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Children enrolled in private schools up from 22 to 30% in 10 yrs, learning levels stagnate

By Our Representative
In a clear indication that the Government of India and state governments have been refusing to encourage government schools, which should be their primary responsibility in the educational sector, the latest Annual Survey of Education Report, released by high-profile NGO Pratham, has regretted that, over the last one decade, “while the productivity of the government school system has declined overall, the effectiveness of the private schools has not changed as dramatically.”
Providing data to prove its point, the report states, “In 2008, 68% Std V children in private schools could read a Std II level text. This went down to 61% in 2012 and then went up again to 65% by 2018.” At the same time, it says, “In 2008, the percentage of Std II level readers in government schools was at 53%, or 15 percentage points lower than the 68% children in private schools. By 2018, this gap has widened to 21 percentage points on a national scale.”
This happened even as “the proportion of children enrolled in private schools in rural India has gone up from 22% in 2008 to 30% in 2018”, the report notes.
As in reading, the report says, the proportion of children who can solve division sums (all basic arithmetic operations) may have almost doubled between Std V and VIII in government schools, while in this proportion may have also increased.
However, the report underlines, “Between 2008 and 2018, the proportion of ‘division solvers’ in Std V in government schools went down from 34% to 22.7%.”
According to the report, “The decline, post 2010, was coming entirely from government schools, with learning levels in private schools holding up or improving slightly. While children did learn as they progressed through school, these learning trajectories were fairly flat. Even in Std VIII close to a fourth of the children were not fluent readers.”
This happened at a time when “there was a year on year increase in private school enrollment” till 2014, seems to have stopped now, says the report, adding, “Between 2006 and 2014 private school enrollment increased steadily from 18.7% to 30.8%. Since then, it has remained at about the same level, i.e. 30.6% in 2016 and 30.9% in 2018.”
 The report believes, while “on the face of things, private schools consistently perform better than government schools”, this is “not a fair comparison because of the self-selection associated with children who attend private schools.”
It underlines, “It is well known that children who go to private schools come from relatively affluent backgrounds and tend to have more educated parents. This affords them certain advantages that aid learning.” However, it notes, “These advantages are not available to children who are from less advantaged families and are more likely to attend government schools.”
“Once we control for these factors that affect learning, the gap in reading or math levels between children attending different types of schools narrows considerably”, the report believes.
“Be that as it may”, the report says, “Between 2009 and 2014 the gap between the government and private school outcomes was increasing, even after controlling for other factors outside the school. Government school learning levels were declining and private school outcomes were holding steady or improving. As rural India became more prosperous, parents began to shift their children to private schools, reflected in rising private school enrollments. The pool of children that government schools were drawing their students from thus became steadily more disadvantaged.”
“Since 2014, however”, the report points out, “With outcomes in government schools improving, the gap between government and private schools has narrowed or remained constant. This is true for both reading and math in Std III and Std V. In addition, the contribution of home factors to children's learning outcomes, which had increased between 2009 and 2014, has also remained about the same since then.”
The report asserts, “So, while children in private schools continue to outperform their government school peers, at least the gap between the two seems to have stabilized. From an equity point of view this is certainly a step in the right direction.”
However, it says, “The fact that we are seeing some improvement in learning outcomes now is a welcome change, assuming that the improvement will continue. But, first of all, the positive change is slow and uncertain. It has to be understood that we are struggling even with basic literacy and numeracy.” It emphasizes, “We are far from becoming an educated nation.”
The report further states, while the percentage of children (age 6-14) enrolled in private school was 30.6% in 2016 and is almost unchanged at 30.9% in 2018, “The national average hides changes in private school figures across states.”
Thus, it says, “There has been a decline in private school enrollment of more than 2 percentage points over 2016 levels in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Kerala. An increase of more than 2 percentage points over 2016 is visible in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, and Gujarat. Most states in the north-east, other than Mizoram, see an increase in private school enrollment between 2016 and 2018.”

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