Three Years of DPEP and Learners Achievement: An Overview

By Ved Prakash, SKS Gautam, IK Bansal and MK Bhalla, National Council of Educational Research and Training, Published by Educational Consultants India Limited, 1998, New Delhi

Universalisation of Elementary Education (UEE) has always been a matter of great concern for policy planners in India. While considerable progress has been made as a consequence of inputs provided under various schemes during the last five decades, the target of achieving the UEE has still remained a distant dream. The most significant reasons for the task remaining unfinished have been disregard to the element of contextuality and a misplaced emphasis on uniform prescription for bringing about qualitative improvement in primary education. Having realised these inadequacies and responding to the call for a higher intensity of effort and more systematic planning, the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) was launched in the year 1994 in 42 districts spread over seven states under phase-I.

Before anchoring the DPEP in phase-I states, the baseline assessment studies were conducted in all project districts. One such study was undertaken in the year 1994 to ascertaining the existing level of students# achievement in language and mathematics at the end of class-I and at the end of the penultimate class. The findings of the study known as Baseline Assessment Study (BAS) were used to planning local specific interventions for accelerating the pace of universalisation of improved quality in the area of primary education.

In order to assess the level of success of three years of DPEP interventions, a subsequent study in the name of Mid-Term Assessment Survey (MAS) was mounted in the year 1997 in all the forty two districts of the Phase-I states. This study aimed at measuring the average performance of students# achievement on the newly developed competency based on achievement tests in language and mathematics at the end of class-I and at the end of the penultimate class of primary schooling. The study was also an attempt to compare the average performance of students# achievement on the BAS tests administered during the initial survey in the year 1994 with that of students# performance on the same test re-administered in the year 1997. In addition, the study also compared the inequities in achievement in regard to gender and social groups obtained separately under BAS #1994 and MAS 1997. The entire exercise of the MAS was undertaken not only to assessing students# performance on MAS and making comparisons between BAS-1994 and BAS-1997 but also to identifying the inadequacies so as to provide pointers for planning mid-course corrections.

A multistage stratified random sampling technique was employed for the conduct of the MAS. Incidentally, the tests employed under MAS-1997 developed by the Ed.CIL were different from those used under BAS-1994. The MAS was conducted by the states with the support of the NCERT. In the capacity of the nodal agency, the NCERT developed the design, instruments, framework of data analysis and other complementary materials for administration during the conduct of MAS. It also carried out the task of training the Master Trainers at the state level and closely monitoring the progress of the study.

Keeping in view the objectives of the study, the MAS tests were administered for the purposes of assessing the average performance of students and also for finding achievement gaps between gender and social groups in the present context. However, for measuring the hike in students# achievement after a period of three years of DPEP interventions, the BAS tests used during 1994 were re-administered to the students of five schools that were randomly selected from the sample of MAS-1997.

It may be pertinent to mention here that the present study provides an overview of the findings gathered from the data of five out of seven DPEP Phase-I States.

The average performance of class-I students on MAS conforms to the inherent element of contextuality of the primary school system prevailing in the country, since the range varies within and across the states. The data also reveal that all the project districts have crossed the fifty percent mark in students# achievement both in language and mathematics. There are also some districts which have displayed outstanding performance with a peak of eighty percent. In each state except Haryana there is one district which has demonstrated excellent performance in both the subjects. Besides, identical pattern of growth and sequence in both subjects have been recorded in all the districts across the states.

The analysis of students# achievement in classes III/IV also confirms the element of contextuality. The data reveal that the average performance of these students varies from a low of twenty three percent to a high of sixty one percent in mathematics from a low of thirty three percent to a high of sixty percent in language. Off all the states, only the states of Haryana and Karnataka, have shown an identical pattern of growth and sequence in both subjects.

The comparisons between the students# performance of class-I on BAS-1997 with that of BAS-1994 have revealed a hike both in language and mathematics in three out of five states. In Maharashtra and Kerala, however, a decline was discernible in some of the districts. The pattern of gains in achievement and its sequence in both subjects have been visible in the states of Haryana and Karnataka.

A comparative assessment of students# achievement of classes III/IV in BAS-1997 with that of BAS-1994 has demonstrated that the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have recorded a hike in both the subjects. Exception to this has been observed in the remaining three states wherein the performance has shown a decline in some of the districts. In the state of Karnataka, the hike in achievement is more pronounced in language than in mathematics.

The near absence of gender based inequities amongst the students of class I is a very encouraging sign. The achievement gaps between boys and girls of class-I on MAS have fallen below the five percent mark in language in all the states and in mathematics in four out of five states. In certain cases the gaps in achievement gaps on MAS have achieved the target of less than five percent only in half of the districts across the states. Similarly, the category-wise achievement gaps on MAS have also dipped below the five percent mark in eleven districts in language and in thirteen districts in mathematics.

Gender-wise achievement gaps in classes III/IV on MAS have fallen below the five percent mark in both the subjects in all the districts with the exception of two districts in mathematics in Maharashtra. The area-wise achievement gaps have dropped below the five percent mark only in some of the districts. Contrary to the area-wise gaps, the category-wise achievement gaps have fallen below the five percent mark in almost all the districts in both the subjects across the five DPEP states. In one of the states, the existing category-wise achievement gaps have shown to favour SC/ST students in a large number of cases.

The average performance of students of Class-I on MAS has been relatively better than that of classes III/IV. But still there is room for improvement in the performance of Class-I students in some of the districts. Low levels of average performance in classes III/IV show the immensity of the unfinished task. It seems that the pedagogical renewal processes have not yielded desirable results in classes III/IV as much as in class-I. Hence greater emphasis needs to be laid for realizing the desired results in classesIII/IV and in certain pockets in class-I.

When comparisons are made between BAS-1994 and BAS-1997, remarkable performance is witnesses in some of the districts. In pockets where the goal of twenty five percent hike in learners achievement has already been attained, continued efforts are required to maintain the tempo and boost this level to the mastery level one hundred percent. For those districts where the achievement level is dithering under twenty five percent, concerted efforts are required to raise it to the desired level.

In so far as the achievement gaps in gender are concerned, they have been observed to lie under the five percent mark. However, the same is not true in respect of area and category, for the gaps in these sections have been witnessed beyond the five percent mark in quite a large number of cases. Focussed attention is, therefore, required to bridge the gaps in achievement in area and category wherever existing.