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Vidyasagar’s Bengal Losing the Battle in Its Schools

West Bengal which has given India its best academics, thinkers, poets and scientist, is faltering in the school classrooms.  The recent ASER 2016 report shows that the cohort of children in rural schools in West Bengal are far below their peers from other States in the country. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is conducted by Pratham and is a large-scale national survey of school to measure the learning outcomes. ASER 2016 reached 589 rural districts across India. The survey was carried out in 17,473 villages, covering 350,232 households and 562,305 children in the age group 3-16.

What does ASER tell about West Bengal?

Only 38% of rural students in Class III can read a passage in Mother Tongue (Class II level text) For this indicator, West Bengal ranks 5th  which on a relative scale is comparable with is other states. Leading the rankings is Himachal Pradesh with 47% of its students in class III clearing the reading test in vernacular. The States ahead of West Bengal are Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Kerala, and Maharashtra.

One would have thought that the class III students when they reach class V class would get conversant with reading in mother tongue. However, the results for West Bengal make a dismal reading.  The improvement in reading in rural West Bengal schools does not show commensurate improvement in higher classes with only 50% of the students in class V able to read a class II level text in the mother tongue. By this measure, the ranking of West Bengal falls to 14th rank, with other states who were laggards in Class III making up lost ground. Manipur and Himachal top the list with 70% of the students surveyed in Class V being able to read a Class II level text in vernacular. States like Odisha, Uttarakhand, Tripura and Rajasthan are doing better than West Bengal.

In Arithmetic, the situation is alarming with only 20% of the rural students in Class III in West Bengal able to do subtraction correctly.  The ranking is topped by Manipur with 60% of the students in Class III able to subtract accurately. Manipur is followed closely by Himachal Pradesh.  In higher classes arithmetic skills worsen in West Bengal, with only 29% of the students studying in rural schools are able to do division in Class V. West Bengal ranks 10th nationally by this indicator. The best-performing states are Himachal Pradesh and Manipur with about 53% of their students successfully doing division.

If we compare the ASER 2014 to ASER 20916 results, the students in Class V are worse off than they were two years ago, with more Class V students failing the survey tests in 2016 than in 2014. The rural schools in West Bengal are failing the students!

It is not about the government not delivering, the provision and resources provided has been significant to the rural schools. It is about the teachers not delivering and the community and the state not putting adequate pressure on the teachers to deliver. Village Education Committees have to be revived, a lesson from successful School Management Committee movement in Maharashtra is a pointer. The teachers have to be accountable if the student is not learning, the Gunotsav initiative in Gujarat or the Samarth initiative in Himachal Pradesh have lessons on what the West Bengal state government can possibly do.

There can be many more measures to correct the situation. However, nothing much will happen if the falling standards of primary education in West Bengal’s rural schools doesn’t hurt every citizen of the State. Citizens have to demand correction of the situation

The state can ill afford to lose the legacy of Vidyasagar and the nation can ill afford the falling elementary education standards in West Bengal.

(All data is taken from Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2016, published by ASER Centre, PRATHAM)