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Quality of school education has gone down considerably

Shankkar Aiyar

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It takes a visiting dignitary to call a crisis by its name. Speaking at the 2016 Transforming India Lecture Series, then Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore Tharman Shanmugaratnam told a packed audience, which included Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “I have to say, and I would like to repeat, I say this as a friend. Schools are the biggest crisis in India today, and have been for a long time. Schools are the biggest gap between India and East Asia. And it is a situation that cannot be justified.”

It is true that India has succeeded in boosting enrolment and reducing the number of children out of school. But it’s equally true that quantity is not accompanied by the quality of education. The very visible deterioration in the quality of education is threatening to convert what is envisaged as a demographic dividend into a disaster. The spectre is manifest in the numbers released by government reports — the data from non-governmental surveys.

The fundamental principle about public policy is that what gets measured gets done. In India, it doesn’t quite play out. The Government of India collects data on school education. The District Information System of Education (DISE) provides this across 121 tables — data on 1.45 million primary and upper-primary schools and over 2.5 lakh secondary and higher-secondary schools. However, as the World Bank’s World Development Report, 2018, commented, “Of the 980 data points reported, none covers student learning,” and that this “omission can make it difficult to track interventions to improve learning”.

The government’s National Achievement Survey (NAS) 2015 — which covered 2.2 million students from Classes 3, 4 and 8 across 1.10 lakh schools — says this: “Overall Class 5 students in thirty-four states/union territories were able to correctly answer 45 per cent of reading comprehension items, 46 per cent of mathematics items and 50 per cent environmental studies.” What doesn’t get said is that more than half of the students could not spell. The NAS, comprehensive as it may be in its width of coverage, does not convey the depth of failure. An annual dose of reality about India’s state of education comes from Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER, which means ‘impact’ in Hindi), which focuses on the attainment of education of children of ages between five and sixteen. The 2016 survey included 5.6 lakh children from 3.5 lakh households across 17,473 villages in 589 districts. The findings of the survey are mind-numbing.

 Nearly three quarters of students in Class III could not read Class II texts and just over 27 per cent could do a two-digit subtraction. Less than half the children in Class V could read Class II texts and fared far worse in arithmetic. Barely 21 per cent could do division, 23.3 could do subtraction but no division, 32 per cent knew numbers but couldn’t do subtraction and a shocking 18.7 per cent knew numbers till nine but not till ninety-nine. What should send shock waves is the stark observation by Madhav Chavan in the 2014 Pratham report: “A hundred million children have gone through the schools in the last decade without basic reading and math skills.”

The 2017 ASER report looked at the level of preparedness of those completing eight years of schooling and those aged between 14 and 18 in terms of activity, ability, awareness and aspirations. A fourth of them could not read basic text fluently in their own language and more than half struggled with the division of a three-digit number by a single digit. Of those surveyed, one in four could not count money, just over half could add weights correctly. While 83 per cent could tell the time in hours, only 60 per cent got the minutes right. When showed the map of India, while 79 per cent could say the name of their state, only 42 per cent could point it out on the map.

The 2018 ASER report looked at reading and math abilities of students over a ten-year period, between 2008 and 2018. It’s as much about the inadequacy of teaching as it is about the learning. For instance, in 2008, the survey found that 38.8 per cent of Class III students could do subtraction. In 2018, only 28.1 per cent could. The decline is similar among higher age groups. Among Class V students, as against 37 per cent of students in 2008, only 27.8 per cent of them could do a simple exercise in division. The ability of Class VIII students to read Class II texts went from 84.8 per cent to 72.8 per cent.

The disparity in teaching and learning across states is, in itself, shocking. In Rajasthan, only 8.1 per cent of Class III students attending government schools could subtract compared with 44.7 per cent in Kerala. Barely 12.3 per cent of students in Class III in Uttar Pradesh could read Class II texts compared to 47.4 per cent in Himachal Pradesh. Similarly, 71 per cent of Class VIII students in Mizoram could do simple division compared to 28.7 in West Bengal. The difference between government and privately managed primary schools is also to be noted. Only one in five, or 20.9 per cent, of students in Class V could read Class 2 texts compared to 39.8 per cent in private schools. Similarly, 54.2 per cent of students in Class 8 in private schools could do division compared to 44.1 in government schools.

