LIFE GOES ON.....

LIFE GOES ON.....

Saturday, May 25, 2013


RIGHT TO EDUCATION –
HOW WRONG IS THE PREVAILING CLIMATE?

Tamil Nadu Findings from ASER[Annual Status Of Education Report] 2012 The Release Function held in Chennai and Some Points To Ponder]

 By
latha Ramakrishnan


The term ASER which despite concentrated efforts from the Powers-that-be to  overlook it, is slowly and steadily gaining significance in creating awareness amidst those concerned about the quality of education imparted to children at State Level and the National Level is the abbreviation for ANNUAL STATUS OF EDUCATION REPORT based on survey conducted in all the rural areas of the districts of India. Pratham, a reputed NGO has been facilitating ASER Survey since 2005.

Right To Education Act makes Education one of the basic rights of children upto Std VIII. But, in reality, how congenial is the prevailing climate for the underprivileged children to receive ‘quality education’?

The ASER Survey aims at finding whether the number of children attending Schools is increasing or decreasing and whether children or rather parents opt for government school or private schools, how good is the learning level of children in the age-group of 5-16, in Language, Arithmetic and English and how well or ill the educational institutions act in matters of school infrastructure and compliance with norms.

ASER is one of the largest surveys in India being conducted annually all over the country and in each State separately.

The NGO Pratham came into being in 1994 in Mumbai starting with teaching the children in slums, within one year the balwadis run by them in the slum areas grew from 150 to 2000 and this made the people of Pratham realize the visible need of the children left out. And, in course of time Pratham came to realize the other set of  the underprivileged children – children going to school but not being able to learn, due to various constraints, deficiencies, lapses and what not in the educational system.

Hence, in 2002 Pratham decided to focus on Language-reading and Arithmetic skills in this age-group of school-going children with the help of some simple tools devised by them.

A group of committed volunteers, both from ASER and from other like-minded NGOs championing the cause of ‘quality education for all children’ visit the villages in various districts of the States and select school-going children on a random basis, and going and visiting them, not in their schools where the school authorities usually give forth the brighter students to take part in the Survey, but in their households. After, making the children feel comfortable the volunteers ask  them to undergo simple language reading and Arithmetic tests with the help of which they are able to evaluate and ascertain the level of learning of these children and so  find out the reasons and suggest corrective and remedial measures to set right the deficiencies present in the educational system.

From 2005 onwards every year the ASER Report is being released, both at the national level and at the various state levels.

This year, on the 8th of February, Tamil Nadu Findings from ASER Report 2012 was released in Chennai, the venue being Music Academy wherein eminent and committed educationists, social activists, medial persons and the discerning members of the society took part.


Speaking on the quality of education and educational system of his days educationist S.S.Rajago palan observed that when he was a teacher in a small village, trained teachers were not many and the students were mostly of the first generation coming to School. Yet, there was education, said he, expressing an guish that now, despite having trained teachers and improved infrastructure, the learning-level  of the students is to up to the mark, for which they are to be blamed the least. Pointing out how we choose to vigorously protest against a ration-shop that doesn’t function properly Mr. Rajagopal observed that we shouldn’t keep quiet if a school doesn’t function properly in imparting education to the underprivileged children and that it is imperative on our part to protest against it collectively.

He also pointed out that the state and Central Governments should take note of the findings of independent and in-depth Surveys such as the ASER Surveys and act on them suitably and without  wasting time. Pointing out that the official surveys of the governments and their findings in this regard do not always reveal the real situation prevailing he observed that the governments need not view such independent Surveys and Reports as detrimental to them, but should come forward to take them into consideration and genuinely introspect and effect the desired changes in the Educational System. Only then the term Welfare State is justified, said Mr.S.S.Rajagopalan.

