The Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union president is not only making headlines but seems also to be perceived as such a threat that his name is being invoked when announcing changes in school curriculum.
To ensure that "no one like Kanhaiya Kumar is born", major changes are being made in Rajasthan's school curriculum, Vasudev Devnani, minister of state for education in the Bharatiya Janata Party government, was quoted as saying in the state assembly on Thursday.
Devnani said that biographies of freedom fighters are being added to textbooks in schools and that “major changes” are being made in the curriculum to “inculcate the feeling of patriotism in students”.
This is the latest in a series of steps that the state government has taken to alter the school syllabus under Devnani's watch. Earlier, he had been in news for replacing works of famous English writers such as John Keats, Thomas Hardy, William Blake, TS Eliot and Edward Lear from Class Eight textbooks withmostly lesser-known authors, whose works have "a regional flavour". In an attempt to purify and purge, Urdu texts were also withdrawn from Hindi books and a text on women’s emancipation was also replaced.
What the minister did not talk about was the steps he is taking to remedy the falling standards of education in Rajasthan. Only about 45% of students of Class Three in the state could actually read words while 20% of those in Class Two were unable to recognise letters, according to the latest Annual Status of Education Report [PDF] published in 2014.
The above chart shows how the reading and comprehension ability of primary students has actually decreased over the years.
One could argue that English language doesn’t come naturally to students but they seem not to be performing better at numbers either.
According to the same ASER report, one in four students in Class 2 couldn’t recognise numbers 1-9 while 50% of those in Class 3 couldn’t recognise larger numbers between 10 to 99. The chart above points to a sustained decline in learning outcomes in the state as 66% of the Class 3 students surveyed in 2010 could recognise numbers till 99.
That the state is grappling with deteriorating learning outcomes is in contrast to the nationwide figures highlighted in the survey report. More than 80% of the students in Class 3 across the country were able to recognise words as opposed to Rajasthan’s tally of 55% in 2014.
It’s not just that the students are not learning enough, the claims of full primary education achievement also sound hollow when one considers that the students enrolled in schools are not actually present in classes. Attendance has come down from 71% in 2010 to 68% in 2014 in primary schools while it has fallen from 74% in 2010 to 69% at upper primary level.
Not just this, Rajasthan’s record in keeping children enrolled in schools is also dismal. A 2013 study carried out across 21 cities at the behest of the Ministry of Human Resources Development found out that school leaving rates in the state are almost double the national average in some cases.
In Rajasthan, one in five or about 20% Class 1 students were reported to be school leavers while the national average is around one in ten or 10%. A student whose name is struck off the rolls from the school register in an academic year is considered a school leaver if they don’t return to finish their studies at the same institution.
The latest budget presented for the upcoming financial year has also been questioned by experts for its inadequate funding to education which experts claim could make it tough for the state to achieve enrolment targets in higher education. Rajasthan’s enrolment ratio is 19% in higher education, which ranks it among bottom 10 states in the country.
This comes at the heels of recent reports that the government is spending its energies on tasks which have little to do with improving education in schools. The state has been trying to rename state run schools, presumably to inculcate more patriotism, circumventing Right to Education law by scrapping “no-detention” policy that is believed to help keep students motivated to complete their education while the education ministry has been charged with giving false replies to questions asked in the legislative assembly.