Monday, October 31, 2011

Inside Primary Schools: A Study of Teaching and Learning in Rural India*

The report titled: Inside Primary Schools: A Study of Teaching and Learning in Rural India, which was prepared by ASER Centre ( in collaboration with UNICEF and UNESCO was released by Prof. R Govinda, Vice Chancellor, National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi on 28 October, 2011.

In her introduction, Dr. Rukmini Banerji, Director-Programs and senior member of Pratham's national leadership team said that the present report is based on a longitudinal study and covers government primary schools. The present report looks deeper into the problems associated with learning outcomes unlike the previous reports that used to be much wider and larger in their scope. She acknowledged UNICEF and UNESCO for their support.

Suman Bhattacharjea of Pratham explained the salient features of the report to the audience. She informed that although there are more children in schools now but they are not learning well. The present study builds on the School Teachers Effectiveness and Learning Levels of Students (SchoolTELLS) methodology and approach in a number of ways. The SchoolTELLS study done by Dr. Geeta Kingdon of the Institute of Education, carried out in 2007–08, was an in-depth, comprehensive study of 160 private and government primary schools across 10 districts in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which explored a variety of village, teacher, student, and household characteristics along with different dimensions of functioning of schools, organization of classrooms, use of time etc. About the methodology part, Suman told that 5 states i.e. Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan were purposively selected. Within each state, 3 districts were purposively selected. In each district 60 government schools with primary sections were sampled, and up to 25 students from Std 2 and another 25 from Std 4 were then randomly sampled from the enrollment registers of each of these schools. She noted that most schools have less than 25 children. The sample size for the survey: 24,000 households, 1,700 classrooms, 29,000 children, 900 schools and 2,200 teachers.

At the heart of this study is an assessment of learning outcomes in language and mathematics for a large cohort of almost 30,000 Std 2 and Std 4 students randomly selected from the enrollment registers of government schools in five states across the country. Of this cohort, about 22,000 students were administered both a baseline achievement test in the period September-November 2009 and an endline test in the period September–November 2010. The two tests were thus administered roughly one calendar year apart but spanned two academic years, meaning that by the time the endline test was administered children had moved into Std 3 and Std 5.

Suman Bhattacharjea said that usual assumptions about ‘age-appropriate grade’ and ‘grade-appropriate learning levels’ do not match ground reality. In the real world, children vary in age, ability level and availability of learning support outside school. Although ASER Centre's research showed that children’s learning levels improved over the course of a year, in every state most children are at least two grades below the level of proficiency assumed by their textbooks. Teachers’ ability to teach matters. But educational and professional qualifications do not guarantee effective teaching. Neither higher educational qualifications nor more teachers’ training are associated with better student learning. Nor are teacher background characteristics such as age, gender, or experience. What does matter is teachers’ ability to teach. Teaching capability include: content knowledge, ability to spot common mistakes, ability to explain textbook content in simple language or in easy steps and ability to create questions or activities for children. Teachers understand the importance of ‘child friendly’ practices. But classrooms are not child friendly at all. Suman concluded that teaching and learning are misaligned in Indian schools.

Prof. R Govinda appreciated the effort made by ASER Centre in bringing out the results of the interim study. He informed that ASER Centre is known for bringing out the annual reports, the first of which came out in 2005. He said that Human Development Reports, which used to be released enthusiastically in earlier days, are now released in a complacent manner. The Inside Primary Schools report by ASER Centre explains what happens to children who are in school. The Right to Free and Compulsory Education (henceforth RTE) has sanctified and legitimized age-grade framework, which is based on certain assumptions such as: average age of a particular class is same; children of the same age have the same educational capabilities. The report deconstructs these myths. There should not be the same curriculum for a particular class across India. Curriculum should be prepared according to the need of the community. Little research has taken place on student absenteeism in classes. The report finds that language capabilities of teachers are poorer than their mathematical capabilities. Only 15 percent of trained teachers could pass Central Teacher Eligibility Test.

