Quantity over Quality

If the 2012 PISA student assessment conducted three years ago was any indicator of the dire state of the education quality in India, then it seems that we have taken NO lessons from it and most probably will repeat our dismal performance in this year’s version, showing little to no improvement. Why, you ask? Because we are concerned more with overall statistics and boasting of large numbers of children enrolled in education across the primary and secondary levels rather than improving the quality of the education they receive. Yes, the Right to Education Act (2009) was an important bureaucratic procedure to ensure both compulsory school attendances of children between the ages 6 and 14 and the public’s perception of a responsible [sic] government but it has had a terrible effect on the overall quality of education.

This is reflected by the pitiable levels of learning outcomes and their stagnation visible in those children, if the latest (2014) edition of the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is anything to go by. It highlights the stagnation, even regression, in visible learning outcomes over the past four years! Additionally, it emphasises two key aspects: firstly, an expansion of the learning gap between private and government schools, coupled with increasing private school enrolment; secondly, throwing more money aimed at increasing the levels of learning outcomes, instead of encouraging innovative solutions, will not resolve the issue. Much akin to most problems in life, throwing money at a problem does not make it but instead the issue will return later to bite you when you least expect it – education is no different and, in fact, already is creating a demographic catastrophe of unemployable young adults.

To state what may be known to some already, private school students typically hail from comparatively wealthier families when contrasted to their government school counterparts, their parents are reasonably well educated with the majority holding one or more tertiary education degrees, and – most importantly – they receive better support at home that leads to better learning outcomes. However, and perhaps quite surprisingly, when the household and parental support parameters are adjusted in the ASER 2014 report, government schools in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Punjab perform significantly better compared to private schools.

Perhaps a detailed description of the disheartening state of education can be elucidated in numbers: only a fourth of children in Year 3 can read a Year 2 text fluently. This number rises to half in Year 5 and three-quarters in Year 7, meaning that 25% of children still cannot fluently read a passage from a Year 2 text even in Year 7! If you wanted some consolation, then consider that these percentages have improved slightly from previous years; however, certain states – Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra – have seen a marked decline in reading levels over the past half decade.

A good understanding of mathematics, vital for innovation and the knowledge economy, is much vaunted by Indian society – consider the obsession with accounting, banking, and engineering careers – but the reality is that basic mathematical skills are poor among young children. Just think, only a quarter of Year 5 students, assessed in 2014, cannot perform simple division successfully; and this number has decreased by a small margin. These sorts of trends make for painful reading after a while, such as the inability of approximately 44% of Year 8 students to perform a three- by one-digit division. Consider that this number has reduced from almost 70% five years ago. Similar, disheartening decline or stagnation is seen in English literacy levels – only a quarter of Year 5 students can read simple sentences in English; and, in five years, the percentage of Year 8 children able to read such sentences has declined from approximately 60% to 47%.

The numbers can be analysed endlessly but ultimately, they reflect a poor trend. The government is pouring all its energy into boosting the economy but it seems not to understand that a solid economy needs a solid foundation, which is quality education. Large sections of Indian youth remain unskilled and under-educated for today’s workplace and further declines are on the horizon unless those implementing policy changes cut down on bureaucratic controls and allow teachers the freedom to innovate and teach. As the world transitions to a knowledge- and skill-based economy, excellence comes in many forms; pioneering new forms of education are just one of them.


Figures quoted from the 2014 ASER publication; link to the full report:


In addition, the link to the key National Findings:



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