Wipro quality education survey measured quality of learning outcomes in the top schools of India. It found that class 4 students even in these schools performed below the international average on TIMMS and PIRLS. (Quality Education survey, 2011)More disturbingly, these outcomes have declined over time, which is consistent with the ASER 2012 findings. This indicates that rote learning and exam-focused teaching methodologies are not helping students learn application of skills. The existence of these methodologies even in Indias top schools reflects a mindset within teachers and school systems that is fixated on a particularÂ pedagogy and is resistant to change. The EI-Wipro quality education survey also shows that students performed relatively better on procedural questions, thus indicating a very one-dimensional understanding of the concepts.
As a corollary of that, students faltered badly on questions that were in a format that they were unaccustomed to. India participated in the PISA study for the first time in 2012. The PISA looks to test application of skills in real life situations. Students are not tested on the basis of the syllabus. Two of Indias relatively higher- achieving states, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh were chosen as the sample for the test. In this study, India stood 71st out of 73 nations. In Himachal Pradesh, only 11% of the students were above the reading baseline level needed to participate productively in life. (Dev Lahiri, 2012, October 9, Times of India) Indias abysmal performance in PISA goes to show that rote-learning and syllabus-focused learning is hugely prevalent and that most students have never had the opportunity to apply the knowledge they have learnt. This goes back to the syllabus and examination-focused teaching that happens in classrooms across India. Classroom instructional time is spent in preparation for examinations and this leads to a process-based approach with focus on teaching content rather than skills.
IV. PROBLEMS LEADING UP TO LOW LEARNING OUTCOMES
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is the main program for universalising primary education in India. It lists as one of its objectives; focus on elementary education of satisfactory quality with emphasis on education of life. However, the SSA has by and large become a program for increasing inputs and increasing enrolment in schools, in which it has been successful. However, the lack of focus on quality is evident in the recorded learning outcomes of ASER as well as in the Annual Report 2012-13 of the MHRD where all achievements listed under SSA are input based. There is no mention of learning outcomes achieved by students.Â The Coleman study (1966) claimed that that learning outcomes were highly dependent on individual race andÂ family background. However other studies posit that within factors that fall into the purview of education, theÂ effectiveness of the teacher in the classroom is the most important. (Wright, Horn, Sanders, 1997). Rowe isÂ even more confident and argues that quality of teaching and learning provision are the most salient influences,Â regardless of gender or backgrounds. (Rowe, 2003)
4.1 Low Teacher Quality and effectiveness
Now that the importance of teacher effectiveness for learning outcomes has been established, what makes aÂ teacher effective? Effectiveness of teachers is a complex mix of factors including education, training andÂ Jayanta Chatterjee refers to the National University of Educational Planning and Administration survey, which found that close to half of the elementary schoolÂ teachers, had not completed secondary school themselves. This is much unlike Finland where only the top graduates are considered for a career in teaching. Sood references Shaeffer (1998) in stating that in-service training is strongest when it responds to teacher identified needs.
In-service as well as pre-service training programs prepare teachers based on a pedagogy and curriculum that doesnt serve them well in their actual class environment. More than 78% of primary schools have three or fewer teachers to attend to all grade levels, making multi-grade teaching a necessity. (Blum, Diwan, 2007). Unfortunately, the pedagogy of multi-grade teaching which is vastly different from teaching a single class is given scant importance during the in-service as well as pre-service training programs of the teachers. A lack of training does not seem to be the reason behind the poor learning outcomes. Close to 80% of teachers at a primary level are trained. (Kartik Muralidharan, 2012) This only reflects that the training does not seem to be effective or in line with the ground realities being faced by teachers. For instance, teachers are not trained to teach in a differentiated manner in a class where children vary considerably in ability level or where multiple- grades sit in the same class.
The third factor affecting teacher effectiveness and in turn, learning outcomes, is teacher availability. This would mean teachers coming to school regularly as well as availability of enough teachers to meet the prescribed pupil teacher ratio. In India,Â availability. (Sood N., 2002) To examine teacher education,Teacher absence has been recorded to be 25% on an average, directlyÂ impacting learning outcomes. (Kremer, 2005) To add to the teacher absence, a shortage of teachers exists to theÂ tune of 19% in rural schools. This impacts the pupil-teacher ratio adversely. 30% of schools dont have moreÂ than two teachers. Thus absence as well as the teacher shortfall impacts the pupil-teacher ratio adversely inÂ these schools as well as other schools. A high pupil-teacher ratio in a class with vast differences in learningÂ levels will in turn adversely impact quality of learning and learning outcomes.
