India needs to invest more on education

| Updated on January 17, 2020 Published on January 17, 2020

As the learning abilities of children are alarmingly low, a comprehensive and creative pre-school programme is absolutely essential

It should come as no surprise to policy-makers that cognitive and numeracy abilities of children in the four to eight age group remain worryingly low in India. The latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) by the NGO Pratham that studied as many as 37,000 children in 26 rural districts across 24 States points out that only 16 per cent children in Class 1 can read text at the prescribed level while 40 per cent cannot even recognise letters. Only 40 per cent of these children could recognise two-digit numbers. A comprehensive and creative learning programme at the foundational stage is critical, as 90 per cent of the brain’s growth has already occurred by the time a child is six years old. Nobel laureate James Heckman has demonstrated that investment in the early childhood stage when brain growth is at its fastest, yields maximum returns as compared to later stages of childhood and education. A comprehensive and creative pre-school programme is absolutely essential for the development of human capital. This entails having qualified teachers, appropriate curriculum and parental involvement.

The total number of privileged schools where such creative learning programmes are instituted through pre-school facilities is about 17,000, constituting about 1 per cent of nearly about 1.5 million schools in the country. These are privileged, high-fee charging schools, typically affiliated to CBSE, ISCE or international systems. Alongside are the low-fee private schools and then come the government schools that constitute 77.25 per cent of all elementary schools. There has been an unprecedented expansion of government schools through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan which added more than a lakh schools between 2000-01 and 2010-11. Most government schools have poor physical and academic infrastructure. Around 10 per cent of these primary schools are single-teacher schools, around 45 per cent schools at all levels do not have playgrounds, 45 per cent do not have electricity, only about 12 per cent have computers.

Clearly, school education is fragmented and inherently discriminatory. The poor have been provided access without ensuring that they acquire even the most the basic cognitive skills, despite the hype around Right to Education. World over, it has been seen that a State-run common school system has been the basis for universalising quality education. There is evidence in Delhi of the radical transformation in local schools in just five years, with the State government spending as much as 26 per cent of its budget on education. The Centre and States’ spending on education is just 3 per cent of GDP. This ratio should be doubled.

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Published on January 17, 2020
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