ASER’s findings highlight the dismal state of school education. Improving teacher training programmes could lead to better outcomes
I remember Rukmini Banerji of Pratham telling us in 2005 that ASER — the Annual Status of Education Report — will be a national survey that will hold up a mirror to the condition of education in India and shake us into urgent action. For nine years now, every January, ASER is released and the spotlight turns to the morass our education system is embroiled in. But things stop there. Each successive year shows no change or, as in the case of ASER 2012, only a further drop. There is a parallel with the annual Human Development Index (HDI) report commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme. Over the years, India has not budged from its dismal ranking of around 130 among 187 nations. Both ASER and the HDI results should not surprise us — if conditions remain the same, however much and howsoever often we measure, the results will remain the same.
In the last 12 years, we have placed a school in virtually every hamlet in the country and enrolment of children is nearing 100 per cent. The mid-day meal scheme reaches over 85 per cent of our children, thus providing many of our rural poor their only hot meal. But what has not changed is the quality of learning inside the school. Multiple studies of learning achievement have shown no improvement over the past 15 years. Tie all of these together with the fact that, for years, the quality of our teacher education has remained the same. Based on an extremely inadequate and shaky graduation in science or the arts, our teachers go through the charade of a nine-month course in teacher education. That 99 per cent of the candidates failed to clear the recent Central Entrance Test for teachers is not as much of an indictment as the fact that we have allowed teacher education over the years to slip to such levels.
The ASER report is unlikely to find better results in the next few years. But if we get our act together now, we can be certain that there will be glad tidings. It will take years, but there will be results to show. It will take a systemic overhaul. In a complex system with multiple inter-linkages, it will mean simultaneously addressing many fronts. We will have to identify