4.2 Quality of classroom instruction
The last factor that Sood mentions in her paper on teacher effectiveness is the teaching quality in the classroom itself. The National Policy of Education, 1986, Right to Education as well as the 12th five year plan speaks about the need to have child-friendly classrooms. Some of the parameters for a child-friendly classroom are: students ask questions, student work is displayed in the classroom, teacher relates content to local context, students are allowed to work in small groups and where TLM other than textbook is used. (National Curriculum framework parameters)
In a study of 1700 classrooms by ASER, less than 20% of classrooms were observed having any of these parameters. It turns out that having child-friendly classrooms is not just a humane measure but one that has a direct link to learning outcomes. Classrooms that had none of the parameters had a mean score of less than 40% while classrooms that were child-friendly and qualified on more than three parameters had a mean score of 55%. (ASER Policy Brief, 2009). In addition to many teachers not meeting the criteria for education, availability and training, it is evident that the standard of actual teaching in the classroom falls far below acceptable measures and goals laid out. Lastly, teacher motivation has an impact on effectiveness and learning outcomes. In Indian public schools, teacher motivation is low because of lack of accountability, appreciation and existence of non-teaching duties such as census survey, election duties etc. According to the Planning Commissions Evaluation Report on SSA, 76% of urban teachers expressed disinterest in non-teaching activities. All these factors contribute to lack of teacher effectiveness, which in turn impacts learning outcomes.
V. IMPLICATIONS FOR POLICY
Despite a 96% enrolment at the primary level, Indias education system fails to capitalise on providing quality education to these students. Learning outcomes are low and this exacerbates dropouts by the end of the lower secondary level, which is completed by only 50% students.(UNESCO Institute of Statistics) Out of the 50% who make it to upper secondary, it narrows down to a meagre 18% at tertiary level. (World Bank 2012). The low learning outcomes at the primary level might point towards an overestimation of the literacy rate. In fact, one study found that only 26% of the people classified as literate by the census could read. (Sharma, Haub, 2008) Indias growth depends on its ability to develop a well-educated and skilled workforce. Currently, its population is engaged pre-dominantly in low productivity jobs in agriculture and this situation is likely to continue if the learning outcomes dont improve and dropouts at the secondary level continue. Bhatt argues that the opportunity cost of two-thirds of Indias children not completing primary education comes to $100 billion per year. (Bhatt, Brookings Institute)
The median age of the Indian population, at 25.1, is amongst the youngest in the world. (CIA World Factbook) The demographic dividend will be achieved only if the youth, who make up the majority of the population, are educated. Else, the dividend will turn into a financial burden for the economy. The learning outcomes have been declining over time and the trend indicates that if the status quo continues, learning outcomes will get worse.
The Right to Education has made education a fundamental right and has increased access to schools but not learning. If the RTE is to be implemented in its true spirit, learning outcomes need to be taken into consideration. The poor learning levels have resulted in a largely under-employed population with large-scale prevalence of disguised unemployment. If the trend of outcomes continues for these students, India will have a larger proportion of people who are unemployable and unskilled than it has now. Of the 186 million students in India, only 12.4 percent are enrolled in higher education, one of the lowest ratios in the world. The rest of the students who drop out, do not pick up even basic literacy or numeracy skills, which leaves them incapable of joining vocational education. This is indicated by the fact that only 3% of the age appropriate population in India is involved in any form of vocational training, as opposed to China, which has 20% of its higher education age-group enrolled in vocational training. (KPMG-China, 2011)This has been made possible due to Chinas impressive learning outcomes at a primary level, which provides its students with strong fundamentals that enable them to pick up other concepts and to apply what they have learnt.
The MHRD Annual Report 201-2013 reports that India needs to develop 500 million skilled workers by 2022. The key word here is skilled because the low learning outcomes at primary and secondary level would mean that even those who have cleared secondary education might not necessarily be skilled. This clearly indicates the need for fundamental reforms across primary, secondary and higher education.
