While billions are spent on new schools to boost literacy and growth, teaching standards lag behind

Amy Kazmin:

Yet in their zeal to build schools, and to encourage attendance with incentives such as free lunches, Indian policy makers have paid scant attention to what is taking place inside the new classrooms. There has been little serious national debate over how to teach fundamental skills effectively to millions of first-generation students.

“The government said let’s get children into school, we’ll worry about quality later, and we’ll worry about content of teaching later,” says Vimala Ramachandran, a professor at New Delhi’s National University of Educational Planning and Administration. “They separated the quantitative goals from what is happening inside the school.”

Ms Aiyar echoes that view: “The government focused entirely on getting schools to children and getting children into schools. It assumed the teaching-learning story would take care of itself.”

Some argue India’s low learning levels are the result of an “overambitious” national curriculum, which assumes all students will master reading in their first year of school, even if they come from “text-scarce” environments, with little or no prior exposure to written material. “By the end of grade 1, they are supposed to be done with reading,” says Ms Duflo. “It’s a complete fantasy.”

Madison, too, has long dealt with disastrous reading results.