Karela Fry

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Educating India

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Two weeks ago the prime minister addressed the Indian Science Congress to say that it was a pity that China had overtaken India in the science race. Those of us close to children in school cringed at the banality of this statement. A country where a school teacher’s job is to mark out the sections of a text book which can be skipped for exams should introspect about education when comparing itself to another in which the five largest universities are dedicated to teaching teachers.

School education is the most important part of education, but it is unglamorous. We never see Kapil Sibal talk about it. There were no talk shows on education until TOI reported:

Fifteen-year-old Indians who were put, for the first time, on a global stage stood second to last, only beating Kyrgyzstan when tested on their reading, math and science abilities.

India ranked second last among the 73 countries that participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), conducted annually to evaluate education systems worldwide by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Secretariat. The survey is based on two-hour tests that half a million students are put through.

China’s Shanghai province, which participated in PISA for the first time, scored the highest in reading. It also topped the charts in mathematics and science.

“More than one-quarter of Shanghai’s 15 year olds demonstrated advanced mathematical thinking skills to solve complex problems, compared to an OECD average of just 3%,” noted the analysis.

The states of Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh, showpieces for education and development, were selected by the central government to participate in PISA, but their test results were damning.

Even now the few things that appeared in the media completely bypassed the actual report, and the state of elementary education in India. It is depressing reading. The press release on the PISA website reads:

Himachal Pradesh-India

  • The average reading literacy score for Himachal Pradesh-India was the lowest average reading score observed in PISA 2009 and PISA 2009+, along with that of Kyrgyzstan.
  • In Himachal Pradesh-India, 11% of students are estimated to have a proficiency in reading literacy that is at or above the baseline needed to participate effectively and productively in life. It follows that 89% of students in Himachal Pradesh-India are estimated to be below this baseline level. This compares to 81% of student performing at or above the baseline level in reading in the OECD countries, on average.
  • In Himachal Pradesh-India, students attained an average score on the mathematical literacy scale statistically the same as observed in Tamil Nadu-India and Kyrgyzstan. 12% of students are proficient in mathematics at least to the baseline level at which they begin to demonstrate the kind of skills that enable them to use mathematics in ways that are considered fundamental for their future development. This compares to 75% in the OECD countries, on average.
  • Himachal Pradesh-India’s students were estimated to have an average score on the scientific literacy scale which is below the means of all OECD countries. This was the lowest average science score observed in PISA 2009 and PISA 2009+, along with that of Kyrgyzstan.
  • Himachal Pradesh-India’s students were estimated to have an average score on the scientific literacy scale which is below the average of all OECD countries. 11% of students are proficient in science at least to the baseline level at which they begin to demonstrate the science competencies that will enable them to participate actively in life situations related to science and technology. This compares to 82% in the OECD countries, on average.


Tamil Nadu-India

  • Students in Tamil Nadu-India attained an average score on the PISA reading literacy scale that is significantly higher than those for Himachal Pradesh-India and Kyrgyzstan, but lower than all other participants in PISA 2009 and PISA 2009+.
  • In Tamil Nadu-India, 17% of students are estimated to have a proficiency in reading literacy that is at or above the baseline needed to participate effectively and productively in life. This means that 83% of students in Tamil Nadu-India are estimated to be below this baseline level. This compares to 81% of student performing at or above the baseline level in reading in the OECD countries, on average.
  • Students in the Tamil Nadu-India attained a mean score on the PISA mathematical literacy scale as the same observed in Himachal Pradesh-India, Panama and Peru. This was significantly higher than the mean observed in Kyrgyzstan but lower than those of other participants in PISA 2009 and PISA 2009+.
  • In Tamil Nadu-India, 15% of students are proficient in mathematics at least to the baseline level at which they begin to demonstrate the kind of skills that enable them to use mathematics in ways that are considered fundamental for their future development. This compares to 75% in the OECD countries, on average. In Tamil Nadu-India, there was no statistically significant difference in the performance of boys and girls in mathematical literacy.
  • Students in Tamil Nadu-India were estimated to have a mean score on the scientific literacy scale, which is below the means of all OECD countries, but significantly above the mean observed in the other Indian state, Himachal Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu-India, 16% of students are proficient in science at least to the baseline level at which they begin to demonstrate the science competencies that will enable them to participate actively in life situations related to science and technology. This compares to 82% in the OECD countries, on average. In Tamil Nadu-India, there was a statistically significant gender difference in scientific literacy, favouring girls.

There is only one solution: take time and trouble. Train teachers well. Pay them well. Why is an elementary school teacher’s pay not on par with the highest bureaucrat’s? Pay for schools too. Spend 1% of the GDP on elementary education for the next 20 years. When students of that generation enter the economy the costs will be recovered. Parents have that kind of planning horizon. Can they force governments to do the same?

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2 Responses

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  1. 90% of the Tamil Nadu population is eligible for affirmative action quota and by definition, these are the low IQ castes and hence no surprise of their low performance

    ShanB

    February 17, 2012 at 2:32 am

    • Oh my! Haven’t heard something so medieval in years.

      Arhopala Bazaloides

      February 17, 2012 at 2:50 am


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