Falling Learning Standards and SSA

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is the flagship program under which the RTE Act, 2010 is implemented by the central government for universalization of elementary education in India. The education sector has witnessed a huge increase in public spending over the past decade which further went up with the passing of RTE Act. However, various studies have shown that despite a new law and increased spending in the sector, the learning outcomes of children have fallen over the years instead of improving. The predominant cause for this anomaly is the faulty design and implementation of RTE Act and SSA.

The latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) brought out by NGO Pratham shows that more than 50% students in Class V cannot read Class I textbooks. In fact, the proportion of students unable to read lower level textbooks or solve basic arithmetic problems of lower classes has risen after the passing of RTE Act in 2010. A study by Centre of Policy Research has also shown that for a Rs. 1000 increase in public spending per student, the proportion of students in Class 3-8 who can read a Class 1 textbook increased by a mere 0.2%.

The major fault for these outcomes lies with the poor design of RTE. It seeks to measure primarily the improvement in physical infrastructure, number of children enrolled and number of teachers in schools. However, other important metrics like learning outcomes of children, monitoring of teaching quality, accountability of teachers and so on are not measured under the RTE. Thus, even though the salary of teachers in public schools has increased substantially over the years, teachers don’t have any incentive to teach well in the classroom. The same teachers are found to provide good quality education in private tuitions. On the other hand, teachers in private schools are paid lesser than their public counterparts, yet they work harder and teach better because of strict monitoring and accountability mechanisms.

To make sure that the ongoing massive amount of public spending on education actually leads to improvement in learning outcomes of our children, it is important that the government revamps the goals and measurement metrics of RTE and designs our education policy to focus on improving pedagogy and realigning incentives for teachers. For India to reap its demographic dividend, it is not just a choice but a necessity.