The basic reading and arithmetic ability of five to 16-year-old students across the country significantly dropped in 2022 as schools opened after the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Annual Status of Education Report released on Wednesday.

The findings were made through a nationwide citizen-led rural household survey that covered nearly 7 lakh children in over 19,000 villages across 616 districts in the country. The Annual Status of Education Report survey was last conducted in 2018.

The basic reading ability, which is measured by whether a child can read letters, words, a simple paragraph at Class 1 level of difficulty or a story at Class 2 level of difficulty, dropped to pre-2012 levels, the report said on Wednesday.

The percentage of children enrolled in Class 3 in government or private schools who can read at Class 2 level of difficulty dropped from 27.3% in 2018 to 20.5% in 2022. The decline was more than 10% in states such as Telangana, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh that had higher reading levels in 2018.

Meanwhile, the proportion of children enrolled in Class 5 in government or private schools who can read a Class 2 level text fell from 50.5% in 2018 to 42.8% in 2022, the report added.

According to the report, children’s basic arithmetic skills have declined across the country to 2018 levels. But the drop in numeracy levels is not as steep as the decline in reading.

The test assessed arithmetic levels of students by checking whether a child could recognise numbers from 1 to 99, do a 2-digit numerical subtraction problem with borrowing or correctly solve a numerical division problem (3 digit by 1 digit).

Children in Class 3 who were able to at least do subtraction dropped from 28.2% in 2018 to 25.9% in 2022, found the report. However, arithmetic skills of Class 3 children in Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh were maintained or improved slightly over 2018 levels.

Tamil Nadu (from 25.9% in 2018 to 11.2% in 2022), Mizoram (from 58.8% to 42%), and Haryana (from 53.9% to 41.8%) showed steep drops of more than 10%.

Children in Class 5 across India who can do division has also fallen slightly, from 27.9% in 2018 to 25.6% in 2022, but Bihar, Jharkhand, Meghalaya and Sikkim showed slight improvements over 2018 levels.

However, arithmetic levels declined more than 10% for Class 5 students in Mizoram (from 40.2% in 2018 to 20.9% in 2022), Himachal Pradesh (from 56.6% to 42.6%), and Punjab (from 52.9% to 41.1%).

Meanwhile, the report also highlighted that the percentage of girls aged between 11-14 who were out of school decreased to 2% in 2022 from 4.1% in 2018.

The percentage of girls aged 15-16 not enrolled in schools has also continued to drop, with the figure at 7.9% in 2022 from 13.5% in 2018, the report said. Three states have more than 10% of girls in this age group out of school: Madhya Pradesh (17%), Uttar Pradesh (15%) and Chhattisgarh (11.2%).

Director of Annual Status of Education Report Centre Wilima Wadhwa said that the pandemic-induced lockdowns were one of the major factors that hampered education across the nation.

“India had one of the longest durations of school closures – primary schools were closed for almost two years,” Wadhwa said. “In addition, restricted economic activity and the migrant crisis resulted in loss of livelihoods across the country.”

She added: “The impact of the pandemic on the education sector, therefore, was feared to be twofold – learning loss associated with long school closures and the possibility of rising dropout rates, especially among older children, due to squeezed family budgets.”