The ninth Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), released last week, affirms two of our fears: One, the quality of education in India is abysmal, and, two, Indians are losing faith in Government schools and opting for private institutions and tuitions instead. One would agree that moving from one class to another without acquiring the basic skills required for that ‘promotion’ is not progress, but detaining a child has been ruled out by the Right To Education Act 2009. This has resulted in quantity (a consistent enrolment rate) but not quality (a desired literacy level).

The study covered 550 districts and close to 16,000 villages and 6 lakh children in age group of 3-16. The report revealed that while enrolment in the age group of 6-14 remains high, at almost 96 per cent, what is worrisome is that only 40.2 per cent Std 3 students can read at least a Std 1 level paragraph. And only 47 per cent students in Std 5 are able to read a Std 2 level text. The figures are worse in arithmetic. Only 25.6 per cent of Std 5 students can do a three-digit by one-digit division problem that is covered in a Std 3 or Std 4 syllabus.

The difference in the success of a Government school vis-à-vis a private school in imparting basic literacy and numeracy is startling. Only 18.9 per cent of Std 3 students from Government schools can subtract, as compared with 44.6 per cent in private schools. These figures have worsened in the past two years. In 2010, at least 33.2 per cent of Std 3 students from a Government school could subtract, as against 47.8 per cent students from private schools.

Parents are clearly noticing this because the ASER further says that private school enrolment and children taking paid private tuitions are rising.

The report notes that 45.1 per cent of children in Std 1 to 5 received some form of private input (private school or tuition) in their education in 2013. This number too has increased from 38.5 per cent in 2010.

Parents sending children to Government schools, in the hope of free education that the RTE Act promises, seem to be disappointed. Seeking a brighter future for their wards, parents are clearly unhappy with such poor implementation and performance. For the lack of options, they are moving to private schools and tuitions.

Given the poor performance in basic literacy and numeracy, one wonders who is to be blamed. The system, the Government or the teachers?

For years, educationists have battled to get children into schools. Now the focus has shifted to retaining students and providing them quality education. The way forward is clear — ensure quality education to create an intelligent, thinking and analytical citizenry. Before the RTE Act one saw a lot of public pressure and participation that made the Act possible. It is apparent that similar state intervention and public participation are vital to achieving quality education. Can public pressure demanding not only right to education but also the right to quality education help in reaching this goal?

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