More than half the students studying in standard 8 in rural schools in Karnataka cannot solve even a simple division sum, while nearly a quarter of students in standard 3 cannot identify capital letters in English. Twenty-four per cent of children in standard 1 cannot recognise a single letter in any language.

These are some of the findings of the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2012 for Rural Karnataka. The survey indicates a marginal dip in some indicators of reading and arithmetic skill levels compared with last year. In 2011, 21 per cent children in standard 1 could not read anything as opposed to 24 per cent this year.

While these statistics are grim, the performance of students seems to be better when compared with the national average. The ASER study, for instance, says that nearly half the children in standard 1 cannot recognise any letter in any language when the whole of rural India is taken into account.What is also heartening is the marked improvement in school enrolment, particularly enrolment of the girl child. While the percentage of girls (aged 11 to 14) not in school in rural Karnataka in 2006 was 8, it is 3.8 according to this year’s survey.

Basic facilities

Not surprisingly, the survey indicates an increasing attraction to private schools in rural Karnataka. While 76.5 per cent children aged between 6 and 14 went to government schools in 2011, the percentage has dipped to 75.9 this year.

The survey shows that physical infrastructure in schools, mandated under the Right to Education Act, 2009, has improved on some indicators, but there are also gaps on some crucial fronts. For example, the compatibility in terms of pupil-teacher ratio has dipped from 71.2 per cent in 2011 to 66.9 per cent this year.

On the other hand, there is a significant increase in access to toilets compared with last year, though a large number of schools continue to lag behind in providing separate girls’ toilets. In 2011, 41.1 per cent schools had “usable” girls’ toilets.

Though it has risen to 54 per cent this year, it indicates that nearly half the schools do not have the facility, often regarded as one of the important reasons for girl children dropping out of school.The ASER survey shows an increasing dependence on private tuitions.

The percentage of government school children taking them has gone up from 7.7 last year to 8.8 this year. Among private school students, it has gone up from 18.9 per cent to 21 per cent.