If the decade from 2000-2010 was about initiation and promulgation of Right to Education in school education, the current decade beginning 2020 is going to be the decade of ‘universal’ Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN). While RTE had a historic basis, backing of international conventions and a vibrant activism behind it, FLN is more of a discovery and exploration together in search of commoditizing childhoods but also importantly putting early education in its rightful place. The attention and priority FLN is receiving could be a turning point for schooling in this country as it will potentially reverse dropout rates at both primary and secondary levels and also help in developing cognitive abilities in children along with good values and creativity.
The obvious challenges in FLN include integrating play and nursery classes with the formal schooling system and universalize it on pattern of SSA. It appears far more challenging as the ‘qualified’ teacher cadre is yet to be born in absence of a qualification and training framework. However, with the release of model curriculum, ‘Jaadui Pitara’ for foundational stage in February 2023, the Government has taken a huge first step. As much of this whole mission is organic and brand new in some way, it will perhaps evolve at its own pace.
Both parental support as well as science are fundamentally in its favor and therefore it creates a big opportunity for stakeholders to nourish it. The private sector including a colossal network of budget schools have largely grown on filling this gap and as the standardization framework picks up, shake up and wake up is also going to be interesting. In all this, the Government of India, has taken the right call and is leading the mission, which is good for developing a scalable and standardized pre-primary or pre-schooling subsystem in the country. If all goes well, by 2047, India would have transformed to a country in the league of OECD countries thanks to a human capital foundationally educated for a lifelong learning and value sets.
In this quest, the second edition of the Sate of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) Report released on Feb 24 on expected lines shows India’s journey to universalization of FLN is going to be arduous but possible. Also, while the impact of Covid pandemic and the resultant learning loss of two years for children aged below 10 years has a role in the disappointing revelations in the report, still equally is heartening to note that the report has laid the evidence for ideation of FLN implementable action plans besides a clear emphasis on promoting teaching in mother tongue.
The report is published independently by the Institute for Competitiveness India, the Indian knot in the global network of the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard Business School on the mandate of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM).
Showing optimism on the FLN mission the report says, “The goal of universal foundational literacy and numeracy by 2026- 27 is achievable, considering the rigorous and constant efforts of the government. Additionally, the recent budget allocation towards the Samagra Shiksha mission increased by almost 20 per cent, from in 2021-22 (revised estimate) Rs. 31,050 crores to Rs. 37,383 crores. Post -pandemic, after the humanitarian and health crisis, the central government merged various schemes like Scheme for Adolescent girls and Poshan Abhiyaan and re -aligned them as Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0 for increasing outcomes.”
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which for the first time strongly recognizes the criticality of early education and advocates its mainstreaming in the school education has also laid the basis for an urgent national mission in FLN. In that spirit of urgency, the Government of India launched NIPUN Bharat on 5th July 2021 to achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy by 2026. And, to build an understanding of the overall state of Foundational Learning and identify bottlenecks for each state/UT along with ensuring data-driven policy for maximized impact, the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) mandated publication of the State of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy in India based on Foundational learning study (FLS).
The study conducted by the Ministry of Education, National Council of Educational research and Training (NCERT), and supported by UNICEF, India to provide valid and reliable data about the performance of Grade 3 students on the learning outcomes along with NAS (National Achievement Survey) data is being used by the Institute for Competitiveness India to prepare and publish the State of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) Report in India along with the Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) Index for states and UTs. The index which comprises of five pillars– Educational Infrastructure, Access to Education, Basic Health, Leaning Outcomes and Governance subdivided into 36 indicators. Further, these pillars are also mapped to the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 of Zero Hunger, Good health and Wellbeing and Access to Education– continues to act as a benchmark in assessing the performance of states and union territories and promoting peer-to-peer learning to enhance their respective performances. The first such report was published in December 2021.
The second edition of the Sate of FLN report based on one -on -one oral test to a set of questions of 86,000 Grade 3 students in 20 different languages across 10,000 schools in the country, focused on language as a critical foundational skill and its importance in acquiring early literacy. The overall study aimed to establish reading proficiency benchmarks for fluency and comprehension for each language and proficiency benchmarks for numeracy. The Global Proficiency Framework for Reading that defines the global minimum proficiency levels that learners were used for benchmarking in the study and comprise of four levels—Below Partially Meets (BPM), Partially Meets (PM), Meets (M), and Exceeds (E) global minimum proficiency.
The study sample included state government, private recognised, government -aided, and central government schools and the languages assessed are Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, English, Garo, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Khasi, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Mizo, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu respectively.
