ASER 2016's findings on learning outcomes
The proportion of children in Std III who are able to read at least Std I level text has gone up slightly, from 40.2% in 2014 to 42.5% in 2016.
In 2014, for the country, 25.4% of Std III children could do a 2-digit subtraction. This number has risen slightly to 27.7% in 2016.
This improvement has come primarily from government schools where the percentage of Std III children who could do a 2-digit subtraction increased from 17.2% in 2014 to 20.2% in 2016
Stagnation of outcomes in Indian low-cost private schools?
Note that the arithmetic levels have fallen from 42.4% in 2007 to 25.4% in 2014.
Similarly, the reading levels (grade 3 students who can read grade 2 text) of public schools has increased from 17.2 to 19.3, while that of private schools has increased from 37.8 to 38 (page 52, ASER 2016)
This doesn't mean that one should shut low-cost private schools. One can assist them by training the teachers in these schools. I discussed several possible approaches in an earlier post. For instance, these teachers can be given Skill India coupons to get training etc.
Since we are struggling a lot to improve governance in public schools, why not utilize low-cost private schools where you at least don't have first order problems like teacher absence etc. Also, the argument that teachers in low-cost private schools can't be trained is too far-fetching. May be they can be trained and may be they will do much better than public school teachers after the training, given their incentives. We have such examples of Shiksha Karmi programme in Rajasthan where 8th grade and 10th grade passed tribal girls were trained and they caught up over a period of time.
We should at least try training teachers in low-cost private schools once. One should not look at it in terms of - why should government support private schools? One, providing such training has huge externalities. If children outcomes is the one we care about, we shouldn't desist from doing something that could possibly help us achieve that. Two, why not think of this as an investment? Government does give tax incentives to many big industries and corporates. Why not give to low-cost private schools when it may have long-term impact?
In a situation with low-learning levels, we should grab every opportunity that helps us improve the situation. Letting off anything isn't wise.
Stagnation of enrolment in low-cost private schools?
ASER 2016 reports
the proportion of children (age 6-14) enrolled in private schools is almost unchanged at 30.5% in 2016, as compared to 30.8% in 2014
Precision of ASER's estimates
a study done on the precision of ASER enrolment and learning estimates shows that margins of error are well within 5% at the state level