‘Ambitious’ curriculum, which outpaces the child’s learning ability, is the most significant factor behind the poor learning outcomes of Indian schools, says a latest UN report released worldwide early this week.
The report, ‘Education for all – global monitoring report 2013-14’, places India in the top bracket of countries likely to achieve a primary enrolment target of at least 95 per cent by 2015, but questions the quality of education, placing India among the 21 countries facing an ‘extensive’ learning crisis.
The report states that less than half of the children were learning the basics in 21 of the 85 countries with full data available. India features in this list along with 17 countries from sub-Saharan Africa, Mauritania, Morocco and Pakistan.
Part of the learning crisis has been attributed to the ambitious curriculum drawn out for children in India, including disadvantaged learners. Contrasting this to Vietnam — where the curriculum focuses on foundation skills and is closely matched to what children are able to learn, especially disadvantaged learners — the report pointed out that India’s curriculum “outpaces what pupils can realistically learn and achieve in the context and time given”.
“In Vietnam, students perform well, on an average, on tests administered at different levels with varying contents. In India, however, children’s learning progress declines in higher grades,” the report says.
In Vietnam, the national curriculum consists of nine subjects, of which six are taught in the early grades, with the majority of time allocated to Vietnamese and mathematics. By contrast, the National Curriculum Framework for India recommends a broad curriculum of 10 subjects in primary schools.
The Indian framework aims to orient teaching towards higher order skills for secondary education, while the Vietnamese curriculum has a stronger focus on building foundation skills. Yet, critically, it is in Vietnam that schools are ultimately preparing pupils better for a post-primary curriculum.
Report seeks to quantify the difference between the two curricula. “In Vietnam, 86% of eight-year-old children answered grade-specific test items correctly. Similarly, 90% of children aged eight in India did so. However, when 14 to 15-year olds were asked a two-stage word problem involving multiplication and addition, 71% of children in Vietnam answered correctly, while in India the percentage was 33%.”
“Post-2015 goals need to include a commitment to make sure the most disadvantaged groups achieve benchmarks set for goals. Failure to do so could mean that measurement of progress continues to mask the fact that the advantaged benefit the most,” the report added.
The report said that the ‘global learning crisis’ is costing governments $129 billion a year. Ten countries account for 557 million, or 72 per cent, of the global population of illiterate adults.
Ten per cent of global spending on primary education is being lost on poor quality education that is failing to ensure that children learn. This situation leaves one in four young people in poor countries unable to read a single sentence.
The latest annual status of education report (ASER) of India also highlights the sorry state of learning outcomes.
The report states that in the wealthier states of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, it was in 2012 that maximum number of rural children were promoted to grade 5; however, only 44 per cent of these children in Maharashtra and 53 per cent in Tamil Nadu could perform a two-digit subtraction.
Educationist and co-founder of Pratham, Farida Lambe agrees, “No doubt that our syllabi are subject-oriented instead of being children-oriented. This becomes ineffective since children have different abilities. Besides, our curriculum doesn’t help in developing analytical skills and independent learning.”
Report also emphasises on bilingual education at the primary level.
“Learning in mother tongue increases the learning outcome. This issue is being debated in India since decades with education activists and psychologists voicing their support for mother tongue education; but no proper policy has been chalked out yet though law makers and political leaders have been casually referring to it. On mother tongue issue, opinion is divided. Tawde supports primary education in mother tongue. In fact, he insists that history, geography and social sciences must be taught in the mother tongue only,” says a principal of a government school in Mumbai. “However, there is a difficulty in teaching in mother tongue in a cosmopolis like Mumbai, where 70 percent are non-Marathi speakers.”
Admitting that early education in mother tongue helps, Lambe too doubts the effectiveness of the mother tongue formula in a country like India where dialects change every 100 km. “Children of Nandurbar are not able to comprehend the kind of Marathi our textbooks have. Same is true for other languages,” she says.