If the Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER)-2011 were to be considered a report card of the States' performance in school education, Tamil Nadu has several reasons to be worried. The data it presents, on learning levels of over 26,000 students across 29 districts in Tamil Nadu, is shocking.
Only about 32 per cent of the students in class V could read a simple story in Tamil. Among the class IV students covered in the study, only 40. 6 per cent could perform subtraction of two-digit numbers, while the current curriculum expects them to be able to perform multiplication and division as well.
The ASER study, facilitated by non-governmental organisation Pratham, seeks to look at learning outcomes in children in the age group 6 to 14, by testing their ability in reading and arithmetic, using simple tests.
In addition to it's nearly 100 per cent enrolment, Tamil Nadu does reasonably well in aspects such as attendance of teachers and students. However, when it comes to quality, there are serious concerns.
Presenting some of the Report's findings at the launch of the state-level ASER-2011 here on Saturday, educationist V. Vasanthi Devi said it should be considered a “Himalayan failure” that the system is unable to give quality education to a large section of the population. “The survey also shows us that it is a myth that private schools are better. The findings clearly show that students going to private schools performed no better than their counterparts in government schools.”
VIT University Chancellor G. Viswanathan said education was not given adequate importance by the government. Highlighting the results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study, in which India ranked very low, he said if the country has to take advantage of its demographic dividend, governments should take a serious look at quality in education. Education Activist S.S. Rajagopalan said the studies brought out by government agencies on students' learning levels were not credible enough, as teachers conducted them. “The ASER is an independent survey and the results are stark. The government must first acknowledge that there is a problem. Otherwise, it cannot think of ways to address the issues,” he said.
“If students with 90 per cent attendance cannot score even 35 marks and pass, it is the teacher's failure, not the students'.”
Quantity vs. quality
Director of Kasturi & Sons Limited N. Ram, who released the report, said it was now time to have discussions around the issue of quality through intelligent working groups. “The report spotlights a shocking, dark story with relatively few bright spots,” he said, adding: “The quality has not just suffered, but is appalling.”
Observing that high enrolment could not be used as an excuse any more, he said that the story of denial was part of the big story on poor quality. “So what really explains the abysmal performance?” he asked.
While it was easy to blame teachers or unions, it is important to look at the issue at a deeper level. “The real question is ‘How do we reconcile quantitative growth with the pursuit of quality?'” Mr. Ram said.
Balaji Sampath of Aid India said the study and its findings were not just about quality, but also about social injustice and inequality. Quality cannot work with just a top-down approach, he said. “What we really need to do is to instigate parents of poor families. They have a right to audit quality in learning in schools their children go to. Schools must be made accountable to them,” he said.