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World Bank: India's learning level worse than Uganda, Nepal, Iraq, 80% class 2 children can't read a word, subtract


By Our Representative
In what could be the eye-opener for India’s top education policy makers, a World Bank flagship report on education has expressed serious concern over the fact that India lags behind such “backward” countries such as Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Liberia, Yemen, Nepal, Morocco, Iraq and Nicaragua in learning skills at the primary school level.
The report finds that more than 80 per cent of Grade 2 students in India “could not read a single word of a short text”, nor could they “perform two-digit subtraction.” Titled “World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise”, and released this September, the report finds that things fail to improve even later:
“In rural India, just under three-quarters of students in grade 3 could not solve a two-digit subtraction such as 46 – 17, and by grade 5 half could still not do so”, it says.
“In rural India in 2016, only half of grade 5 students could fluently read text at the level of the grade 2 curriculum, which included sentences (in the local language) such as ‘It was the month of rains’ and ‘There were black clouds in the sky’”, insisting, “These severe shortfalls constitute a learning crisis.”
“Students often learn little from year to year, but early learning deficits are magnified over time”, the 240-page report underlines, adding, “Students who stay in school should be rewarded with steady progress in learning, whatever disadvantages they have in the beginning”, and yet, in India low-performing students in grade 5 were found “no more likely to answer a grade 1 question correctly than those in grade 2.”
“Even the average student in grade 5 had about a 50 percent chance of answering a grade 1 question correctly – compared with about 40 percent in grade 2”, the report says, adding, even in the capital, New Delhi, “The average grade 6 student performed at a grade 3 level in math. Even by grade 9, the average student had reached less than a grade 5 level, and the gap between the better and worse performers grew over time.”
Pointing out that “in rural India in 2016, less than 28 percent of students in grade 3 could master double-digit subtraction”, the report says, one reason for poor learning level is, “The curriculum has been designed for the elite. Teachers and textbooks focus on advanced topics that are of little use in helping struggling students. These students then fall even further behind – eventually so far that no learning whatsoever takes place.”
Suggesting that teacher indifference could be another reason, the report says, “In India, excess teacher absenteeism in the public sector is estimated to cost US$1.5 billion a year.” It adds, “If teacher accountability systems were more strongly aligned with learning, teacher attendance would improve, allowing the system to achieve higher levels of learning at the same cost.”

Unhealthy politics intensified misalignment of education 

While the report primarily deals with school learning, it also gives the example of how “unhealthy politics can intensify misalignments in education systems”, giving the example of Vyapam scam of Madhya Pradesh.
The scam into the entrance tests by government-run professional examination board in Madhya Pradesh for admission into courses such as medicine and for recruitment into state government jobs such as the police came to light in 2013, the report asserts.
It recalls, an independent probe “exposed a potential multibillion-dollar scheme in which senior politicians and government officials had allegedly set up a system allowing unqualified candidates to pay bribes, often to middlemen, to receive high rankings in entrance tests.”

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