It is a common belief that North Indian school education—such as in the Hindi heartland—lags behind that in South Indian states. There are lots of myths and active myth making around that.
One of the reasons is literacy rate. South Indian states have higher literacy rates compared to North Indian states and this information is widely available and often analyzed and quoted by government, academia, policy think tanks and media. In the absence of any other available data on quality of education, many conveniently take literacy rate as being synonymous with quality. And it just fuels an already existing prejudice that extends beyond quality of education to even include, at times, intellectual capability. All of us are just too familiar with jokes and one-liners conforming to this prejudice.
The results of the latest round of National Achievement Survey (NAS) conducted by National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) for class VII, released earlier this year, most definitely busts that myth.
The survey, designed to provide a kind of health check to the school education system, is one of the largest national level educational assessment surveys anywhere in the world. This round, conducted in 2012, for example, used tests and questionnaires to gather information from 188,647 students in 6,722 schools across 33 states and union territories (UTs). Class VIII survey measures students’ ability in four areas: science, maths, language and social science.
In all these subjects,the state scores of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are significantly below the overall national score in all subjects. On the other hand, the best performance is by Uttar Pradesh, whose score is significantly above national score in three of the four subjects. States like Madhya Pradesh and Punjab too do not do badly.
Absolute scores, though “shocking” to many, only tell half the story. When juxtaposed with the literacy rates, they explain why the North Indian states are so underrated.
In this chart, we have plotted literacy rates vis-a-vis the NAS scores. The Y-axis shows literacy rates. The X-axis shows arithmetic mean of all the four subject scores (reading comprehension, maths, science and social science)
The chart shows literacy rate versus NAS scores for 32 states and UTs (Assam data was not available). For 21 states/UTs (inside the ellipse), the literacy rates and test scores are fairly proportional. There are four states with high (more than 80%) literacy but low (less than 240) mean score. The three large states are TN, Puducherry and Delhi.
There are seven states with low (less than 70%) literacy but high (more than 245) mean score. Two of them are very small UTs. The rest are all from the Hindi speaking belt: UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, MP and Rajasthan. These are often considered as laggards when it comes to school education.
But as the chart shows clearly, their low literacy rate could be the reason behind the perception. In other words, these five states are the most underrated when it comes to quality of their school education.
We just hope that the policy decisions are not taken based on those perceptions!