Shimla, April 5 (IANS) Strange as it may sound, a majority of Class 5 students in Himachal Pradesh government schools are not able to comprehend textbooks meant for students of Class 2. Likewise, students of Class 3 could not read a text meant for Class 1.
These are some startling facts recorded in the state government's Annual State of Education Report - 2012.
Concerned over the declining standards of education at the primary and elementary levels, the state assembly, cutting across party lines, sought earlier this week re-introduction of the Class 5 and 8 examinations to check a further dip.
The house adopted a resolution urging the central government to amend the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009 to allow the state to conduct examinations for Classes 5 and 8 till the comprehensive and continuous evaluation system has been strictly implemented.
Moving the resolution, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh said learning levels at the primary level have dipped after the introduction of the comprehensive and continuous evaluation system.
"Students are not serious, teachers are not taking an interest, in the absence of an examination system. Even parents have stopped taking interest (in the progress students make at school)," he said.
In fact, the system of comprehensive and continuous evaluation is not working well, the chief minister said. "If such situation continues, the level of education will reach its lowest ebb."
Leader of Opposition Prem Kumar Dhumal, supporting the resolution, said such a system of evaluation had totally failed in the US.
"Unfortunately, we have adopted it. Even we had opposed the scrapping of examinations up to the elementary level. We had also taken up the issue with the central government," he added.
The former chief minister said since the students at the primary level were not psychologically prepared for appearing in examinations, they might face problems later.
Officials told IANS that declining levels of education came to light when a test was conducted for granting scholarships this year.
Out of 13,777 students of Class 6 who took the test, less than two percent got an A grade. The result shows only 231 (two percent) got an A grade (80 to 100 percent) in Hindi, while 21 students got it in English, 24 in mathematics and 13 in environment studies.
A majority of the students failed to get more than 34 percent marks in the test, an official said.
To arrest the declining level of education, the chief minister has already directed the education department to adopt systematic and timely assessment of learning levels of all the students.
"Now we have decided that each child studying from Class 1 to 8 will be assessed against benchmarked attainment levels after every four months to monitor their progress," Education Secretary Sanjay Murthy told IANS.
He said the periodic assessment would be done by a third party.
"The periodic assessment will help take effective action at the right time," he said.
A survey by NGO Pratham said 272 schools were surveyed and it was found that students in government and private schools were not doing well.
Its report shows that Class 5 students who could read Class 2 level text had gone down from 82.3 percent in 2007 to 72.8 percent in 2012.
The percentage of Class 5 students who could solve three-digit problems had declined from 66.9 percent to 48.7 percent during this period.
Literacy levels in Himachal Pradesh were once among the highest in India. Today, against a national average of 74.04 percent, Himachal Pradesh, at 83.8 percent is not even among the top five states.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)