Further, whenever there is a change in Government some of the good projects initiated by the previous government are shelved or left in a suspended state, which should not be the case, said he. Head-Masters, AEOs, District-level Educational Authorities are not available in sufficient numbers, Mr.Rajagopalan pointed out and laid emphasis on the need for having a monitoring agency from the government side to act on such Surveys and Reports. Though it is said that for every formal inspection there should be three surprise visits to the schools, it is not at all being adhered to, he pointed out and said that we can change the  system for the better if those in power have the will and commitment. 


Dr. Vasanthi Devi in her speech emphasized the crucial need and role of education in uplifting the individual and the society and nation as a whole expressed anguish at the highly pathetic state of affairs at the level of elementary education itself in Tamil Nadu, as shown by the findings of ASER Report 2012. Though fre and compulsory education is being offered in Government schools more and more children are moving towards private schools. Why so? Asked Dr.Vasanthi Devi and pointed out that the ASER  Survey-2012 belied the notion that the private schools fare better in imparting quality education. Pointing out that the private schools are sought after mainly because there are English Medium classes and the parents hope that their children would become fluent in English. But, the fact being that in most of these private schools in the rural areas the teachers themselves have no proper training nor the requisite proficiency in English.

Tuition is another social malady, said Dr.Vasanthi Devi, pointing out how children are being harassed in the name of tuition-classes. Added to paying School fees, the children studying in private schools have to shell out tuition fees too. As per the ASER Report2012 15.7% of the government school students and 26.7% of the private school students go to tuition classes. But, the Report shows that the children benefit very little[especially, the private school students] by attending tuition classes.

When it comes to compliance with the rules and norms stipulated by Right To Education Act Tamil Nadu fares better than all India Level[ in particular, after 2012], but, when it comes to acquiring academic skills Tamil Nadu stands far below the National Average Level, among the developed States.

Dr.Vasanthi Devi highlighted the need to have a School Management Committee in every government school which should be away from the hands of government bureaucrats and informed that there would son be  a Campaign for establishing this School Management Committee.

 Mr.Gnani, at the very outset insisted that the role of school teachers needs to be probed and scrutinized. More than on the students our focus should be on the teachers, said he emphatically and said that the ASER Survey should evaluate the teachers too. And, while evaluating the Reading, Writing and Arithmetic skills of school going rural children there should be one or two questions on their teachers too, posed to them, he opined. Pointing out that on a macro-level commercialization of Education and on a micro-level the role of teachers need to be closely scrutinized, Mr.Gnani said that though there are committed teachers around, it is imperative that the teachers should be made accountable. Lacking in role-models the children of today are largely influenced by Small Screen and Big Screen which give them as role-models heroes who are more often than not unruly persons, having no real values of life. Hence, the need of the hour is to find out or rather chalk out a wholesome solution, said Mr.Gnani.

Mr.Sidharth Vradharajan, Editor, The Hindu, in his speech pointed out how from ASER Data we can see a macro-failure in giving quality education to the underprivileged children, at the  national level and insisted that the urgency of the problems should not be overlooked. In matters of providing adequate infrastructure things are far better today than before 20 years, but, yet, the prevailing situations far from satisfactory, said he. Further, despite more schools and better infra-structure, the outcome is very poor. Why so  he wondered and asked what kind of training and motivation are given to the teaching faculty and to the other associated authorities. The level of Teachers’ Commitment, Teaching skill, Expertise, Training etc., should be looked into, he observed.

ASER’s Data is indeed a large-sized one and the government refusing to give it proper attention only goes to show that they don’t care  sufficiently for providing quality education to the underprivileged children, said he further.

Mr.Henry Tiphagne, Executive Director, People’s Watch extended his whole-hearted congratulations to the 630 volunteers who have participated in ASER Survey.

Pointing out that Social Audit is being conducted by People’s Watch for the past several years and Block Level Public Hearings are held he observed that thus for the first time the government officials were made to realize that they are accountable and answerable to the general public.

Further, he pointed out that the teachers in rural schools do not come in time which cause a significant number of children to turn drop-outs.

