It was only in 2022, after the third wave of COVID-19, that schools in India finally reopened fully, after two plus years of pandemic-related disruptions. Educationists had flagged concerns both about students potentially dropping out and about learning losses. The Annual Status of Education Report 2022, brought out by the NGO Pratham last week, reveals that at least one of these concerns may not be a problem: overall enrolment figures for the 6 to 14 year age group, have increased and the number is now over 98% in 2022. Learning losses however, are steep: both reading and numeracy skills in children have taken a hit.
The percentage of class 3 children who were able to read at the level of class 2, has dropped from the already low 27.3% in 2018 to 20.5% in 2022 -- a decline visible across most States, in both government and private schools. The number of children who can do arithmetic at grade level is more varied, but still not promising.
India now has National Education Policy 2020, which stresses the importance of fundamentals in education, and a scheme, the NIPUN Bharat programme, launched in 2021, aiming at achieving foundational literacy and numeracy for grade 3 children by 2026-27. But even as roadmap is laid out for lower primary schoolchildren, data from ASER from 2012 to 2022 shows that learning trajectories in upper primary, classes 5 to 8, are relatively flat.
So where is the education system stumbling? Families want their children to be educated: this is clearly evident in the rise in number of children going for private tuition classes. What can be done, post-pandemic, to help children catch up with their learning? Do we need better teacher training, bigger budgets and more resources? In our curriculum-heavy, board exam driven system, how can the country ensure no child is left behind in their school career?