ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Inequalities in School Education

The National Achievement Survey shows that students from disadvantaged social groups lag behind.

The National Achievement Survey (NAS) 2021 of the Ministry of Education brings out interesting insights on the state of school education in India. The survey stands out as it is one of the most extensive and comprehensive surveys conducted so far. More importantly, the NAS 2021 also looks at important pedagogy-related social and economic issues generally ignored in most other surveys. The survey covers 34 lakh students in 1.18 lakh schools with 5.26 lakh teachers, using 2 lakh field investigators and 1.24 lakh observers in 720 districts spread across all states and union territories. It also delves deep into pedo-geological procedures and learning outcomes.

To assess the learning achievements of students, the survey evaluates the competency of students in different subjects. While the evaluations are focused on language, mathematics, and environmental studies for Classes 3 and 5, it looks at language, mathematics, science, and social science competencies of both Classes 8 and 10 students and also the English language skills of Class 10 students. The NAS is different from most other surveys as it focuses on measuring the student’s ability or competence to analyse, reason, and communicate ideas rather than on testing their rote memorisation abilities. The idea is to identify the gaps in learning outcomes and facilitate outcome-based interventions. Hence, the NAS generates a national report, 37 state and union territory reports, and 720 district reports.

At the all-India level, the competency scores for various subjects in different classes ranged between a minimum of 41% and a maximum of 65%. Surprisingly, the competency scores gradually decrease in the higher classes. Thus, while the competency scores ranged between 61% and 65% in Class 3, it reduced to the 57%–62% range in Class 5. In Class 10, the scores ranged bet­ween 41% and 55%. In Classes 3 and 5, the highest score was in languages and the lowest in mathematics. Surprisingly, in Class 10, the highest competency score was in English (55%) and the lowest in science (44%) and mathematics (41%). The decline in competency levels in the higher classes and the low scores in mathematics and science are major setbacks. The emerging technology-based knowledge economy requires that the competency levels in subjects like mathematics and science are improved.

Another major issue is the large disparities in competency scores between the states. The disparity in competency scores between the best- and the worst-performing states in different subjects in Classes 3, 5, and 10 ranged between 16% and 30%. While the interstate disparity in Class 3 was in the 17%–20% range, the gap widened sharply in the 25%–30% range in Class 10. In Class 10, students with the highest competency scores were from Punjab, Delhi, Rajasthan, and Chandigarh. Competency scores were the least in Mizoram, Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The large interstate disparities call for more focused pedagogy initiatives in the laggard states.

A major gain was that the average competency scores of girl students were generally higher than that of boys in all the classes surveyed. Although the competency scores of boys and girls in science and mathematics were equal in Class 8, the boys scored marginally higher in mathematics in Class 10, while the girls scored higher in science. This refutes the oft-made claim that boys always do better than girls in mathematics and science. The NAS results also show that students in urban areas scored better than those in rural areas, and that this location-based disparity increased in the higher classes. The rural disadvantage needs to be urgently corrected.

However, the most important findings of the NAS were about the performance of students in private and government schools and from different social groups. The school categories with the best competency scores varied sharply. In Class 3, the students of state government schools had the highest competency scores. In contrast, in Class 5, private school students scored the highest.

The results of Classes 8 and 10 were also similarly divergent. Private school students had the highest competency scores in Class 8. However, in Class 10, the highest competency scores were attained by central government school students. Thus, the survey clearly shows the general perception that private schools deliver better education outcomes is a myth and state and central government schools often did better, despite their limitations.

Regarding the competency scores of different social groups, it is found that the general category students scored the highest in all four classes surveyed, followed by the Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Caste, and Scheduled Tribe students. What is worse is that the disparities in competency scores between the general students and those from the disadvantaged groups generally widened in the higher classes, reaching almost 9% in Class 10. The lower competency scores of students from the disadvantaged social groups are a major concern.

The reasons for the low scores of students from disadvantaged social groups can be many. For instance, the survey shows that about 25% of the mothers of these students could not read and write or were without schooling and that a similar share of students did not have access to pre-primary education. It is likely that the students from these groups had a disproportionately larger share of illiterate mothers and also accounted for the bulk of children who had no pre-primary school education. Whatever be the reasons, it is time that the government urgently intervenes to help boost the competency scores of all students, especially of those from the disadvantaged social groups.


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Updated On : 23rd Jul, 2022
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