The learning outcomes have gone down after the introduction of the RTE. The causes behind this have not been examined. However, another significant development is the RTE regulation of not keeping students behind till 8th grade. This means that despite reducing learning outcomes, students failing a grade will not be kept back but will be promoted till 8th grade, by which point, remediation will be ineffective and students incapable of keeping up with the academic rigor demanded. Issues of teacher training and quality of teaching need to be examined in the light of student achievement scores. Additionally, outcomes at a primary level affect the access to vocational education as well. Improving outcomes promises to expand opportunities for the students to pick up skills that will enable them to be a part of the formal economy. However, currently only 1% students are out of school. Herein exists the latent opportunity that Bardach talks about, of providing quality education to the second-largest set of school going children in the world.
- ASER.( 2012) Annual Status of Education Report (Rural). Retrieved from http://img.asercentre.org/docs/Publications/ASER%20Reports/ASER_2012/fullaser2012report.pdf
- Planning Commission. (2010) Evaluation Report on Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Retrieved from http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/peoreport/peoevalu/peo_ssa2106.pdf
- Ministry of Human Development, Government of India(2012-13) Annual Report. Retrieved from http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/AR_2012-13.pdf
- Wright, S.P. , Horn , S.P. and Sanders, W.L.(1997) Teacher and Classroom context effects on student achievement: Implications for Teacher Evaluation, Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education 11: 57-67. Retrieved from http://www.sas.com/govedu/edu/teacher_eval.pdf
- Rowe, K. (2003). The Importance of Teacher Quality as a Key Determinant of Students Experiences and Outcomes of Schooling. Background paper to keynote address presented at the ACER Research Conference 2003. Retrieved from https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/proflearn/docs/pdf/Rowe_2003_Paper.pdf
- Sood, N. (2002). Primary School Teachers : Enhancing Effectiveness at no Increased Costs. National University of Educational Planning and Administration. Retrieved from http://www.nuepa.org/libdoc/e-library/articles/2002nsood.pdf
- Blum, N., Diwan, R. (2007). Small, Multigrade schools and increasing access to primary education in India: National Contexts and NGO Initiatives. Create Pathways to Access, Research Monograph No 17. Retrieved from http://dise.in/Downloads/Use%20of%20Dise%20Data/Nicole%20Blum,Rashmi%20Diwan.pdf
- Muralidharan, K. (2012). Priorities for Primary Education Policy in Indias 12th Five year Plan. India Policy Forum 2012. Retrieved fromÂ Educational Initiatives, Wipro. (2011) Quality Education Survey. Retrieved from Â http://www.teindia.nic.in/e9-tm/Files/QES-Executive-Summary-High-Resolution.pdf
- Dev Lahiri (2012, October 9), The PISA shocker, The Times of India. Retrieved from http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-10-09/edit-page/34324055_1_progressive-schools- india-environment
- Kremer, M., Muralidharan, K., Chaudhury, N., Hammer, J., Rogers, F.H. (2005). Teacher
- Absence in India: A snapshot. Journal of the European Economic Association AprilMay 2005 3(2 3):658667. Retrieved from http://www.teindia.nic.in/Files/Articles/Articles_23feb12/jeea_teacher_absence_in_india.pdf
- ASER. (2010). Inside Primary Schools: Teaching and Learning in Rural India. Key Findings. Policy Brief. Retrieved fromÂ http://img.asercentre.org/docs/Publications/Inside_Primary_School/Policy%20_brief/tl_study_policy_br ief_oct25.pdf
- OP. Sharma, Carl Haub (2008). Examining Literacy Using Indias Census, Population Reference
- Bureau. Retrieved from http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2008/censusliteracyindia.aspx 14. KPMG (2011). Education in China. Retrieved from http://www.kpmg.de/docs/Education-in-China-201011.pdf
The author has 3.5 years of experience in education, which involves a combination of teaching as well as research and communication. For three years, he was engaged with Teach For India where he started off on the Communications team and then transitioned to the Fellowship program, where he taught full-time in a low-income community in Mumbai.Â Currently, he is engaged in conducting research on Innovative teaching practices in Municipal schools in Gujarat at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.Â AnkitÂ is passionate about using technology in the classroom and has co-founded VideosForKnowledge, a venture to create basic general knowledge videos to reduce the knowledge gap between high-income and low-income schools.
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