NEW DELHI : Standards of education in rural India have declined almost every year since 2009 despite huge government investments, one of the organisers of a major new study said Thursday.

The annual survey by Indian education research group Pratham showed that the proportion of children aged about 10 who are able to perform a basic reading task dropped from 52.8 percent in 2009 to 47 percent in 2013.

Rukmini Banerji from Pratham said although the latest 2013 figures were little changed from 2012, the drop in standards over the longer period showed a cause for concern.

The findings of the survey are more bad news for the Congress-led coalition government which is trying to fight off a looming defeat in general elections due by May after a decade in power.

Congress has ploughed billions of dollars into education, including building schools and encouraging children to enrol, particularly in impoverished rural areas.

Two thirds of India’s vast 1.2-billion population lies in rural areas where the battle for power at the upcoming elections will be fought.

A Right to Education Act passed in 2009 guarantees state schooling for children from six to 14 and enrolment levels reached 96 percent in this age category in 2013, little changed from 2012, the study said.

“This decade has been good for schooling, for improving infrastructure and development. But learning for all is only just beginning and it really needs to pick up momentum,” Banerji told AFP.

The survey showed 52.8 percent of children in standard five (children aged about 10) across government and private schools were able to read a text from standard two (children aged about six) in 2009.

This fell to 47 percent in 2013, according to the report released on Wednesday.

In maths, 33.2 percent of children in standard three in government schools (children aged about eight) were able to solve a simple two-digit subtraction problem in 2010. This fell to 18.9 percent in 2013.

The drop was smaller in private schools, with 47.8 percent of children able to solve the same problem in 2010, compared to 44.6 percent in 2013.

“The guarantee of education is meaningless without satisfactory learning. There are serious implications for India’s equity and growth if basic learning outcomes do not improve soon,” the report.

The enrolment of children in private schools increased slightly in 2013 from the year before to 29 percent, part of a larger trend of a shift away from government schools. In 2006, just 18.7 percent of students were enrolled in private schools.

The survey of 600,000 students in government and private schools in rural area involved local groups and institutions visiting households in almost 16,000 villages across the country.