Calling the School Management Committee a hoax Mr.Henry said that SMCs were constituted just like that and the members were never trained or sensitized. Abusive words are freely hurled at the students and it is common for students to be discriminated on caste and economic grounds, and in the case of the differently-abled, said he. Even corporal punishment is freely doing the rounds, said he.

Highlighting the need for bringing Panchayats into this purview Mr.Henry pointed out that fund-allocation for constructing school buildings has not been brought under School Management Committee.

Anyone has the right to go and see the accounts of a government school on the Friday of the last week of every  month, said Mr.Henry but the Education Department as a rule never encourage any such initiative and it never allows authorities outside its purview to step inside and take a stock of what is going on. He also said that in Government Schools there is provision for providing mid-day meals on Saturdays too but it is never practiced, but merely exists in the Accounts Book.

 Mr.Ravishankar, Joint Secretary, AID INDIA in his speech pointed out that despite some people asking sarcastically about the purpose of ASER Survey, year after year this has created an overall awareness. Parents request us to do something to save their children, he observed and said that teachers are just one part of the whole complex system.

No use sitting in the city and conducting seminars, said he and felt that we should have them in rural areas too and create the much needed awareness amidst the rural populace, The civil society should involve itself in this, he observed.

Dr.Balaji Sampath, Founder – Secretary,  AID INDIA in his speech regretted that despite their saying it for seven years, pointing out the pitiable and avoidable lapses in primary school education and that the situation is deteriorating on a steady basis, the people in power keep turning the other way. “suppose we come to know that our children cannot read how painful it would be and how swiftly we would be finding remedial measures. But, here, year after year we keep pointing out the lapses and deficiencies in the system but to no avail, said he in a deeply anguished tone.


Further, if weathering against all odds an underprivileged child manages to do well in his or her studies we are all too eager to bask in its glory, go all out to claim that we have contributed to it in some way or other, but we never bother about mediocre students because our mindset is such that we firmly believe that education is above the reach of a section of children. In other words, we strongly feel that, among the poor sections not all can study well. This mindset should  change, said he and insisted that the teachers should take upon themselves the goal of imparting education and knowledge to all the children and not just concentrate on making the better students shine and excel in studies.

It is only when there is a paradigm shift at the policy level whereby the focus on top-students should give way to the thought that it is our topmost priority and responsibility to make education accessible to one and all underprivileged children that ‘quality education’ can come within the reach of one and all of them, Mr.Balaji pointed out. When our goal remains to make the smart children shine better there will naturally be such poor learners, steadily being sidelined, he observed.

In all, the release function of ASER 2012 Report of Tamil Nadu Findings held in Chennai on the 8th of February, the venue being Music Academy proved an eye-opener in more than one way, so to say. It left wondering why the political parties claiming to be championing the cause of the have-nots and underprivileged continue to remain apathetic and indifferent to this unenviable situation prevailing in the realm of education.

 This Meet highlighted the significant role that can be played by the civil society in such an awareness campaign and the need for the powers-that-be as well as the civil society to become more active and pro-active in this area of imparting ‘quality education’ to the underprivileged children.

In conclusion, as for the ASER Report 2012 and the release function I have a few observations to make. Firstly, I wish it had included the city-based schools also in its study, for, as things stand today even the city-based government schools suffer from such incompetence. On the one hand there are tall claims about championing the cause of Tamil, but, in fact very little effort is being taken towards creating interest in learning the language. Even in private schools proficiency in reading and writing Tamil is not given the required attention and effort. There is no special attention given to students lagging in these areas.

What is worse, children who are not up to the mark in these areas are excluded in other areas of academic activities too such as computer-learning, playing chess etc., which make the children undergo a loss of self-esteem and suffer terrible psychological stress and strain.  Instead of creating in these children an interest in acquiring proficiency in language-learning and the capacity to understand what is being read, taught and written, these children are made to by-heart pages and pages which is but torture of the worst order. Further, these children face condemnation and exclusion at the hands of the teachers which add to their woes.

Go to any number of browsing centers and you won’t get Tamil fonts at all. Or, take the case of mobile phones.  How many youngsters suffer not being able to send smss.

