Data from new research on female literacy show that India’s school education system is under-performing in terms of quality when compared to its neighbours, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. The research studies changes in female literacy over a number of schooling years.
The proportion of women who completed five years of primary schooling in India and were literate was 48 per cent, much less than 92 percent in Nepal, 74 per cent in Pakistan and 54 per cent in Bangladesh.
These findings, which are part of a forthcoming background paper, were released in a blog-post by New York-based International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (or Education Commission) last week. Justin Sandefur, one of the authors of the paper, said, “This is a simple but powerful signal that India’s education system is under-performing.”
The data also revealed that, female literacy rates went up by one to 15 per cent after completing two years of schooling. Corresponding numbers for Pakistan and Nepal were three to 31 per cent and 11 to 47 per cent respectively. “This implies that schooling is roughly twice as productive at generating literacy for women during the early grades in Pakistan when compared to India. Or, it could also mean that Indian schools are much more lenient about promoting students who cannot read,” Mr. Sandefur said.
DHS data For this research, the authors devised a way to measure the quality of education around the world, with a specific focus on girls, using data from nationally representative Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) — one of the most comparable data sources on living standards in the developing world. “We used data from all countries with DHS data that included the literacy measure,” Mr. Sandefur said. Around the world, female literacy rates are improving. However, it is not clear if that is because of improvement in school quality, the study says. India ranks low in global indices of female literacy as well. If countries are ranked by the earliest grade at which at least half of the women are literate — a proxy for quality of learning — India ranks 38th among the 51 developing countries for which comparable data is available. Indonesia, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Tanzania — all rank higher than India. Ghana is placed at the bottom. According to this study, just seven per cent of female students in Ghana can read after attaining their sixth grade.
Over the years, most countries studied made improvements in the number of girls finishing primary school, which should lead to more literate women. But for girls who don’t finish primary school, the trend is not encouraging: researchers found that little to no progress has been made in increasing basic literacy for the girls who drop out. The report notes, “Millions of women have spent multiple years in school and emerged unable to read a simple sentence” and “it’s not getting much better over time.”
Adult female literacy by highest grade attained
The table shows % of females literate who have studied upto that grade. For instance, only 15 per cent of Indian women who studied till Class 2nd can read a sentence (or literate).
Countries are ranked by the earliest grade at which at least 50% of women are literate. India ranks 38th among 51 developing countries.
(Source: Education Commission; DHS rounds since 2000)