Friday, October 4, 2013

Edu-crisis a threat to national security

The other day, in a talk at Manthan Samvaad called "India's Faultlines" (reported here), Ajai Sahni of the Institute of Conflict Management outlined some of the "multiple vulnerabilities" that the country faces. Among them, he noted, is an education system that is failing to impart skills and knowledge.

The evidence that he presented is familiar to readers of this blog. Here is some of the evidence from my article "The English-Only Myth: Multilingual Education in India" (Rao 2013; abstract here).

ASER reports. In 2012, in rural India, only 45% of enrolled students in the fifth grade were able to read a grade two text. That is, 55% are not able to do even that. Over half of the children are at least three grade levels behind where they should be. Further, this is a declining trend -- over 50% students were able to do this task in 2008. This is in rural India, and mostly in the mother tongue (ASER 2013).

The EI-Wipro study. What about India’s “elite” schools? In 2011, Educational Initiatives and the IT company Wipro together published Quality Education Study (QES), a study of 89 “top schools” (as the report called them) -- all urban-Indian, and English-medium. It concluded that “performance in class 4 is found to be below international average.” However, Indian students catch up in the eighth grade, “mainly due to their higher achievement in procedural questions (i.e. questions that require straightforward use of techniques or learnt procedures to arrive at the answers).” (EI-Wipro 2011)

This study also compared students in these schools to an earlier study (conducted by the same organizations). As in the ASER reports (noted above), “learning levels were found to be significantly lower than what was observed in 2006 in the same schools tested and on the same questions.” The fall was highest in maths and English. The study remarks: “our top schools don’t promote conceptual learning in students. QES results show that there has been a further drop from the already unsatisfactory levels of 2006.”

The PISA study. Sahni did not mention this study. A recent international comparison was the 2009 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test which compared 15-year-old boys and girls from 74 countries and territories in maths, science and reading; India figured 73rd (ahead of Kyrgyzstan). Students from only two Indian states participated. The report concluded that “the 15-year-old student populations in Tamil Nadu-India and Himachal Pradesh-India were estimated to have among the lowest reading literacy levels of the PISA 2009 and PISA 2009+ participants with more than 80% of students below the baseline of proficiency. Around one-fifth of students in these economies are very poor readers” (Walker 2011: 22; also see Pritchett 2012).

This comprehensive, systemic failure, Sahni concludes is producing large numbers of unemployable young people. He sees this as a "volatile group" whose disempowerment is fertile ground for violence and recruitment into insurgency.

References (all links valid as of October 2013)

ASER (Annual Status of Education Report). 2013b. Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) 2012.

EI-Wipro. 2011. Quality Education Study. Educational Initiatives and Wipro.

PISA (OECD Programme for International Student Assessment). 2009. Database PISA 2009: Interactive Data Selection.

Pritchett, Lant. 2012. “The First PISA results for India: The end of the beginning”. Ajay Shah’s blog. 5 January.

Rao, A. Giridhar. 2013. "The English-Only Myth: Multilingual Education in India", Language Problems and Language Planning, 37.3: 271-279. Abstract:

Sahni, Ajai. 2013. "India's Faultlines", talk at Manthan Samvaad, Hyderabad, India, 2 October. Abstract:

Walker, Maurice. 2011. PISA 2009 Plus Results: Performance of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science for 10 additional participants. Camberwell, Victoria: ACER Press.

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