Gita Thakur, nine, of Class 4, started crying as she struggled to subtract
India has increased its school enrolment by 300 million children this decade, but what is the quality of education? Each year in January, a citizen’s report card (ASER, or Annual Status of Education Report) is presented on what children are learning in schools – can they read and comprehend basic text, and do they understand numbers?
The report’s qualitative findings are a useful antidote to the government's bland statistics. ASER tests all school-going children for basic learning levels, seeing if they can read texts and solve numerical problems of Class 2. In 2008, for example, the survey found that 44 per cent of school children cannot solve Class 2 maths problems involving basic subtraction or division.
The three-month-long effort, spearheaded by the non-governmental organisation Pratham, brings together over 30,000 motivated volunteers – from students and scientists to investment bankers and pickle-makers – who fan out across India’s towns and villages to test children and look at school infrastructure. An estimated 7 lakh children in 3 lakh households are part of the exercise this year.
Gita arrives at an
answer after a lot of effort
When Pratham instructor Swami Alone tested Gita Thakur, nine, one look
at numbers was enough to make the Class 4 child cry. Subtracting 27 from 39 was a struggle, and she
finally arrived at an answer – 116. Here’s one
possible reason why: her village school has one teacher instead of the
has eliminated the career teacher over the past decade, relying entirely on
contractual teachers like 21-year-old undergraduate Navan Kumar
The state of Chhattisgarh has eliminated the career teacher over the
past decade, relying entirely on ill-qualified para-teachers hired
contractually for government schools on lower pay. Undergraduate Navan Kumar,
21, has filled up an application to become such a contract school teacher. When
surveyors tested him, he could not divide 919 by 9. Alone said: “In several
villagers we find, teachers do not know basic maths themselves, and so children also learn
After enrolling in the National Adult Literacy Mission, paddy farmer Hiramati Thakur now reads basic texts haltingly
India has the damaging distinction of being the country with the most
illiterates in the world – over 300 million can neither read and write nor work
with numbers. This year, the ASER survey is also testing adult female literacy
levels, to see if there is a positive causal link between a mother and her
children’s education. Paddy farmer Hiramati Thakur, in her 50s, was yanked out
of school as a child, to get married. Her children, now adults, are also
dropouts. After enrolling in the National Adult Literacy Mission this year,
Hiramati now reads basic texts haltingly. “If a poor person does not study
today, he is reduced to a coolie’s life. Whenever I have any free time, I sit
with a book, and teach myself.” She smiled, as she asked surveyors: “Can I get
a job now?”
village school is a three-room building without steady water facilities or toilets
The village school is a three-room building from Classes 1-7, without
dedicated drinking water facilities or any toilets (“Uska proposal chal
[The proposal for that is in process] said a harried official from the Tribal Welfare Department).
There wasn’t a single teacher too in the school on
this Monday morning.
With thousands of contract teachers on a strike across the state demanding a hike from their current pay of between Rs. 4,000-6,000, BEd students like Madhav Jadhav, 25, and Satya Prakash are filling in, teaching the children three days a week. Classes 1-3 were being taught simultaneously in a cramped room. Jadhav said: “Children’s levels are very low, and they cannot even do basic problems. There is a lot of work to be done.”
BEd students like Madhav Jadhav (foreground) and Satya Prakash fill in while contract teachers are on strike, demanding pay hikes
The author spent a weekend on the survey in Parchanpal village of Bastar, 290 kilometres south of Chhattisgarh’s capital Raipur, for this snapshot of India’s troubled public schools.
Photos: Chitrangada Choudhury