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Editorial

Shape up or be shipped out

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By EMN Updated: Feb 24, 2014 12:18 am
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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s not enough to just make sure that children go to school. What they learn there is equally important.
Knowledge is power . Over and over again history has shown that the nations which persevere in the search for knowledge and preserve what they learn have led the civilizations of this world. They form the developed society. Education per se in Nagaland is at its nascent stage. It is only now that we have the first generation of our own historians and a handful of literary writers.
The pressing question is how are we training our sons and daughters, homegrown on the soil to follow?
One glance at the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2013 will leave one with very little hope. But in adversity we must rise. The report is a wonderful base to show us where to start and address the problem.
In Nagaland state, the percentages of children studying includes 59.3% in government schools, 39.4% in private schools while those not in school was recorded as 1.2% for children with age-group 6-14. The children categorized as ‘not in school’ indicates children who are school drop outs and those who were never enrolled, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2013.ASER is an initiative to examine whether basic education is imparted and to monitor if students in rural areas go to schools. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2013), North East India is the largest annual household survey of children in rural India focused on the status of schooling and basic learning.
There are several alarming indicators if not addressed and ‘nipped in the bud’ as they say will complicate the problem to an irreversible proportion. For instance the report brings to light a shocking reality that half of the children (between ages 3-16) going to school don’t possess the skill to read. How much that has to do with the ‘desire’ to read or not is not quantified in the report but if they don’t have the skill how can they even if they should so wish.
The ASER survey showed that 2.2% students studying in standard III could not even read the alphabets. We are talking about children eight years old. This kind of figure is criminal and only goes to show that there is something wrong in the method of teaching or assessments. What far will these children go if they cannot recognise or know their alphabets? The report also states that 9% could just about read the alphabets but not anymore.The report gets no better. Only 26.3% of standard III level students could read standard I level text,40.8% could read standard I level text but not standard II level text and 21.6% of them could read standard II texts.
But it was clear that none of the standard III level students could read what was designed for students their age to read.
In fact the report showed that regarding schools with no library facility, the records were 86.7% in 2010 and 66.8% in 2013. The percentage of libraries with no books available increased from (on the day of visit to the school) from 4.1% in 2010 to 21.7% in 2013 and for those books of library used by children on the visit day was 9.2% in 2010 and 11.5% in 2013.
This is to say the least alarming, considering that it is during childhood that discipline is required to be instilled into the child and habits such as reading are meant to be inculcated. There is so much that television and the cinema can offer. Reading stimulates the mind while television makes the mind passive and hence it is also referred to as the ‘idiot’ box. Are our children watching too much television. This seems to be so. As the ASER reports shows that the figures for arithmetic records that 2% of children in Nagaland could not even recognize numbers between 1-9, 6.2% could recognise numbers upto 9, but not more than 50.4% could recognize numbers upto 99 but could do no subtraction, 36.7% could do subtraction but not perform division and only 4.8% could perform division.
There has been a drastic drop in arithmetic skills of children in standard V. An average of 35.7% could perform division in 2010 but this figure has come down to a dismal 24.6% in 2013, a drop of more than 10%.
This is the issue of education, not just access to education, but more importantly the quality of education that our children are getting.
Every year since 2005, the Pratham Education Foundation has been conducting its survey. Covering 550 rural districts, the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) reminds us yet again of the grim statistics of learning outcomes, based on assessing the ability of students to read, write and do simple arithmetic.
Between 2005 and 2013, although the enrolment of children in school has jumped from 93 per cent to 97 per cent, the quality of education has actually declined. For instance, a higher percentage of students today in Std. V are unable to read a textbook assigned to Std. II as compared to the figures from 2005. Similarly, more students of Std. VIII were unable to do simple division this time round compared to students of the same class in 2005.
How and why has this happened?
As Kalpana Sharma from The Hindu observed:
Apart from those who are in schools, and yet learning very little, over half of all children out of school are girls. The problem with low quality education is that it compels parents, who believe education could pull them out of poverty, to send their children to private schools. They automatically equate such schools with a better quality of education. In India, the percentage of children enrolled in private schools is steadily increasing, even in the poorer states.
So, when so many questions are being asked of all political parties in this election, this is one that should be asked. Apart from access to education, what are they going to do about quality? For all its talk about education, and the allocation of additional resources, according to ASER, the quality of education has actually declined in the last decade. That does not speak very well of the current government.
Education is a vast and important subject, one that cannot be addressed adequately in this space. But the ASER report, with its devastating data, is a reminder of an issue that has to be brought to the forefront of debate during this season of talking heads. What could be worse than raising the hopes of a child and her parents with the promise of education and all it carries with it, only to have it dashed to the ground because the child comes out having learnt nothing that can carry her through to a better life?
The emerging dark shadows in our classrooms best not be left too long unattended. It is after all the future of our children in an increasingly competitive world. We had better wake up ,as is popularly said ‘shape up or be shipped out’.The choice is ours.

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By EMN Updated: Feb 24, 2014 12:18:49 am