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Study Exposes Serious Weaknesses in Education in Two Indian States

Novel research led by LIDC member Professor Geeta Kingdon highlights the poor quality of teaching and low pupil attendance in the Indian states of

Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (UP), and suggests ways of improving these in the future. Her figures from the study of government and private primary schools show how only 25 per cent of teachers could solve a basic percentage problem designed for 10-11 year-olds. Also, according to the survey, only 25 per cent of enrolled students attend school regularly.

Kingdon, the Chair of Education Economics and International Development at the Institute of Education, presented the alarming statistics on 28 July 2008 to the Indian Ministry of Human Resource Development. The findings are the preliminary results of a study on Teacher Effectiveness and Learning Level of Students (TELLS) in Bihar and the neighbouring state of UP in northeast India.  Based on these results, suggested improvements include vetting applicants for teaching posts, more effective in-service training to improve teachers’ ability to spot children’s common mistakes, ensuring basic skills are mastered by children when young, and carrying out much more analysis in this area.

Rigorous and novel methodology
The results are based on four sets of visits during 2007 and 2008 to randomly selected schools, 80 in Bihar and 80 in UP – India’s two most educationally-backward states. The research, which included tests for teachers and pupils at these schools, was conducted by Kingdon in collaboration with Dr Rukmini Banerji, Research Director of PrathamIndia’s largest education NGO. The data collection was carried out by Pranav Chaudhary of Sunai Data Solutions, Patna, Bihar. It was funded by The Spencer Foundation, a Chicago-based grant-making body which investigates ways of improving education around the world. Kingdon said: “The study had many different elements, including numeracy and literacy, and showed some quite disturbingresults. The novelty of the survey was that the visits to the sampled schools were not one-offs.  We visited the same school four times in the same year and got a dynamic picture of how a school functions throughout the year.”

Poor quality teaching
The primary school teachers assessed in the study were generalists (there are no specialist subject teachers at primary level) and they sat a series of numeracy and literacy tests. Only 25 per cent of teachers could correctly answer the following sum designed for 10-11 year-olds:

  • There are 38 children enrolled in a class. Of these 23 children are present today. What percent of children are absent today?

Teachers were also asked to spot children’s mistakes from incorrect addition, subtraction, multiplication and division exercises. Kingdon said: “A reasonably large number could not give common examples of children’s mistakes. Teaching  also involves diagnosing children’s errors. If teachers can diagnose these they are more skilful.”

The literacy scores also reveal significant weaknesses. About 44 per cent of teachers could correctly summarise a given piece of text in Hindi. A much higher proportion of UP than Bihar teachers had no spelling errors in their write-up of the summary, presumably because the spoken language in Bihar is Bhojpuri (a dialect of Hindi) rather than pure Hindi.

Pupils’ attendance and attainment
The survey shows only 25 per cent of enrolled children attend school regularly in Bihar, when "regular attendance" is defined as being found in school in at least three out of the four survey visits within the school year. It was particularly worrying that in Bihar, 35 per cent of enrolled children were never found at school during any of the four visits by the enumerators. Kingdon said this may be explained by the “economic incentives to inflate enrolments” and she explained that nearly universal access to primary education in India does not translate into regular attendance so that meaningful access to primary education was nowhere near universal in the north Indian states of Bihar and UP. In addition, tests conducted during the study were used to chart pupils’ progress and, over the school year, achievement scores of children in Bihar government schools improved more than their counterparts in UP.

Press coverage
The array of worrying statistics included in the initial results were covered by Indian journalists and  headlines based on the story included "Most Bihar Teachers Can’t Do Their Math" in the Hindustan Times and "Here, Teachers Fail in Basic Maths"  in the Deccan Herald.
By Guy Collender, Communications Officer, LIDC