Filling the learning gaps

ASER report has pointed out disruptions in learning at different levels mainly due to the pandemic. The authorities must step in to fill the gaps
"Around 10924 households and 21666 children in the age group 3 to 16 were surveyed."
"Around 10924 households and 21666 children in the age group 3 to 16 were surveyed."Special arrangement

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) has presented a grim picture of J&K’s education sector in its latest report, raising questions about the learning abilities among the students and the lack of facilities in government schools.

The ASER report has pointed out several disruptions in learning of the students at different levels post-pandemic, throwing a major challenge for the government to fill the gaps, particularly at the primary level.

Even though the key findings of the National survey has highlighted some encouraging results in terms of the performances of the students' arithmetic, at the same time the survey has put forth disturbing revelations while commenting on the learning ability of the students.

Notably the ASER findings were made public after the data was collected from 557 villages of 20 districts in J&K. Around 10924 households and 21666 children in the age group 3 to 16 were surveyed.

The ASER findings have revealed that the school children in J&K are weak at reading and identifying the letter in the textbooks.

The ASER reading test assesses whether a child can read letters, words, or a simple paragraph. In this regard, the students are assessed at different levels by adopting different methods as well.

At the level of first primary, the students are  assessed on the basis of their ability to identify the letters while at 2nd primary, the assessment is done after asking the students to read a story.

The test is administered one on one to all children in the age group 5 to 16 in sampled households. Each child is marked at the highest level that she or he can reach comfortably.

At National level, the basic reading ability of children has dropped to pre-2012 levels, reversing the slow improvement achieved in the intervening years. Drops are visible in both government and private schools in most states, and for both boys and girls.

In J&K, the proportion of children in class 3rd primary in government or private schools who can read at least a textbook of class 2nd primary has dropped from 22.1 percent in 2018 to 19.0 percent in 2022.

The proportion of all children enrolled in class 5th in government or private schools who can at least read a class 2nd primary text has also witnessed a dwindling trend as the percentage has fallen from 42 percent in 2018 to 35.2 percent in 2022.

Although drops in basic reading ability are visible among class 8th students, these are smaller as compared to observed trends in class 3rd and class 5th.

As per the latest findings, it has been observed at National level that 69.6 percent of children enrolled in class 8th in government or private schools are able to read at least basic text in 2022 while the percentage of such students was 73 percent in 2018.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the proportion of these students has fallen from 65 percent in 2018 to 61.2 percent in 2022.

In Arithmetic, the proportion of children in class 3rd in Jammu and Kashmir who are able to do subtraction has increased from 36.1 percent in 2018 to 38.7 percent in 2022.

However in class 5th, the proportion of children in Jammu and Kashmir who can do division has decreased from 25.1 percent in 2018 to 22.4 percent in 2022. 

Similarly, the performance of class 8th students in basic arithmetic has also improved and the proportion of children who can do division has increased from 32.9 percent in 2018 to 35.9 percent in 2022. 

In Language subjects like English, the proportion of class 5th students who are able to read simple English sentences has fallen from 48.6 percent in 2016 to 45.6 percent in 2022.

Over the years, the National Surveys have put forth startling revelations about the reading and learning abilities of the students up to elementary level. However, the government has till date failed to address the real issues as the primary and middle level schools have almost remained out of focus of the government.

The School Education department (SED) remains more focused on the performance of the government schools children in their class 10th and 12th examinations, instead of strengthening reading and learning abilities of the students right from the foundational stage.

During the past years, it has been observed that most of the students migrate from private schools to government schools in class 9th and class 11th and the government takes credit for their outstanding performance in Board exams.

The findings of the National survey has deflated the government claims of filling the learning gaps among students at different stages. The figures put forth in ASER have hinted that the government is yet to identify the grey areas and improve the overall reading ability of students at an early stage.

While the survey has portrayed a grim picture of the learning and reading abilities of the students, it has also revealed that the enrollment rate for the children in age group of six to 14 years has seen a significant increase as the despite closure of schools during the pandemic, overall enrollment figures have increased from 97.2 percent in 2018 to 98.4 percent in 2022.

The ASER has revealed that the proportion of children in J&K, in six to 14 years of age group, who are not currently enrolled, has dropped to 0.5 percent

As per ASER revelations, there was a steady decrease in the proportion of children in the age group of six to 14 years from 2006 to 2014, enrolled in government school.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the proportion of children (age 6 to 14 years) enrolled in government school decreased from 58.3 percent in 2018 to 55.5 percent in 2022.

Also, the enrollment of 3-year old students has increased significantly. In 2018 around 56.7 percent of 3-year-old kids were enrolled in Anganwadi Centres which has increased to 63.6 percent in 2022.

Also, the enrollment of 4-year old kids in Anganwari centres has increased from 31.8 percent in 2018 to 39.4 percent in 2022.

But given the findings of the ASER, it seems that the government has only focused on increasing the enrollment in schools and no steps are taken to make their learning levels strong from the beginning.

Besides putting forth disturbing figures of learning levels, the ASER has also portrayed a grim picture of the government schools in terms of availability of the infrastructure.

In Jammu and Kashmir, ASER surveyors visited 529 government schools with primary sections out of which 85 were primary schools and 444 were upper primary schools.

As per the findings, the proportion of government schools with less than 60 students enrolled has increased every year over the last decade.

In Jammu and Kashmir the proportion of primary schools with total enrolment of 60 or less was 92.4 in 2014, 88.7 percent in 2018 and is 86.9 percent in 2022.

Similarly in case of Upper Primary Schools the same was 41.9 percent in 2014, 46.1 percent in 2018 and is 47.5 percent in 2022

The proportion of multi-grade class 2nd and class 4th classrooms has also shown a steady increase over the past decade. The survey has revealed that students of more than two classes are sharing one classroom in government schools.

The proportion of class 2nd classrooms observed to be sitting with children from other grade(s) was 54.8 percent in 2010, 61.6 percent in 2014, 62.4 percent in 2018 and stands at 65.5 percent in 2022.

To conclude, the authorities must seriously address the learning gaps at all levels taking cue from the ASER report findings. The Covid-19 pandemic greatly disrupted the education sector and it is high time to restore the imbalance in teaching and learning processes.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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