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Has The Quality Of Our Education Fallen? A Study Says Women In 1960s Learned More Than Those In 1990s

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India’s literacy rate increased from around 14% at the time of Independence to 74% in the 2011 census, indicating without a doubt that the country has made significant progress. But has there been a parallel upward trend in educational quality? According to the results of a recent study, no. Developmental economists Alexis Le Nestour, Laura Moscoviz, and Justin Sandefur conducted a study for the US-based think tank Center for Global Development that found that Indian women born in the 1960s had slightly better learning outcomes after five years of schooling than those born in the 1990s. This suggests that primary education may be getting worse (CGDEV). Early this year, a working paper was uploaded. According to the study’s estimations for India, the likelihood that a woman with five years of education would become literate was nearly 100% for cohorts born in the 1960s but had decreased to about 40% for those born in the mid-1990s.

The study collected data on both men and women, but CGDEV Senior Fellow and study co-author Justin Sandefur said that the results for Indian women were inherently more reliable and more nationally representative due to significantly bigger sample sizes and country coverage. The working paper, titled The Long-Run Decline of Education Quality in the Developing World, looked at basic education outcomes across several decades in 88 developing nations.

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The authors stated that the lack of “reliable, long-term measurements of education quality over time” was the basis for their study. In addition, the authors pointed out that there was a “learning crisis” in developing nations like India, where the educational system had failed “to reliably produce even basic literacy and numeracy skills.” The study concluded that although little understood, boosting education quality could have significant economic effects.

In India, the oldest cohort of women was born in 1958, and only around one-third of those women were able to finish five years of schooling. The youngest cohort, those born in 1999, had a 90% completion rate for the first five years of basic education. The learning outcomes for women born in the 1960s, however, were superior to those for women born in the 1990s for the same quantity of education.

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The study’s findings show that more than 80% of women born in the 1960s achieved the expected literacy result by the time they were 20 or older. On the other hand, just 40% of women with at least 20 years of age and only five years of education were able to pass the basic reading test. Only 25–30% of Indian women born in the 1960s completed secondary education or above. However, nearly 80% of women born in the 1990s completed secondary education or higher.

The “obvious factor to analyse is that literacy conditional on schooling has declined simply due to the growth in the number of pupils,” according to Sandefur, in the instance of Indian women. Sandefur also made a suggestion that some kids might not have been able to learn as much in the first five years of school, even though access to education may have increased literacy.

The “learning crisis” in Indian schools has a long history. For instance, it has been frequently demonstrated by the Annual Survey of Education Rural (ASER) since 2005 that only around half of the Indian pupils in Class 5 are able to read a Class 2 text. The authors of the CGDEV report also noted that on international learning exams, Indian kids achieve on average at roughly the 5th percentile for learners at a similar grade in rich economies.

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