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India
20 Aug 2018

Majority of India's private English-medium school students can't read English

Learning outcomes in private schools far from satisfactory

Breaking the long-held stereotype that private schooling delivers better learning outcomes than government schooling, a survey has found that majority of students in India's English-medium private schools can barely read English.

While children are expected to be independent readers by the end of third grade, the survey found only 12.5% of the students in grade four were.

Here are the rather disappointing details.

In context

Learning outcomes in private schools far from satisfactory
The survey covered nearly 20,000 children across 20 states

Survey

The survey covered nearly 20,000 children across 20 states

The survey, conducted by non-profit organization Stones2Milestones, was administered to 19,675 students in 106 urban and semi-urban private English-medium schools across 20 states.

For the study, which was launched in September last year, Stones2Milestones used the FAST reading assessment, a 40-minute online multiple-choice test designed in India to test comprehension skills and vocabulary of students in grades four, five, and six.

Notable findings

Only a handful of students demonstrated advanced skills

The survey found that an alarming 10.9%, 12.8%, and 10% of students in grades four, five, and six, respectively, fell short of even the lowest level of reading skills, that merely involve retrieving explicitly stated information.

Meanwhile, only 12.5%, 2.1% and 3.9% of students in grades four, five, and six, respectively, demonstrated advanced comprehension skills and vocabulary.

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Children don't even have basic reading skills required in life

"What we're finding is children are able to do the surface-comprehension kind of questions. They're not able to do deeper comprehension tasks, (though) this is what they would need to make sense of any unfamiliar text that comes their way," said Aditi Mehta from Stones2Milestones.

Students who read at home for pleasure (obviously) performed better

Other findings

Students who read at home for pleasure (obviously) performed better

There could be a number of factors for the aforementioned dismal learning outcomes, but Stones2Milestones believes that India's overall approach to reading, coupled with the way English is taught in India schools are the major ones.

In fact, they also found that the top performers had a habit of reading English books at home, a habit that is rarely prioritized in most Indian homes.

Implications

These students could be facing an uncertain future

Considering that reading ability is one of the most important predictors of any students' future academic success, the study's findings have important bearings on where India's students are headed.

Coupled with the fact that English is highly valued in India when it comes to determining careers and incomes, even India's middle-class, English-educated students could be facing an uncertain future.

Stone2Milestones' survey further strengthens what research has already shown

Editor's note

Stone2Milestones' survey further strengthens what research has already shown

Notably, Stones2Milestones' survey findings add more evidence to what academia has been claiming for a while now.

Several studies, both in India and abroad, have repeatedly pointed out that learning outcomes are not determined by the type of school a child attends, but by a host of socio-economic factors like parents' educational levels, household incomes etc., cultural contexts, and identities.

Editor's note

The schooling debate in India now needs to acknowledge nuances

This is particularly important to acknowledge in a country like India, where a gamut of socio-economic factors and cultural identities interact with each other to determine learning and student participation within schools.

Without understanding this complex interaction, it would be nigh impossible for India to address challenges pertaining to its school education system, be it through private schools or government schools.

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