Government schools need not be bad, and Kendriya Vidyalayas prove the point. Kendriya Vidyalayas are the jewels in the troubled crown of government schools. Started in 1963 to enable children of Central government employees and members of armed forces posted in remote locations to access education, the over 1,200 KVs are under the Central Board of Secondary Education. They represent an idea of what could have been.

The writer is a political economy analyst. The article has been an excerpt from Aiyar’s book ‘The Gated Republic’ (HarperCollins).

Educationally Speaking

HIRING ACTIVITY RISES 24% IN SEPT 2020 VERSUS A MONTH BEFORE

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Hiring activity in India rose by 24% in September 2020 as compared to August 2020, as seen in the Naukri JobSpeak Index. At 1755, the job index marked a great improvement of 24% in September as against 1413 in August after the sharp drop in April 2020 due to Covid-19. “The last quarter has seen significant uptick in the hiring activity, growing at 14% compared to 8% decline in AMJ’ 20. While the hiring is yet to touch last year levels and is down by 23% in Sept’20 versus Sept’19 but this is also a marked recovery from a 35%-60% decline that we have witnessed in the last few months,” Pawan Goyal, Chief Business Officer, Naukri.com The 24% M-O-M growth is being propelled by industries like Pharma (+44%), FMCG (+43%), Education/Teaching (+41%) and IT (+32%). Further opening up of the economy with unlock measures and increased mobility has led to an improvement in hiring activities in industries like Real Estate (+44%), Auto/Ancillary (+29%) and Hospitality/Travel (+48%) versus August’20.

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Educationally Speaking

‘78% PARENTS NOT WILLING TO SEND KIDS TO SCHOOLS TILL COVID-19 OVER’

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The Unlock 5.0 guidelines allow schools in different states to reopen from 15 October depending on the state government’s decision, but as per a study by SP Robotics Works from last month named ‘Kids under Covid’, 78% parents are ready to skip a school year, but not ready to send their children to school during the Covid-19 pandemic. With a sudden transition to online learning and prolonged screen time with no outdoor play and limited social interaction, the long-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown on children’s mental and physical health remains dubious. To arrive at the insights of this survey, SP Robotic Works conducted a survey over the month of July and August among 3600 parents and an equal number of children in the age group of 7-17 years

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Educationally Speaking

ARMY JOBS: 191 SSC OFFICER POSTS VACANT, APPLY NOW

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Indian Army has invited applications for SSC Officer posts. Candidates who are interested can apply at joinindianarmy.nic.in. The number of positions vacant positions is 191 posts. Candidates can apply till November 12, 2020. Unmarried male and unmarried female engineering graduates, final-year engineering students can apply. The course will start in April 2021 at Officers Training Academy (OTA), Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Opening date of application is 14 October, 202, while closing date of application is 12 November 2020. Candidates will be put through two-stage selection procedure. Those who clear Stage-1 will go to Stage-2. Those who fail in Stage-1 will be returned on the same day.

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Educationally Speaking

JAMIA HAMDARD ADMISSIONS: REGISTRATION DATE EXTENDED

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Jamia Hamdard has extended the last date to fill and submit the online admission form to 25 October. Earlier, the last date of application form 2020 submission was 20 September. Candidates who wish to take admissions to UG and PG courses offered by the university can fill the Jamia Hamdard application form 2020 till the new extended deadline. Candidates must note that they also have to upload their qualifying examination mark sheet while filling the application form. Students who have passed class 12th exam can apply for its UG courses while those having a bachelor’s degree can apply for its PG courses. Aspirants can apply for admission to the university online at jamiahamdard.edu. This year, the admission process has been delayed due to the ongoing pandemic situation. The admission form submission deadline was extended as there were many students who were seeking admissions in engineering and diploma courses but were not able to fill out the forms timely

