*India’s dipping learning levels | Deccan Herald

Clipped from: https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/in-perspective/indias-dipping-learning-levels-1124732.html

The 2021 survey reported an average learning level of 59 per cent in grade 3; 49 per cent in grade 5; 42 per cent in grade 8 and 36 per cent in grade 10

Credit: DH Photo

The recently published National Achievement Survey (NAS) revealed a nation-wide decline in students’ learning levels across all grades and subjects tested. The survey was administered November 12, 2021 to over 3.4 million students across various school types. NAS is specifically designed to diagnose the health of the education system. It does so by testing students on a few of the learning outcomes prescribed by NCERT for each grade and subject. These learning outcomes are selected from grades 3, 5, 8 and 10 in key subjects — language and mathematics (across all grades), EVS (grades 3 and 5), science and social science (grades 8 and 10). 

The 2021 survey reported an average learning level of 59 per cent in grade 3; 49 per cent in grade 5; 42 per cent in grade 8 and 36 per cent in grade 10. This shows a trend of steady decline in learning level as one moves from lower grades to higher grades. Such a trend is also observed for all subjects across all grades — for instance there is a whopping 25 percentage point difference in mathematics scores from grades 3 to 10.  

It is important to note that only a subset of learning outcomes gets assessed in NAS, typically those which can be tested through a pen and paper test. So, at any given point of time, the results reveal student performance on a small proportion of what students at a particular grade or subject should have learnt.

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The actual learning of the student as per grade level expectations might be much lower than the average scores released by NAS.

To illustrate, in grade 3 language, two out of the 14 learning outcomes get assessed. These primarily focus on reading comprehension. An average score of 59 per cent at the national level demonstrates student learning on 15 per cent of the expected outcomes. There is a vast 85 per cent of the outcome that remains untested – on which student learning may be equally low. 

The results look grimmer in comparison to the pervious cycles of NAS. Compared to NAS 2017, there is a decline in learning levels across grades 3, 5, 8 & 10 for all subjects. This drop is evidently attributed to the pandemic-induced interruption to student learning and the ineffective online education.

The study ‘Loss of learning during the Pandemic’ conducted by Azim Premji University clearly revealed that a majority of school-going children have not only not had any significant learning, but have also suffered learning loss, or ‘academic regression’ or the phenomenon of forgetting previously learned concepts.

The NAS data for 2021 also shows that average scores in primary stages have dipped more as compared to upper primary and secondary stages. Decline in primary level scores is a worrying trend as the learning deficit may pile up as students move to higher grades and may result in compounding existing learning gaps. 

Remedial measures

The drop in NAS scores from 2017 is clearly due to students having learnt less and lost many foundation abilities during the pandemic. There is an urgent need to reverse this learning/academic regression.

Now, as schools begin to reopen, the actual loss of learning with respect to each student needs to be assessed by their teachers.

Meanwhile, all these students have progressed to higher grades with much higher level of learning expectations. So, the whole education system is facing this daunting task of how to go about planning teaching-learning process when a grade 3 student finds himself in grade 5 but with learning levels of a grade 2 or grade 1, considering the learning loss of some of the abilities that this child might have acquired before the lockdown began. This requires a very thoughtful and planned approach both at systemic as well as teacher level.

Strategies must be devised to recover this learning loss. A reconfigured curriculum should be developed to address the foundational literacy and numeracy abilities along with other learning outcomes that are weakest among students. There should be flexibility given to teachers in choosing the appropriate textbooks and other teaching-learning methods as per the learning levels of their students. Systematic efforts should be made towards improving the reading and writing abilities of students.

There should be no pressure on schools to complete the grade-specific syllabus; the focus should instead be on tracking the progression of students as per the learning loss.

During this phase of recovery, high stakes summative examinations must be totally avoided — assessments should be diagnostic and ongoing; it should be seen as a tool to help teachers in supporting their students’ learning and bring students back on the learning path.

(The writers are faculty at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru)

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