Teachers’ salary in the Government Schools is not to be decried for it is the living wage. In fact, many private schools and schools run by NGOs do not pay the teachers this ‘living wage’ salary which is not proper. But, we can say that they should work and earn the salary and that appointment of teachers should be on merit basis and there should be no room for bribe and political influence in this.

As there is no examination up to 8th std, there should be some other means of assessing the  children’s learning skill periodically.

The Release Function could have been more inclusive with representatives of the rural parents, children, teachers too were present. And, more number of copies of the Report could have been made available and circulated to those present. By and large, the news coverage of the Report concentrated more on giving statistics and data of the Report  which is unfortunate.

Yet, weeks after leaving the Meeting Hall the million dollar question of Dr.Balaji Sampath born of deep anguish and concern keeps haunting: “Suppose we come to know that our child can’t read and write, can’t identify the alphabets how painful it would be and with what lightning speed we would have set forth to find a solution?”

ASER REPORT 2012 – Some important points to ponder with special reference to Tamil Nadu

ASER – 2012 Survey covered the whole of India, in its 16, 166 villages in 567 districts. Altogether 5,96,846 children were included in this Survey. When it comes to Tamil Nadu, 811 villages in its 28 districts have come under this Survey, with 22844 rural children included as  random samples.

690 volunteers from 21 NGOs the list of which is given below conducted this Survey from Tamil Nadu:

1]Award Trust 2] Foundation of His Sacred majesty 3] Gramodaya Social Service Society 4] Grass Roots Foundation 5] Institute of Human Rights Education 6] Jeeva Anbalayam Trust 7] Manitham Charitable Trust 8] NEEDS Trust 9] New Life – Villipuram 10] NEWS Trust 11] Nilam Trust 12] PRESS Trust 13] Raise India Trust 14] READ Trust 15] RIGHTS Trust 16] RWDT                   17] SODEWS 18] Udhavum Manasu Trust 19] Valarum Vandavasi 20] VEPADA 21] WORLD Trust.

In this Survey  rural children studying in Class I are given a paragraph in simple Tamil ad they are expected to read it fluently. Same way, Std 2 children are expected to read simple sentences in English and Std2 children are expected to solve 2 digit subtraction.

In the Evaluation Sheet-1 several alphabets and two-letter words are given in Tamil. In Evaluation Sheet-2 there is a ten-line story and t wo paragraphs comprising four lines each, in simple Tamil.

As per the findings from ASER 2012 Tamil Nadu reading, only 43.4% of children studying in Std 1 can recognize the letters from Tamil alphabets Only 43.6% of children in Std 2 can read simple Tamil words. Only 29.9% of children in Std 5 can read a story[Std 2 level text].

In India, the  percentage of children in Std 3-5 who can read a simple para has declined from 66.4% to 54% to 54% in the last 5 years.

In Tamil Nadu, the percentage of children in Std 3 - 5 who can read a simple para has declined from 49.2% to 48.9% over the last 5 years.

The Tamil Nadu levels have remained more or less the same [close to 40%] over the last 5 years.

Only 53.9% of children in Std I can recognize numerals from 1 to 9.
Only 54.2% of children in Std 2 can recognize numbers from 11 to 99.
Only 13.0% of children in Std 5 can do division problems.

In India, the percentage of children in Std 3 – 5 who can subtract has declined from 59.4% to 40.7% over the last 5 years.

In Tamil Nadu, the percentage of children in Std 3 – 5 who can subtract has declined from 43% to 38.6% over the last 5 years.

In Tamil Nadu, only 57.1% of children in Std 5 who can read simple English words.


With regard to right to Education[RTE] Norms:-

_In Tamil Nadu, a higher percentage of Schools confirm to various norms of Schools confirm to various norm specified in RTE Act.

The percentage of Schools with usable toilets for girls has gone up from 35.1% in 2010 to 62.2% in 2012, and is well above the All-India average.

[*detailed Reports can be accessed at www.asercentre.org].



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