Report on State of Foundational Literacy in India

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Business Wire IndiaThe report on “State of Foundational Literacy in India” was released at a webinar on December 16, 2021 by Dr. Bibek Debroy, Chairman, EAC – PM. The webinar also had a panel discussion with experts in the field of education like Dr. Sonali Nag, Professor of Psychology and Education, University of Oxford; Dr. Nidhi Vinayak, Early Literacy and Language Specialist and Ashish Jhalani, President (International Markets), Square Panda.
 
Dr. Debroy in his keynote critiqued the report and stated that “The objective of the report is not to rank, but to assess where each of the State/UT is in context of their Foundational Literacy and Numeracy parameters. It is based on 5 pillars i.e., Education infrastructure, Access to Education, Basic Health and Learning Outcomes. The report helps us in giving policy suggestions so that they lead to actual improvements. This is the first report, and it has been brought about quickly, and it focusses on something we know is important to all of us, which is the issue of foundational literacy. Foundational Literacy is defined at the age group of 3 to 8. Various variables have been used to construct the index.  The data used for construction of index can be objective and subjective. One has to be little careful the moment ones tend to slice the data. The reason being, the attempt to gauge the Foundational learning is based on questions that are asked on literacy and numeracy in various surveys. Quite often the responses depend upon and are contingent on the kind of questions that are asked, the language that they are asked in. Suggestion is that in future if such kind of report is done one should know the language in which the questions were asked in various surveys whilst using such data in construction of the index. These measures would ensure that each state gets data driven analysis that helps it identify core focus areas to subsequently chalk out a road map to achieve FLN by 2026-27, as envisaged in the NIPUN Bharat guidelines. To elaborate, even though West Bengal has been ranked as number 1 in the category of large states, it needs to be analysed in depth to understand the actual gaps and possible intervention areas. While West Bengal may have scored high on certain parameters of educational infrastructure including availability of a school within 1km of household and access to electricity, there remains a lot to be done in terms of ensuring access to education, governance and the learning outcomes. It is important to understand that while availability of infrastructure is a prerequisite, it alone does not lead to improved learning outcomes in children. In fact, when one looks at the learning outcome scores, share of resources allocated towards primary education or teacher training and the dropout rates at primary level, one finds that West Bengal has grossly underperformed in comparison to several other states. Additionally, the learning outcomes analysis in the report relies to an extent on the ASER data, that excludes from it the data of urban population and is also known to be fairly subjective. This would have a risk of creating a bias against states that are fairly urbanized, as opposed to West Bengal that has a huge rural population.”
 
In the words of Dr Debroy, “It is important to also analyse not only the kind of questions that are used in such surveys, but also the language in which they are asked. These have a decisive impact on the result so obtained.” Moreover, for West Bengal, the high expenditure in education needs to be seen in the light of the fact that most of this jump can be allocated to increased teacher salaries, most of which does not have a direct impact on improved learning outcomes. Overall, lack of availability of quality preschool data both at the national and the state level also excludes the preschool component from the data analysis. Quality of learning needs to be built on a strong foundation of preschool education, well designed curriculum, quality teacher training, all of which needs to be focused on by the state. The report highlights for each state possible areas of improvement and needs to be seen as such.
 
As mentioned by Dr. Amit Kapoor “This is a body of work which looks at analysing as to what is good or what is bad in comparison to various states/ locations. Rather than seeking it as a benchmark for the best we need to understand that this report is about comparison and how we can learn from each other. So it is very critical to understand what are the 5 pillars that exist in the report and each of the 5 pillars there are states who perform well. The scorecards presented in the report give an overview of the states who underperform/overperform on various parameters and pillars. We notice that we have states like West Bengal which has underperformed on learning outcomes.”

Looking at the future, everybody needs to look at deepening the exercise and improving the parameters and analysis. In the words of Dr Amit Kapoor, “This is the first report and the subsequent ones would aim at incorporating rural-urban divide issues with greater focus on quality parameters for FLN. We need to look at it as an assessment, rather than a ranking. When we look at the assessment across different pillars, we find that states vary within their performance, and a lot needs to be done as we move ahead and achieve excellence in the field of foundational learning.”
 
The webinar can be viewed at https://youtu.be/WKYRQcol0n0
 
The complete report can be accessed at https://competitiveness.in/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Report_on_state_of_foundational_learning_and_numeracy_web_version.pdf