India has 97% children enrolled in school, but teaching them basic skills is the next challenge: Report

In 2000, when the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was launched in India, almost one in five children, was not enrolled in primary school. It was a massive challenge to take on, given the size of the country. If India’s 6–14-year-olds made up their own country, it would be the seventh largest in the world.

Less than two decades later, 97 percent children are enrolled in school. India has crossed the first hurdle, getting students enrolled, but the second part, getting them to learn basic skills, is yet to be achieved, according to the Goalkeepers Data Report, released this week. The report, which is brought out by the Gates Foundation, tracks progress on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The report examines the geography of poverty, which has shifted from Asia to Africa. Since 2000, more than a billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty. This progress has come in waves. “The first wave centered on China; the second wave centered on India,” it states. Bill Gates is optimistic about India’s digital growth, made largely possible by wireless coverage driven by the private sector, which could further help in the fight again poverty and in building up health and educational infrastructure.

 India has 97% children enrolled in school, but teaching them basic skills is the next challenge: Report

Representational image. Reuters

The bulk of the report is concentrated on extreme poverty in sub-Saharan African countries, where 86 percent of the extremely poor people in the world are projected to live by 2050, with more than 40 percent in two countries, Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo. By investing in human capital, in the health and education of young people, some of these trends can change course.

This is the second edition of the report, which is produced in partnership with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. It will come out every year till 2030, the target year set by the UN for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

India’s next big challenges in education and health are clearly outlined. Data from the Annual Status of Education Report shows that only one quarter of third grade students can read and understand a short story with a few simple sentences or subtract one two-digit number from another. The Indian government’s own National Assessment Survey (2017) also indicates that a high percentage of children have low learning levels.

“Fortunately, as the outlines of the crisis have become clearer, learning has started to get the attention it requires, both inside and outside of India,” writes Ashish Dhawan, chairman of Central Square Foundation, an NGO that works on improving school education in India. “However, achieving system-wide improvements in learning is hard, and there are precious few examples of success at scale in low and lower-middle income countries,” he says in the report.

The report posits Vietnam as a case study, a middle-income country that has found exceptional success in education. Though the country’s per capita GDP is only slightly higher than India’s, Vietnam’s 15-year-olds outperform students from wealthy countries like the United States and the United Kingdom on international tests.

Vietnam’s success in school education was discovered when it outperformed most western countries in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2012 and 2015. India, on the other hand, boycotted the examination after its dismal performance in 2009, when it was ranked 72 among the 74 participating countries. However, the Human Resource Development Ministry has announced this month that it will be ending the boycott from 2021.

Since Vietnam stunned the world, there has been endless research to understand its primary school system. The key factor is the quality of teaching and pedagogy, with a curriculum that focuses on mastering core concepts and foundational skills and teachers who hold themselves accountable for results. If primary education in India could emulate the model, it would lead to a prosperous future, the report suggests.

The report points out some incremental improvement in public health in India. India introduced a key vaccine to protect children from pneumonia, the leading cause of child death, and has launched the National Nutrition Mission in 2018 to tackle stunting in children. India has more TB cases than any other country in the world. The government has tripled its domestic funding to fight the disease and launched a plan to eliminate it by 2025, five years ahead of the Global Goals schedule.

“I would say that the overall budget, the amount going from the federal and state level into health still falls short of what we think should be invested to get rid of the deaths and improve the nutrition,” said Bill Gates in a teleconference with the press, striking a note of caution.

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Updated Date: Sep 20, 2018 20:16:46 IST