Prof. Govinda said that the government should focus on teachers. He informed that pre-service teacher education has frozen since 1990s. Although in-service teacher training packages of 7/ 10 days are there, they are not making much impact. Most schools are not aware about RTE. Revolution regarding education is happening at Shastri Bhawan and not at schools. Input orientation is the focus of government now. The RTE is not doing anything different from Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. If more schools start working and teachers start teaching, then more money is required. The UPA 2 may reduce spending on NREGS and SSA since the government is facing cash crunch. A critical mass of empirical studies is required to make dent on policies. India is research starved in the field of education.

Karin Hulshof, UNICEF Representative for India said that UNICEF is proudly associated with the present study titled: Inside Primary Schools. She demanded that schooling should be converted into learning. She read out the key findings of the report prepared by ASER Centre. She said that 20 percent of children surveyed are first generation school goers. Less than half of all households have any print material available, so children do not have materials to read at home. Children whose home language is different than the school language of instruction learn less. Child-friendly practices, such as students asking questions, using local examples to explain lessons, small group work, have a significant impact on children’s learning. She urged that textbooks should undergo revisions.

Wilima Wadhwa, statistician, ASER Centre informed that the ASER 2011 is in the field.

During the panel discussion session, Prof. Michael Walton, Harvard University, USA while appreciating the report titled Inside Primary Schools mentioned that people are more concerned about learning outcomes and not quality of infrastructure, qualification of teachers etc. There is difference between what is being expected from school children and what is being achieved by them. Student absenteeism, which requires more research, is a bigger problem than teacher absenteeism. Correlation between child attendance and outcomes is observed by the present study. Incidence of child friendliness is low in Indian schools. Teachers know about child friendly practices but they don’t practice it. Effort made at home influences learning outcomes. Educational levels of families are generally low across the sample.

Vimala Ramachandran, ERU Consultants Pvt. Ltd. (, New Delhi stated that methodologically the report titled Inside Primary Schools is a good study. Teaching and learning at classes 1 and 2 are not happening properly. In 1/4th of the classes, teachers are present to teach for 30 minutes. Average time devoted by teachers is 10-15 minutes per class. Teacher training regime is a big scam. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan teacher training regime needs to be questioned. Corruption debate should cover the education sector as well. Training on demand for teachers should be at place. It has been wrongly assumed that people outside the education sector are trying to privatize research. Larger educational institutions funded by the government are not in sync with the reality. There is a huge gap between policy and practice. The cumulative burden of non-learning on the part of teachers is on the high and is detrimental to education.

Dr. Sharada Jain, Sandhan, Jaipur said that teachers can hugely benefit from the study titled: Inside Primary Schools prepared by ASER Centre. By going through the findings of the report, the teachers can know themselves. The report points out that there is diversity among children in a particular class. The stereotype of libraries needs to be broken. Additional reading material should be available at the classrooms. In India, teachers are assumed as conduits for attaining certain objectives. But this has not worked successfully. It is required to think what motivates the teachers to do things differently. The main question to be asked to teachers in Central Teacher Eligibility Test is whether they like being with children. She opposed the idea of having the same type of textbook for a particular class across India.

* Based on the minutes taken during the report release event as well as the content of the report titled Inside Primary Schools 

Photo courtesy: The Hindu

Further readings:

Policy Brief-Inside Primary Schools: Teaching and Learning in Rural India,

Press Release-Inside Primary Schools: Teaching and Learning in Rural India,

Report: Inside Primary Schools: Teaching and Learning in Rural India,

Missing in rural India: Smiling teachers, child-friendly schools by Aditi Tandon, The Tribune, 29 October, 2011,

RTE fails to lift education in rural areas: Report, The Economic Times, 29 October, 2011,

Village students 2 grade below in proficiency: study, The Indian Express, 28 October, 2011,

Teaching quality still a concern, post-RTE by Prashant K Nanda, Live Mint, 29 October, 2011,

Survey shows learning gap in rural primary schools across 5 states, The Times of India, 29 October, 2011,


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