Latest News

Poor education holding back India: World Bank

The poor quality of education, reflected in low learning levels, in India and other South Asian countries traps many young people in poverty and prevents faster economic growth and shared prosperity, the World Bank (WB) said on Monday. In the first comprehensive study to analyze the performance of South Asian educational systems in terms of student learning, the World Bank said governments in the region had recognized that they must do more to improve the quality of education in schools—after having achieved significant progress in access to schooling over the past decade. “Just spending time in school is not enough. There has to be a significant gain in skills that requires an improvement in the quality of education,” said Philippe Le Houérou, World Bank vice-president for South Asia.

“This will help countries in the region to reap the full expected returns on their investments and generate gains in productivity and economic growth,” Le Houérou added. The report—Student Learning in South Asia: Challenges, Opportunities, and Policy Priorities—said many governments in South Asia had invested heavily in education to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education for all children by 2015. This investment resulted in an increase in the net enrolment rate in South Asia’s primary schools from 75% to 89% from 2000 to 2010, bringing the region closer to enrolment rates in Latin America and the Caribbean (94%) and East Asia and the Pacific (95%). Sri Lanka is a clear outlier, having achieved near-universal primary education decades ago.

Afghanistan and Pakistan still lag significantly behind other South Asian countries, the world Bank said. However, a human resource development ministry official said India will achieve universal access to elementary education by 2015. According to official data, nearly 98% of children in India are now registered in schools. The report was concerned about the disappointing outcomes, as measured by student learning, of South Asia’s education systems, which it said in part reflected attempts to cope with a large influx of children who were first-generation school-goers. Much of what South Asian students are taught is “procedural” or rote-based. Students are poorly prepared in practical competencies such as measurement, problem-solving, and writing of meaningful and grammatically-correct sentences. One-quarter to one-third of those who graduate from primary school lack basic numeracy and literacy skills that would enable them to further their education, it added. Several other studies have also highlighted this poor learning outcome in India.

The Annual Status of Education (ASER) 2013 report by education non-profit agency Pratham found that the proportion of all children in Class 5 who can read a Class 2 level text has declined by almost 15 percentage points since 2005. Similarly, the portion of students in Class 8 who can do divisions has declined by almost 23 percentage points during the same period. While three out of every five students in standard 5 were able to read the text books prescribed for pupils who were three years junior in 2005, only one out of two is up to the task now. “The poor quality of education in South Asia is a major obstacle to the region’s future economic prospects,” said Halil Dundar, lead education specialist at the World Bank and one of the report’s authors. “Raising education quality in South Asia is an urgent priority that could transform the region’s economic landscape.

” The report recommends a multi-pronged strategy that includes initiatives outside the education sector to address the challenge. Some of these include ensuring young children get enough nutrition or investing in early life nutrition, and raising the quality of teachers, which is also a key concern in India. It also suggests bringing more private investment to the sector and improved measurement of education outcome.