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The longer students get school education the worse they can do, seems to be a brutal fact, going by the National Achievement Survey 2021. This large-scale assessment of Classes 3,5,8 and 10 conducted last November shows that average performance keeps declining up the class ladder. The average math score for example declines from 57% to 44%, 36% and 32%. Scores not only trend down as children go to higher classes, they have also come down in general since the last survey in 2017. The Class 3 national average of math scores which is 57% now, was 64% then.
One commonsensical explanation is that the higher the class the more complex the subject matter, and therefore more the need for advanced pedagogic skills to deliver lessons effectively. Without appropriate support and training, teachers will fall even more out of step with senior students’ learning levels and needs. But how much of all this is the pandemic effect? While 25% of sampled schools do suffer from lack of parental support in student learning, and 28% of sampled students lack access to digital devices at home, the key metric is that a thumping 80% say that they learn better in school where peers are there to help. Almost perversely, an impressive 97% of teachers report job satisfaction, quite out of step with teaching outcomes.
A closer analysis of scattered success stories is needed, to replicate them. For example, it’s important to find out how Punjab students race ahead in every class and subject – averaging 46% in Class X science compared to the 35% national average. The pandemic caught teachers as unawares as anybody else. Many of them were leery of digital tools. But the NAS survey is pointing to a problem that is above and beyond specific pandemic challenges, particularly as it is designed to assess competency-based skills rather than rote learning. Young Indians’ future-readiness is at stake here.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.