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Educationally Speaking

EDUCATION MINISTER INAUGURATES NEW NIT ROURKELA BUILDING

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Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ inaugurated the newly built Golden Jubilee Building of NIT Rourkela, Odisha, on Tuesday through a virtual platform. Speaking at the occasion he said that NIT Rourkela is a premier institution of our country and has been producing the best brains for the country. The newly constructed NIT Rourkela building is a symbol of the varsity’s prestige. Pokhriyal said that institutions like NIT Rourkela have a very important role to play in the implementation of the New Educational Policies (NEP). The minister also added the building amplifies the glory of Rourkela city as it is one of the tallest buildings around. The magnificent structure is indeed metaphorically and geographically, ‘the heart of NIT Rourkela’, added Pokhriyal. The minister also highlighted that the vision of having this building will fulfill one of the essential mottos of the Institute to enhance efficiency in the administrative functioning and amalgamate technology with this process to make it more people-friendly.

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ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN THE TIME OF A PANDEMIC

Narendra Shyamsukha

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The Covid-19 pandemic has turned out to be the most significant disruptive event witnessed by this generation. From mainstreaming remote working, cutting global travel to a comprehensive digital shift, the outbreak has changed the way businesses are executed. This transformational effect is not momentary; it is significant and is here to stay.

One of the most notable elements of this transformation is the way organisations have been forced to embrace digital marketing to be able to survive the crisis. As traditional marketing strategies stand curtailed due to the pandemic, businesses have moved quickly to embrace digital marketing and transform the way they attract and engage customers and clients.

As most people still stay indoors, malls and roads stand deserted, there has been a shift to a space where businesses and customers interact less physically and more through the online route. Digital services providers will tell you how there has been a surge in organisations seeking to create new websites or update existing ones, creating elaborate social media campaigns and launching new e-commerce channels. Intelligent content creation and SEO are other elements that are receiving a fresh focus from companies. Truth be told, organisations that embrace this transformation quickly and more comprehensively are the ones that are more likely to survive as compared to those who are resistant to change.

Here are some more changing phases of entrepreneurship are adjusting the “new normal”:

THE AGE OF WEBINARS

As live conferences and face to face engagement activities take a backset, organizations are working out new ways to engage with customers. Webinars have emerged as a very popular way of achieving digital thought leadership and getting quality leads. At the same time, customer engagement is also taking place with these digital discussions. That’s why there is a sea of webinars everywhere to spread the message. Even when the crisis ebbs, people are likely to continue to conduct a part of their thought-leadership events through webinars as more and more people realize that they serve the same purpose at a fraction of the cost. Webinars that have now filled the gap of traditional conferences are likely to become a mainstream marketing strategy in the new normal.

INCREASED USAGE OF DATA ANALYTICS

In a digital age, data analytics has always been a valuable proposition. However, as organizations increase their digital presence, the importance of creating useful databases has only increased. With more people spending longer time on social media, their chances of seeing ads on such platforms or coming in touch with content marketing blogs are greater. This is why organisations now need to create valuable databases, analyse them and use this information intelligently to reach out to the target audience. Tracking pattern of consumer behavior, tracking online traffic patterns, analysing which content retains the customer, and getting a break up of which products are enticing what type of customers are essential elements of data analytics that organizations need to use more to boost their online sales.

CONTENT IS THE KING

Businesses must focus on expanding social media presence by creating intelligent and attractive content. With the shift from outbound marketing to inbound marketing, it becomes essential to engage consumers in subjects they might find interesting. However, it is important to understand that content distributed on social media should not be totally promotional in nature as it kills consumer interest. Your content must be knowledge and awareness-based. It must engage consumers emotionally through human interest stories rather than blatantly promoting your product.

The writer is founder & chairman, ICA Edu Skills.

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