Educated, in name only
Fifth graders that can barely read
The spectacle of boys and girls in the age group of six to 14 growing up without entering a school is bad enough. Even worse is the plight of those who do go to school but are hardly educated. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) recently put out by Pratham shows that almost half of Class V children in rural India can only read Class II text. That means that their reading capability is three grades behind in learning levels. Not only that, the all-India percentage for all Class V rural students who can read Class II text has declined from 56.2 per cent in 2008 to 52.8 per cent in 2009. Those in the same grade in government schools who can do divisions has plummeted from 41 per cent in 2007 to 36.1 per cent now. Almost 64 per cent Class V government school students in India cannot do divisions; only 56.3 per cent can do subtractions.
These shocking figures underline two facts. One, primary education is in disarray in the country. Two, the state of affairs in rural areas is pathetic. Every now and then, the media has to highlight the plight of some schools where there are either no teachers or very few. Then there are also cases of schools where the appointed teachers sub-let their jobs to someone else, giving a fraction of the salary they take from the government to the surrogate teachers. All that proves that some schools only impart degrees, not education.
When the foundation is so weak, children are bound to face all sorts of difficulties when they go in for higher education. Whether it is the civil services or the IITs, majority of seats are grabbed by students coming from metropolitan areas, for the simple reason that their country cousins start with a huge handicap. The sufferer is the country as a whole. If Russia could compete creditably with the US in the space race despite limited financial means, it was only because the educational grounding of its children was better. India is frittering away any such advantage.