Yella not OK, guru. Nanna makkalu is not learning

NIKHIL MORO writes from Mount Pleasant, Michigan: Why do our English newspapers and nouveau cool television channels seem to give short shrift to village affairs when nearly three-fourths of Indians live in the villages?

Take, for example, the abysmal media coverage of a national learning study released by the non-profit Pratham on January 17. Conducted across 16,000 villages, Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report for 2007, a unique and comprehensive survey of rural schools, measures the relationship between learning and attending school.

The study, supported by private and high-profile donors like Google and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, represents a trendy partnership between the collective and the corporate. But that’s where the good news ends.

For starters, co-author Wilima Wadhwa, a University of California Irvine-trained economist, makes an intriguing comment: “A survey of learning has never [before] been done in India.”

If true, Dr. Wadhwa’s claim means governments in India have never tried to ascertain if school students were actually learning something–which should numb us, for the unaccounted spending and for the cynicism of welfare politics.

Overall, the study’s finds are damning. In the fifth standard, 4 out of 10 could not read text; and at the second standard level, 7 out of 10 could not subtract.

In particular, the highlights of the survey for Karnataka are depressing, bisi oota notwithstanding:

# Nearly three-fourths of rural eighth standard students could not do basic subtraction, and nearly half could not do basic division.

# Nearly a quarter of eighth standard students could not read simple Kannada text from a second-standard textbook.

# Only 7.4 per cent of students in standards 3 through 5 could read a sentence in English–the proportion compares very unfavorably with that in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Maharashtra and Goa.

# Among 15-16 year olds, 17.8 per cent of boys and 17.4 per cent of girls were not even enrolled in school. Also 3.5 per cent of children 6-14 years were not enrolled in school. (The last figure suggests we may be way off in eradicating illiteracy.)

# Fewer than half of the schools had all teachers present on the day of the survey. Some 86.5 per cent of appointed teachers were attending on the day of the researchers’ visit compared to 78 per cent in 2005.

# The number of enrolled children actually attending dropped to 75.8 in 2007 from 78.1 in 2005. A little more than two-thirds of the schools had 75 per cent of enrolled students actually attending. The median teacher-student ratio for standards 1 through 8 based on children enrolled and teachers appointed was 32:1.

# Nearly a fifth of the schools had no provision for water. Also 71.8 per cent schools had “usable” water in 2007, down from 74.7 per cent in 2005. Only 73.2 per cent of schools had toilets that were open for use.# Almost all of the schools–98.6 per cent–had a mid-day meal prepared and served on the day of the survey.

# A little more than a tenth of Karnataka’s rural students between 6-14 years are enrolled in private school—a proportion much less than that in neighboring states.

Pratham’s method used sampling by “probability proportionate to size”. One government primary school was sampled in each village visited. Twenty households in 30 villages–in all 600 households–were selected in each of India’s districts. The villages were randomly selected using the village directory of the 2001 census as the sampling frame. In each selected household all children in the age group of 6-14 were tested for reading, comprehension, addition, subtraction, and English reading.

Churumuri readers might want to discuss the study’s findings. In general, politicians might want to scrutinise the Pratham report as they prepare party manifestos for the forthcoming 2008 elections to the Vidhan Sabhas in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland, as well as, if L.K. Advani’s estimate is legitimate, to the Lok Sabha.

Photograph: courtesy Ruth Fremson/ The New York Times

Also read: Can Azim Premji do that the government can’t/ won’t?

SOMINI SENGUPTA: Education push yields little for India’s poor

Watch the New York Times slideshow here

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13 Responses to “Yella not OK, guru. Nanna makkalu is not learning”

  1. H.R.Bapu Satyanarayana Says:

    Though I am one of the regular donors, the report comes as a rude shock and certainly serves as a wake up call. It calls for some probing questions to find out why and what has gone wrong. May be Mysore has a different story to tell for I know in Mysore there are good and earnest persons involved. But I believe goodness is no substitute for some really purposeful results. To continue to donate if no effective methods are thought of to stop the slide would be misplaced charity. Thanks Nikhil Moro

  2. Aatmasakshi Says:

    Far too many of Churumuri’s contributors find it too easy to knock the English media. In this, they only reveal their own little biases. What was the mighty Kannada media doing when the plight of their future readers was being shown up in such poor light by the Pratham survey? Apeing their English peers and showcasing Anil Kumble’s exploits and front-paging film reviews!

    That said, should anybody shocked at these numbers? All the talk in our media is of IIT and IIM products striking it big, and IT and BT guys making oodles of money. The condition of schools, the truancy of teachers, the primitive textbooks and antiquated teaching techniques, the corruption in recruitment and transfers, the inefficiency of teachers, etc, are all buried or unknown to the powers that be in Bangalore.

