Right to Education Act may be behind falling school learning: ASER survey

School-level enrolment rates continue to rise, the Right to Education Act (RTE) seems to be helping develop better school infrastructure and there are more toilets for girls in schools these are the few encouraging findings during 2012 in what otherwise is yet another alarming Annual Status of Education Report (ASER).

The ASER findings, published by NGO Pratham, underscore the declining reading levels and learning outcomes across states, with indications that the trend worsened last year.

More than half of all children in class 5 are at least three grade levels behind where they should be in terms of learning levels, says the report. And the blame must partly be attributed to the UPA's flagship Right to Education Act, ASER 2012 seems to suggest.

Pratham CEO Madhav Chavan blamed this on relaxed classroom rigour and the no-exam format ushered in by the RTE Act. Only 30 per cent of class 3 students could read a class 1 text book in 2012, down from 50 per cent in 2008.

The number of children in government schools who can correctly recognise numbers up to 100 has dropped to 50 per cent from 70 per cent over the last four years, with the real downward turn distinctly visible after 2010, the year RTE came into force, Chavan said.

"There has been a feeling that RTE may have led to relaxation of classroom teaching since all exams and assessments are scrapped and no child is kept back. Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation is now a part of the law and several states are attempting to implement some form of CCE as they understand it," Chavan has written in ASER 2012.

"Does CCE catch this decline? Are teachers equipped to take corrective action as the law prescribes... Given the magnitude of the problem, it will be a good idea to focus just on basics at every standard and not treat it as a 'remedial' measure. At this stage, teaching-learning of basic foundational skills should be the main agenda for primary education in India," he has said.

Human Resource Development Minister Pallam Raju, who released the report Thursday, however, said he would not attribute the declining learning levels to CCE. But at the same time, he admitted that ever since he has taken over the ministry, parents have been coming to him requesting that CCE be scrapped.

Aimed at reducing stress levels of students, the CCE replaces marks with grades and evaluates a student's performance on co-curricular activities besides academics. The no-detention policy up to class 8 under RTE and CCE was attacked last year by several state governments and a Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) committee is looking into the issue.

ASER 2012 shows that school enrolment stands at over 96 per cent for the fourth consecutive year but the proportion of out-of-school children is slightly up from 3.3 per cent to 3.5 per cent, and it is more for girls (11-14 years) at 6 per cent from 5.2 per cent in 2011.

Private schools are clearly becoming more preferred with an enrolment of 28.3 per cent in 2012 from 18.7 per cent in 2006. ASER predicts that India is likely to have 50 per cent children studying in private schools if this trend continues.

The core problem remains poor learning levels. In 2010, 46 per cent of class 5 students could not read a class 2 text. This has risen to 53.2 per cent in 2012.

Understanding of arithmetic remains dismal - 46.5 per cent of class 5 students could not solve a simple subtraction sum of two digits without borrowing in 2012, up from 29.1 per cent in 2010. In fact, barring Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, every state registered a drop in arithmetic learning levels, ASER 2012 says.

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