“Almost half of Class 5 students in rural schools can’t do basic subtraction, less than half can’t read Class 2 text”

Almost half of the Class 5 students in rural schools cannot solve a two-digit subtraction problem. Less than half of them can read text meant for a Class 2 child.

Rural school enrolment continues to be high and educational infrastructure may have improved in the two years since the Right to Education Act came into effect, but a major non-governmental survey warns that village children’s ability to read and do basic arithmetic has been on a sharp decline since then.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2012, facilitated by NGO Pratham, was released by Human Resource Development Minister M.M. Pallam Raju here on Thursday.

Carried out in the final months of 2012, it reached about six lakh children and 3.3 lakh households, covering more than 16,000 villages in 567 districts.

It found a sharp fall in learning outcomes — especially in arithmetic — over the last two years. In 2010, 70.9 per cent of Class 5 children were able to solve subtraction problems. Last year, that fell to 61 per cent. This year, there has been a further drop to 53.5 per cent. In fact, almost 20 per cent cannot even recognise two-digit numbers. Apart from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, which have held steady or improved, every major State has seen a substantial drop in basic arithmetic levels, according to the survey.

Pratham founder Madhav Chavan and economist Abhijit Banerjee seemed to link the fall in learning outcomes to the RTE’s emphasis on continuous assessment as opposed to examinations, and its emphasis on “completing the syllabus.”

However, the Minister rejected such an analysis. “I don’t want to judge why the learning outcomes have declined…I will certainly not attribute it to the factor of CCE [continuous comprehensive evaluation],” he said. He admitted that some of the results were dismaying, but also seemed to play down ASER’s findings, calling it a “dipstick survey.”

With regard to enrolment, the number of children aged 6 to 14 in school remained above 96 per cent for the fourth consecutive year, despite a slight 0.2 per cent decrease since last year.

When it comes to girls in the 11 to 14 years age group, the scenario is slightly more worrying, especially in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, where the percentage of girls of that age out of school has risen to more than 11 per cent this year.

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