Alarming drop in reading skills in Madhya Pradesh
Reading and some math skills of Madhya Pradesh students are among India's lowest, the transition rate to higher classes is lower than the national average, a majority of classrooms are shared by students of different grades, and government elementary schools are 17.6 per cent short of school teachers, according an analysis of various government data.
Literacy rates and learning outcomes are among the lowest in the BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) states. By 2020, India will have the world's largest working-age population -- 869 million -- but an analysis of these four states -- with 43.6 per cent of the country's school-age population (5-14) -- revealed that India is unprepared to educate and train its young population.
The literacy rate in Madhya Pradesh -- at 72.6 million, the fifth-largest state by population -- was ninth lowest, at 70.6 per cent, in 2011. This was an increase of 6.86 percentage points from 2001 --the second-lowest increase among BIMARU states.
Learning levels in rural Madhya Pradesh are among India's worst. Only 34 per cent of all children surveyed in Grade 5 in rural areas could read a Grade 2 level text, the second-lowest across all states -- behind only Assam -- according to the 2014 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), and the proportion of Grade 5 children who could at least subtract was 31 per cent, the lowest in India.
The proportion of children in Grade 3 who could read at least words declined from 80 per cent in 2010 to 32 per cent in 2014 in government schools; the corresponding decline in private schools was from 88 per cent in 2010 to 74 per cent in 2014.
The transition rate from primary (Grade 5) to upper primary (Grade 6) in Madhya Pradesh was 88.67 per cent in 2014-15, according to the Unified District Information System (U-DISE) Flash Statistics 2015-16 -- below the all-India average of 90 per cent.
At the upper primary level, learning levels are worse. Only 18 per cent of Grade 7 students could read English sentences -- the lowest in the country. Of those who could read, only 43 per cent could tell the meaning of the sentence -- again the lowest, indicating that even students who transition to upper primary perform poorly in comparison with students in other states.
Of six million teaching positions in government schools nationwide, about 900,000 elementary school teaching positions and 100,000 in secondary school -- put together, a million -- are vacant, according to an answer given in the Lok Sabha. About 17.6 per cent of all elementary teaching positions -- nearly 64,000 -- in government schools in Madhya Pradesh are vacant.
As many as 78 per cent schools surveyed had children from Grade 2 sharing a classroom with other grades, an increase from 67 per cent in 2010, according to the ASER 2014 report.
Similarly, the proportion of schools where Grade 4 children shared a classroom with other grades increased from 57 per cent in 2010 to 69 per cent in 2014.
As several grades study in one classroom with the same teacher or teachers, more training, and different kinds of pedagogy, would have to be used to reach every child, according to an ASER 2011 report. The Right to Education (RTE) Act does not specify any regulations for multi-grade classrooms, and it is possible that schools provide few teachers with special training to equip them to teach in multi-grade classrooms.
Overall, few teachers receive in-service training. No more than 7.13 per cent of the state's teachers (including contractual teachers) got in-service training in 2013-14; the Indian average was 18.34 per cent, according to U-DISE data.
Public expenditure on elementary education (Grade 1 to Grade 8) per student increased by 50 per cent between 2011-12 and 2014-15, but this increase was mainly due to the decline in enrolment than any increase in real expenditure, the Economic and Political Weekly reported in September 2016.
The enrolment at primary level (Grade 1 to 5) declined from 10.7 million in 2010-11 to 8.67 million in 2014-15, a decline of 18.97 per cent, according to U-DISE data, mostly because fewer children enrol in primary school at the wrong age -- raising the per student spending in the state.
The primary school Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) -- which is the proportion of students enrolled to the proportion of primary-school age children -- was 136.7 in 2010-11, which fell to 101.11 at primary level in 2014-15, according to U-DISE data. The GER can be greater than 100 if children not of primary-school age enrol in primary school.
For upper primary school, gross enrolment has fallen below 100 per cent; that is, not all students of upper-primary school-age enrol in school. The gross upper primary school enrolment dropped from 102.1 in 2010-11 to 96.6 in 2014-2015, according to U-DISE data.
As many as 70 per cent of RTE quota seats were not filled in Madhya Pradesh. The RTE Act (2009) requires that one quarter of all seats be reserved for free schooling to the poorest students in all private, unaided primary schools.
Only 170,000 students were admitted on the RTE quota in 2016, although more than 420,000 seats were reserved. The shortfall is attributed, in part, to an online lottery system that parents found hard to use.
Delhi and Maharashtra also adopted a similar centralised online allotment of seats in private schools, according to one report. The report states that "although going online with the admission process appears to be a good move to improve transparency and efficiency... not all parents would be able to apply online for admissions, especially the ones coming from the lower strata of the society".
Madhya Pradesh also revoked the "no-detention policy" in October 2016, allowing all government and private schools to hold back students in the same grade after Grade 5, due to the state's declining quality of education, according to Deepak Joshi, Minister of State for School Education. Earlier, students would not repeat grades until Grade 8, except in schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education.
(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform. Khushboo Balani is a freelance writer with an interest in development issues. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org)