The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2018 –
ASER 2018 is a nation-wide household survey that provides a snapshot of children’s schooling and learning for a representative sample of children across rural India.
- The ASER survey covered almost 5 lakh children between the ages of 3 and 16 in 596 rural districts across the country. In an encouraging trend, it found that enrolment is increasing and the percentage of children under 14 who are out of school is less than 4%.
- A national survey was not conducted in 2015. Starting its second decade of existence in 2016, ASER surveys now use Census 2011 as the sampling frame. In addition, in 2016 ASER changed to an alternate-year cycle, conducting the ‘basic’ ASER in one year and using a different lens to examine new aspects of children’s learning the following year. Thus, ASER 2016 followed the ‘basic’ model, sampling children age 3 to 16 and testing reading, arithmetic, and English for children age 5 to 16.
- ASER 2017 inquired about what youth are currently doing and aspiring to, in addition to assessing their foundational skills and their ability to apply these to everyday tasks.
- In 2018, ASER returns once again to the ‘basic’ model. A total of 546,527 children in the age group 3 to 16 years were surveyed this year. ASER 2018 is the thirteenth ASER report
Data for class-8 students –
- There has been some improvement in the reading and arithmetic skills of lower primary students in rural India over the last decade; but the skills of Class VIII students have actually seen a decline.
- More than half of Class VIII students cannot correctly solve a numerical division problem and more than a quarter of them cannot read a primary level text.
- While, the results of a yearly survey that NGO Pratham has been carrying out since 2006, shows that those figures are worse than they were a decade ago. In 2008, 84.8% of Class VIII students could read a text meant for Class II; by 2014, only 74.6% could do so, and by 2018, that percentage had fallen further to 72.8%.
- Four years ago, 44.1% of students in Class VIII could correctly divide a three digit number by a single digit number; in 2018, that figure had fallen slightly to 43.9%.
- The gender gap is also shrinking, even within the older cohort of 15-and-16-year-olds. Only 13.6% of girls of that age are out of school, the first time that the figure has dropped below the 15% mark.
Data for class-3 students –
- There has been gradual improvement in the status of class three students since 2014. However, even in 2018, less than 30% of students in Class III are actually at their grade level, that is, able to read a Class II text and do double digit subtraction. This means that a majority of children need immediate help in acquiring foundational skills in literacy and numeracy.
- Examples – (State wise)
- Almost half of Class III students in government schools in Himachal Pradesh can read a Class II level text, while another quarter can read a Class I level text. This allows the teacher to use grade level textbooks for most of the class, although the rest will need ongoing support for basic skills.
- In government schools in Uttar Pradesh, however, a quarter of students cannot recognise letters yet, while another 37% can recognise letters, but not read words. Urgent and immediate help is needed if these students are not to be left behind.
Challenges ahead regarding the quality of the education at the primary & secondary levels in Rural India –
- Extensive international research in disciplines as varied as neuroscience, psychology, and economics shows that early childhood – defined internationally as the age group of 0-8 years – is a critical period during which the foundations of lifelong learning are built. 90% of all brain development takes place by the age of 6. Giving children the kind of inputs and experiences they need in the early years has been proven to have positive effects not only on children’s academic performance in school, but also on a range of social and economic outcomes even many years later.
- Today, the importance of ECE is widely recognized internationally and is included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 that were approved by countries around the globe, including India. SDG Target 4.2 states that by 2030 countries should ‘ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education’.
- In India too, the importance of early care and stimulation has been recognized in the National Policy on Early Childhood Care and Education (2013), which aims to provide ‘developmentally appropriate preschool education for 3 to 6 year olds with a more structured and planned school readiness component for 5 to 6 year olds.’ These recommendations have been ASER 2018 23 incorporated into the recently created Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan scheme of the Government of India, which has brought renewed focus and attention on ECE through the Integrated Scheme on School Education that aims to treat school education ‘holistically without segmentation from pre-nursery to Class 12’. This scheme aims for greater coordination and convergence with the Ministry of Women and Child Development to focus on preschool education for children aged 4-6 years; states are encouraged to co-locate Anganwadi centres in government primary schools or else implement pre-primary classes of up to two years duration prior to Std I.