The report released on February 24 in New Delhi clearly shows the border state of Punjab in the spotlight having emerged as the highest ranking state in the FLN Index and therefore demonstrating its robust performance in the area of education due to the state’s emphasis on improving learning outcomes, education infrastructure and focus on the quality of education for all. In learning outcome, Punjab has scored 96.36 which is the highest across all states. The state’s high score can be attributed to its best performance in all subjects of NAS 2021 scores for grade 3 and grade 5 across country. DTF analysis on this pillar reveals that only Punjab has improved on learning outcomes by 8.35 points, reflecting the extent of the country’s learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time, the report also brought out the expected worrying insights into the state of FLN in the country. Only 42% of the students surveyed across India meet the global minimum proficiency, and 37% partially meet the global minimum proficiency level in mathematics, meaning most students fall under the category of partially meeting the global minimum proficiency and global minimum proficiency. In literacy, overall, Punjabi language has the best performance with 51% of the students exceeding global proficiency level and 6% students in below partially global proficiency level. On the other hand, Tamil language has the lowest performance with only 9% students exceeding global proficiency level and 48% students in below partially global proficiency level.
Out of the 20 languages, Tamil, Konkani, Assamese and Bodo language respectively have the poorest performance with more than 30% of the students falling under the category of below partially global proficiency level. Similarly, Khasi, Urdu and Nepali language have more than 40% students who partially meet global minimum proficiency level. The report adds that 40% of the children are not taught in the languages they speak and understand on a regular basis. Therefore, many children, especially the ones belonging to disadvantaged groups are unable to acquire basic foundational learning. These groups include children living in urban slums, children with disabilities, refugees, girls, children from ethnic and linguistic minorities, etc. Moreover, it is estimated that 25 per cent of primary school children in India face a moderate to severe learning disadvantage as a consequence of the fact that the language used at school is not their home language (World Bank, 2021). Especially children belonging to communities whose languages are lost or endangered are in a vulnerable state. Firstly, due to the medium of language used in the classrooms during their foundational years and secondly, because of their socioeconomic conditions.
It is important to note that in the last 50 years, India has lost over 220 languages, which means not enough attention is paid to preserving and taking care of the languages. Additionally, 197 languages have been listed as ‘endangered’ by UNESCO. Mostly, these are the languages which do not have a script. Furthermore, the 22 languages of the Eight Schedule of the Constitution of India are facing various challenges with respect to teaching and learning.
The report which also includes discussion on the role of nutrition, access to digital technology and language-focused instructional approach, relying on secondary sources and published data notes that learning loss worsened with Covid, and every child across the world has fallen behind in their learning. Between 2019 and 2022, in low and middle-income countries, the share of children aged ten years who cannot read, write and understand simple text has increased from 57% to 70%. According to UNICEF, current generation of the world is at the risk of $17 trillion in lifetime earnings due to school closures, which is equivalent to 14% of the global GDP. Unfortunately, in India, because of school closures, around 250 million students were affected. In India, 92% of students lost at least one specific language ability and 82% lost at least one specific mathematic ability from the previous year. So under the FLN mission, serious efforts are to be made to bridge the gap and realize the goal of universal FLN by 2026-27.
The report continues to be a benchmark for states and union territories to track their performance relative to their peers in achieving universal foundational learning by 2026-27. The report opines that one of the most significant challenges for India in education planning is to incorporate primary education into the formal education sector while retaining the distinctive elements of quality education for young children. “Index on Foundational Learning presents a comprehensive evidence -backed view of factors driving India’s low learning outcomes in early grades and outlines pathways for improvement. It goes far beyond teacher absenteeism and other factors, which, though critical, often narrows policy thinking and debate about the needs of this age group. It measures the core domains of education, health, and governance of children ten years and below and can help states identify areas that need to be addressed. Such an index will identify regional differences across states and assess the overall state of education for primary and pre -primary levels in India.”
This Foundational Learning Report and its future editions with more sample sizes is going to be an important document of not only recording this work in progress but disseminating communications on the NIPUB Bharat Mission and evolving the supporting ecosystem. In words of Vineet Nayar, former CEO of HCL Technologies and founder of nonprofit Sampark Foundation, which is working with 84000 primary schools in six states, the big ticket idea is still missing in this and innovative ideas, design thinking, passion and collaboration can translate this intent into reality.
So, this is essentially work in progress and a lot more to write about in coming time.
By Autar Nehru