    Karnataka Rakshana Vedike seems to be on the ball. It knows that a vast majority of Kannadigas are being schooled only for D category posts, and it is making sure that there are some jobs left for them. What a fall for the land of Sir M. Visweshwariah.

  3. Yella Ok Says:

    AS – I think you are confusing the issue. Just because someone says something against English media does not mean that that someone finds no fault with other media. So, is your point that one should not criticise English Media. Whether one likes it or not, Churumuri is a great platform to highlight the malaise of English media – for example, news editors of CNN IBN read it regularly and claim ideas from here as their own (the Bharat ratna story on CNN IBN was a copy of the story here). So, is there a better platform than this to highlight malaise of English media. Pls feel free to criticise Kannada media with the right intent. No one stops you. But dont doubt the intentions of people who question the intentions of English media. It is not this v/s that. It is this AND that.

  4. Sathya Says:

    Guru, bari iskool baidu prayojna illa, manenaage appa-amma osi odisbeku. Appa kuDdu malgi,avva bari Tv noDta iddare aaythada..samajaddu javabdari aayte, bisiooTa aakbuTTu maga manikko antha andre magu nidde maaDthade, mestru paatre toLdu, kelean maaDi, matte naaLege thayaari maDkothairbeku, allavra. uniporm aaki, skool thaava biTTu bandre nammakelsa aytu ankobaardu, Guru.

  5. Aryabhata Says:

    This seems really odd:

    “…Nearly three-fourths of rural eighth standard students could not do basic subtraction, and nearly half could not do basic division.”

    25% of them could do basic subtraction. But 50% of the same could do basic division. Always felt the concept of division is harder to understand than subtraction.

    May be the question (material) used to test might throw light.

  6. babuds Says:

    I think rural Indians are treated by our governments as second / third rate citizens. Surveys by Pratham or Mathyam end as surveys only, if they are not linked to socio economic factors and analyzed accordingly.

    “The number of enrolled children actually attending dropped to 75.8 in 2007 from 78.1 in 2005. …”

    In my opinion, this is the most important finding of the survey, which shows that our rural citizens have finally seen through the bluff and sham of the third rate education dished out to them by successive governments. As Atmasakshi rightly pointed out this kind of education can at best make the children eligible for a D category post in a dingy government outpost, which are hard to get anyway. The ruralites have found the futility of such education and no wonder they are turning their children away from it. An illiterate migrant mason can earn Rs 300 to Rs 500 a day, compared to a rural PUC/BA pass candidate toiling in an SME for Rs 2500 or less per month in a city like Bangalore.

    Our 60 year old education system continues to exclude 75% of our nation’s children, without any qualms.

  7. Kadana Kuthuhala Says:

    Nice more or less explains the little or no participation of karnatakans in almost all walks of life imaginable…

  8. Gokulam 3rd Stage Says:

    We don’t need surveys like this to tell us that our primary education sucks. Education policy in our country has been very top heavy – invest in higher education but ignore the basics.

    However, we do need surveys like this to quantify how much it sucks. Let’s focus on that instead of confusing issues with English/Kannada media etc.

  9. Sanjeev N Says:

    Karnataka lacks especially in primary education compared to our brethren from the surrounding states it’s a shame. I wish our politicians would realize being corrupt doesn’t mean they can be derelict to this extent. God save Karnataka!

  10. mallig Says:

    Nikhil, thank you for writing on this issue. The statistics for karnataka is really sad.
    I am disappointed with the kind of discussion that is going on for this particular post. Why don’t we come up with some alternatives to solve the problem instead of limiting our discussion to analysis?

  11. Mysore Boy Says:

    Incongruity in Governor Rameshwar Thakur’s Republic Day address?

    “Mr Thakur said presently 2,386 rural schools have drinking water facilities, and the remaining 4,741 schools will also be covered within the next two months.”

    (Deccan Herald report:

  12. Hyatesh Khan Desouza Says:

    Well, the pratham report isn’t the first of its kind for sure. National Institute of Advanced Studies: (NIAS) has done and released its base-line study on quality of learning in schools in Chamarajanagar and that too way back in 2006. Check out Vidyankura, their District Quality Education Program for details if interested. I am sure the NIAS work itself wasn’t the first.

    Offcourse, the results of that study were no different. The only interesting thing there was that government school kids were better than private school kids and nobody understood the kannada taught at schools.

    By the way, with all due respect, why does Churumuri give so much leverage for (only) Pratham anyway?

  13. prayaani Says:

    If PRatham shows so much concern for rural education, why did the head of this organisation quit the National Advisort council after a short stiint? the way to work, to improve the state education system, is to make sweeping changes, that NAC, did provise. why such prima-donna like impatince with theways of govt.? We all cant eat our cake and have it too. NGO thou art and NGO will remain, hand-wrinig o nthe sidelines.

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