Grade-appropriate education for all boys and girls.
Poor quality education is leading to poor learning outcomes in India, ultimately pushing children out of the education system and leaving them vulnerable to child labour, abuse and violence. Many classrooms continue to be characterized by teacher-centred rote learning, corporal punishment and discrimination.
Learning assessments show that many of those children who are in school are not learning the basics of literacy and numeracy or the additional knowledge and skills necessary for their all-round development as specified under the Right to Education Act.
Much remains to be done to ensure a child-friendly learning environment where all children benefit from gender-sensitive and inclusive classrooms, as well as the availability of improved water, sanitation and hygiene, and mid-day meal practices.
Every girl and boy in India has the fundamental right to quality education, an education one that helps them to acquire basic literacy and numeracy, enjoy learning without fear and feel valued and included irrespective of where they come from.
For the first time in 10 years, reading and arithmetic scores have improved in public funded schools at early grades (ASER 2016). In seven states (Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Telangana and Uttarakhand) reading level increased by 7 per cent at grade 3 level since 2014. This indicates that increase in learning is possible but takes time.
Nevertheless, ASER 2018 showed that in grade 5 after more than four years of schooling, only half of all children could read a grade 2 level text fluently. The National Achievement Survey 2017 which was conducted for grades 3, 5 and 8 gave a similar picture with only 45.2 per cent of students achieving the targeted performance levels across all subjects and classes at the national level.
States such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh with large populations of children from scheduled castes (SC), scheduled tribes (ST) and minority communities have the lowest scores. In the NAS 2017 girls scored slightly higher or as the same level as boys.
While governments both national and state have invested in large scale learning assessments, the challenge is in the use of assessment data for improving the delivery of education rather than letting it remain a simple data collection exercise.
Successful performance in school is supported by a wide range of abilities, attitudes and socio-emotional competencies, beyond traditional literacy and numeracy skills - life skills significantly contribute to learning and are an aspect of quality education.
While there is an understanding around the importance of life skills , there is a possible lack of alignment between traditional curricula and a life-skills learning agenda and a lack of understanding of how these can be developed across the education continuum. The NEP brings this focus stressing the importance of leaning by doing.
Since March 2020, schools in India have been closed and learning has shifted to remote home-based learning for those who can access it. School closures will impact learning across the education system. Gains in enrolment, school completion, and learning must not get eroded due to the combination of schools being closed and socio-economic hardships related to Covid-19.
According to the World Bank, five months of school closures due to COVID-19 will result in an immediate loss of 0.6 years of schooling adjusted for quality, bringing the effective learning that a student can achieve down from 7.9 years to 7.3 years.
During this period of school closure, efforts have been made by governments to ensure continuity of learning for children while they have been home. Digital tools including internet based high tech tools like apps and online learning classes, social media platforms, television and radio were used extensively.
India is now looking at delivering education programmes differently and speedily to employ solutions, that accelerate impact and achieve scale across interventions targeted at children and adolescents.
COVID-19 presents urgency as well as an incredible opportunity to act and transform the education system through technology using it as an important tool of capacity building, inclusiveness and quality learning, without replacing the essential role of teachers/facilitators. While technology is not a silver bullet to solve the problem of inequities in access and learning, it has huge potential for changing how teaching and learning is delivered in India, if employed in a systemic and inclusive way, empowering teachers, frontline workers, children and adolescents and increasing access to and quality of learning.
Currently around one-third of the 2.6 million secondary schools in India have ICT labs and a functional computer. Universal access to technology in homes is yet a dream in tribal belts, interior locations, rural areas, and amongst children with disabilities. Children with poor or no access to technology face most challenges in continuing to learn. There is disproportional access to the internet across state, further extending into the rural-urban schism, where 13 per cent people of over five years of age in rural areas can use the internet against 37 per cent in urban areas.
Additionally, the digital dichotomy extends to the access to hardware and devices where the poorest students and marginalised communities, including girls, do not have access to smartphones, and even if they do, internet connectivity remains poor.
The main area of UNICEF engagement and support is elementary education especially early grades and the transition to secondary education. As schools remain closed and children learn remotely, UNICEF will engage with state government for expanding access to remote learning options.
UNICEF will support the expanded use of technology and the use of online systems to improve governance in education, enhance capacity of teachers, teacher support systems, other education functionaries and participation of children for enhanced learning and skills development. But at the same time recognizing that quality learning requires quality teachers and teaching.
Implementation of the National Education Policy 2020 being a priority UNICEF will provide technical support at national and state level in the key areas related to curriculum revision, learning assessment and reporting, foundational learning, life skills and career guidance.