The stranded generation -Shriya Mohan

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published Published on Feb 11, 2018   modified Modified on Feb 11, 2018
-The Hindu Business Line

Two nationwide surveys of learning levels among schoolchildren show a worrying gap between their aspirations and their ability to achieve them

Muskan was in Std VI when she knew she wanted to be a police officer. “People fear you,” says this 17-year-old resident of Painchri village, Shimla, her eyes gleaming at the idea of commanding all that respect. “But it’s not possible for me,” she says the very next instant, shaking her head. “I have to support my family at home. There is no one to guide me at school... They don’t know the name of the exam I have to take... they just tell me that it’s hard...”

Muskan was one of the youngsters interviewed by the non-governmental organisation Pratham for its extensive ASER (Annual Status of Education Report), which was released on January 16 this year.

Focusing on the 3-16 age group since it began publishing in 2008, the report this year focuses for the first time on the 14-18 age group — namely, youth on the cusp of adulthood, about to vote and work for the very first time, the first batch of students who have been full beneficiaries of eight years of the Right to Education Act. ASER interviewed 28,323 youth across 26 rural districts in 24 States to map their learning abilities and aspirations.

Muskan and a few others like her who were surveyed by ASER, shared their stories in the short video screened at the launch of the report. They form a sample of the country’s driven youth, full of rather simple and realistic career ambitions (teachers, army officers et al), finding themselves stranded at a crucial crossroad, bereft of a roadmap to move ahead. How did it all go so wrong?

What two surveys reveal

RTE ends at age 14 and the Right to Work kicks in at 18. What are the youth doing in this crucial interim period?

“Here’s the good news: 86 per cent of those in the 14-18 age group are either in school or college. In the 2001 Census, 74 per cent of 18-year-olds were not studying in any educational institution. In 2011 it was 56 per cent. Now that number is 30 per cent,” says ASER Executive Director Wilima Wadhwa.

She points out that Std VIII enrolment has doubled from 2004 to 2014 — 11 million to 22 million. “There is near-universal enrolment for schooling. More and more young people are completing Std VIII. Many of them are first-generation learners (either or both parents have never been to school).”

But enrolment and learning are two separate benchmarks, and the gaping divide between the two, marked by low attendance (just 50 per cent in some States), has remained a classic problem in India. Under the Right to Education’s no-detention policy, students are automatically promoted up to Std VIII, often without any reality checks en route to gauge the actual learning levels.

“What ASER has shown systematically in previous surveys is that kids are behind by three to four grades; 77 per cent in Std VIII cannot pass Std II-level tests. There is nothing in our system to effectively address this disadvantage, once you get left behind... A teacher only teaches to the top of the class in a race to complete the syllabus, and there is no help at home where the parents are illiterate,” says Wadhwa.

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The Hindu Business Line, 9 February, 2018,

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