- The limited information available so far suggests that different states are putting different mechanisms in place in order to achieve this integration, which requires coordination not only between academic stages (preschool and primary school), but also between ministries and their respective structures on the ground. In this process, it is also important to take into account the differing contexts across individual states, some of which find expression in the different pathways that children take in the early years. A ‘one size fits all’ solution for young children is unlikely to be successful.
- In both international and national policy documents, the key words are ‘quality’ and ‘developmentally appropriate’ education in the early years. The answer is not only to ensure that children attend preschool followed by primary school, but also to ensure that these provide environments that help children to grow and thrive. The continuum envisaged for the early years curriculum should start from and build on what children bring with them when they enter preschool and school; but so far, beyond the IECEI study that looked only at 3 states, little information is available on scale on children’s ‘school readiness’ across the country. Perhaps this will be the question addressed by a future ASER.
Lakshya Ahead (Way Forward) –
- A motivated state machinery with leadership and consistent policy backing is the key to big systemic changes. NGOs and foundations can be helpful but not without energy from state functionaries. The transparent and simple methodology of assessment of basic learning outcomes developed by ASER has been replicated in other countries in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and even Latin America. Perhaps India could show the way for massive improvement in learning outcomes too.
- Appropriate assessment: Pen-and-paper assessments do not make sense for most children in Std III in India. Understanding their current level of reading or arithmetic will need other methods like working with them one-on-one with oral, interactive tasks.
- ‘Catch up’ action is needed urgently and on large scale. If most children can acquire basic foundational skills like reading and arithmetic by the end of Std II, then a huge national problem of later learning gaps can be solved. Existing research and practice show that effective programs can be implemented to solve the learning crisis early. But this requires moving away, at least for part of the school day or school year, from the current curriculum and textbook content to focus on foundations. To ensure that every child has the opportunity to ‘catch up’ requires a significant realigning of all elements of the education system. This ‘catch up’ will involve millions of children and hence how to get this done must be the highest priority for policy makers, planners, and practitioners.
- Immediate and thorough re-visioning is needed for the early grades. This extends to rethinking both ‘what’ and ‘how’. What are the goals? What should a child entering Std III be able to do? How can curriculum in the first two years support teachers and schools to enable children to reach these goals? How should it be reflected in textbooks and other content? How should teaching, practice and assessment methods be changed? It is not simply a question of ‘lightening’ the load but more of reconceptualising what is needed and at what pace. Today’s textbooks expect a far higher level of literacy and numeracy ability than today’s children bring to the classroom in Std I, II, or III. It is essential and urgent to realign academic expectations with the system’s ability to deliver, with teachers’ capability to support, and children’s capacity to acquire, accumulate, and progress.
- All available data shows that India is close to achieving ‘schooling for all’. Now is the time to make ‘learning for all’ a national priority. We need to move beyond this year’s ASER headlines into meaningful action. Ensuring that every child has the opportunity to acquire foundational skills in primary school will need substantial changes in the ways that the system currently works. We need to rework what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how we do it, from the policy level to the classroom level.
- As a country, we have acknowledged that we have a crisis of learning on hand. Now it is time to understand the contours of the problem and take decisions accordingly, so that year on year there is progress. The first step to lift up the learning trajectory of children is to ensure foundational skills. To enable millions of children to learn how to read, to comprehend and to calculate we need a massive ‘catch up’ effort. This ‘catch up’ needs a ‘push forward’ and not a ‘hold back’. We need to believe that the real right to education is not only in terms of years of schooling but ‘value added’ in terms of learning; first foundational skills, then higher level capabilities and knowledge, and finally to being able to cope with a dynamic and changing wide world beyond.