Focus On Schools
Far more work is needed to inculcate foundational skills across states
In data that ought to be used to strengthen school education in the country, Niti Aayog’s school education quality index has highlighted the comparative performance of different states. With 2015-16 as the base year and 2016-17 as the reference year, the report provides a comprehensive assessment of school enrolment and learning outcomes. A crucial data set is the Net Enrolment Ratio (NER). While 18 states and Union territories reported an adjusted NER at the elementary level greater than 90%, Nagaland, Sikkim and J&K had the lowest NERs of 76.7%, 68.9% and 67.3% respectively.
Meanwhile, at the secondary level, the NER figures drop considerably with only seven states and Union territories registering more than 80%. This shows that while overall enrolment rates appear healthy at the elementary level, there is still considerable work to be done to transfer this trend to the secondary level. The report also looks at the percentage of out of school children mainstreamed or brought back into the schooling system. Here Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Kerala, Punjab, Bihar, Sikkim, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh reported a more than 10 percentage point decrease in mainstreaming.
This should trigger a rethink of the scrapping of the no-detention policy by Parliament earlier this year, for it becomes harder to bring students back to school if the fear of detention hangs over their heads. On learning outcomes, the report found that average performance on the Class III language test ranged from 79% for Andhra Pradesh to 58% for UP. In mathematics, average performance ranged from 75% for Karnataka to 56% percent for Punjab. However, at Class VIII this drops to the 67%-43% range for language and 57%-31% range for mathematics across large states. This shows that as schooling years increase, learning outcomes decrease, pointing to a quality problem.
For long school education in India has been given short shrift. Meanwhile, much energy has been wasted on implementing reservations at the university level because it is politically expedient. But unless school education is improved – both in terms of quality and access – the country won’t be able to inculcate the foundational skills required to create a skilled workforce. As the world prepares for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is imperative that we ensure quality school education to equip future generations for 21st century jobs. Else, India would have failed its burgeoning numbers of young people.