06 June 2022 10:16:22 IST

Scores in math dip as students graduate to higher grades

Mathematics was not always her foe, Neha* tells us. In fact, she remembers her middle school days, when she scored full marks in the subject. Times have changed. She dreads the subject now. In fact, when we spoke to this XII grader from Kozhikode, her mathematics board examination was just five days away. “I am super scared. What if I flunk?” she worries. 

Neha is just one of those many teenagers in India, who are not proficient in the subject. The latest National Achievement Survey affirms this. The survey, the result of which was released earlier in May says that the mathematical proficiency of students across the country has been dipping, as they move to higher grades. Conducted by the Ministry of Education, it had tested 34 lakh students from across the country, studying in grades III, V, VIII and X. 

While third graders across the country scored a cumulative average of 306 marks out of 500 in mathematics, it dipped to 284 in grade V, 255 in grade VIII and 220 in grade X. This comes after UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goals 4 report, which said that only 12.3 per cent of India’s lower secondary school students (aged 10–16) are proficient in basic mathematics. 

The math horror 

Neha says that her love for mathematics turned to fear in ninth grade. “The concepts were quite complicated and I often never understood my mathematics teacher. I relied on tuitions after that, which didn’t work out well either. I now watch a few YouTube channels that explain our chapters,” she says, adding that she is waiting to graduate from school and bid adieu to mathematics forever. 

Anisha Sharma, the principal of Delhi Public School, Siliguri, notes that a lot of students are scared of mathematics and says that this, in fact, affects the way in which they learn it. “It also depends on the quality of the teacher and the way in which they teach.

They would often want to go beyond regular classroom teaching, to ensure that students grasp it well,” she says. A retired mathematics teacher from Chennai, Sridhar N, agrees. “A lot of teachers and students ignore the fundamentals of mathematics. Also, students tend to forget what they learn, within six months. Schools should implement periodical assessment and must test students on the entire syllabus for the final examination,” he says. 

The issue escalates as these students graduate from school and opt to study courses in engineering, which require a lot of math proficiency. Dr SRR Senthilkumar, the principal of Sona College of Technology, Salem, says that he’s been noticing a drop in the quality of students that they have been receiving over years.

“Engineering aspirants must be good in mathematics. When it comes to core engineering, students who do not understand maths very well tend to struggle,” he says, adding that online education owing to the pandemic has only made things worse. “Often times, we conduct bridge courses for these students,” he adds. 

A survey amid pandemic 

NAS 2021 was conducted across the country on November 12, 2021, right when the second wave of the pandemic had ended. Schools in most of the states were closed throughout that period and in some states, the student had just begun to attend in-person classes. Sharma believes that this could be a reason behind students scoring such low grades in mathematics. DPS Siliguri was one of the sample schools chosen for the survey. 

“The schools were closed during the lockdown and a lot of students had problems grasping their lessons online. The fundamentals of mathematics cannot be taught online,” says Sharma, adding that the results may have been different, had the survey been conducted at a different time. The previous NAS, despite having only analysed third, fifth and eighth graders, noted that their scores were much higher and what they scored in 2021.