NEW DELHI While there has been some improvement in the reading and arithmetic skills of lower primary students in rural India over the last decade, the skills of Class VIII students have actually seen a decline.
The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2018, the results of a yearly survey that NGO Pratham has been carrying out since 2006, shows that more than half of Class VIII students cannot correctly solve a numerical division problem and more than a quarter of them cannot read a primary-level text.
Those figures are worse than they were a decade ago. In 2008, 84.8% of Class VIII students could read a text meant for Class II; by 2014, only 74.6% could do so, and by 2018, that percentage had fallen further to 72.8%.
Four years ago, 44.1% of students at Class VIII could correctly divide a three-digit number by a single-digit number; in 2018, that figure had fallen slightly to 43.9%.
Noting that the additional value added in terms of math skills for each year of schooling is low, Pratham researchers concluded that without strong foundational skills, it is difficult for children to cope with what is expected of them in the upper primary grades.
he picture is slightly more encouraging at the Class III level, where there has been gradual improvement since 2014. However, even in 2018, less than 30% of students in Class III are actually at their grade level, that is, able to read a Class II text and do double-digit subtraction. This means that a majority of children need immediate help in acquiring foundational skills in literacy and numeracy, said Pratham.
These overall percentages also camouflage wide differences in skill level between States, or even between students in a single classroom.
For example, the ASER data found that almost half of Class III students in government schools in Himachal Pradesh can read a Class II level text, while another quarter can read a Class I level text. This allows the teacher to use grade-level textbooks for most of the class, although the remaining quarter of students will need ongoing support for basic skills.
n government schools in Uttar Pradesh, however, a quarter of students cannot recognise letters yet, while another 37% can recognise letters, but not read words. Urgent and immediate help is needed for these students if they are not to be left behind.
The ASER survey covered almost 5.5 lakh children between the ages of 3 and 16 in 596 rural districts across the country. In an encouraging trend, it found that enrolment is increasing and the percentage of children under 14 who are out of school is less than 4%. The gender gap is also shrinking, even within the older cohort of 15- and 16-year-olds. Only 13.6% of girls of that age are out of school the first time the figure has dropped below the 15% mark.
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