ASER stands for Annual Status of Education Report. It is an annual survey that aims to provide reliable annual estimates of children’s schooling status and basic learning levels for each State and rural district in India. ASER has been conducted every year since 2005 in almost all the rural districts of the country. By far, it is the largest citizen-led survey in India. It is also the only annual source of information on children’s learning outcomes available in India today. Unlike most other large-scale learning assessments, ASER is a household-based rather than school-based survey. This design enables all children to be included – those who have never been to school and those who have dropped out of their schooling. They also include those who are in government schools, private schools and religion/mission run schools. In this year’s survey, in each rural district, 30 villages are sampled and in each village, 20 randomly selected households are surveyed. This process generates a total of 600 households per district or about 300,000 households for the country as a whole. Approximately 600,000 children in the age group 3-16 who are resident in these households are surveyed (ASER Centre, 2020).
From the year 2005 to 2014, ten annual nationally representative ASER reports with a focus on schooling and learning were brought out. Since 2016, the major nationwide ASER has been done in each alternate year. In the gap year, ASER focuses on a specific aspect of education in the country. In 2017, the focus was on the age group of 14 to 18 years of age, while in 2019, the focus was on the age group of 4 to 8 years. The year 2020 would have been a usual nationwide ASER on basic reading and arithmetic, but with the COVID-19 crisis, it has interrupted the 15-year ASER cycle. However, during the pandemic, it has facilitated to essentially look at a systematic way at how the crisis is affecting schooling and learning opportunities of children across the country. This year the ASER 2020 Wave 1 was carried out as a phone survey reaching a nationally representative set of households and schools in 30 States and Union Territories. Data collection was done in September 2020. The Total Households surveyed were 52,227. Information obtained from children between 5 to 16 years of age is 59,251 and the information obtained from schools is 8963.
The ASER 2020 data show a slight increase in the proportion of children attending government schools and a decline in private school enrollment when compared with the 2018 data. What is interesting to note is between 2018 and 2020, there was a little change in other household assets like television or vehicle, but a sharp increase in smartphones at home which was visible in the data. For both boys and girls, there are slightly higher proportions of children who are not enrolled in school in 2020 as compared to 2018. But given the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 crisis, at least for the youngest children (age 6-7), the main cause of not being enrolled in school right now maybe that families are waiting for schools to open to seek admission. As of today, there is an increased in the number of children who are not at all enrolled in schools; 5.3% in 2020 as compared to 1.8% in 2018 for age groups of 6 to 10 years of age. 3.9% in 2020 as compared to 3.2% in 2018 for age groups of 11 to 14 years of age. However, for age groups between 15 to 16 years of age, the number has decreased by only 9.9% in 2020 as compared to 12.0% in 2018.
When it comes to learning support, from the overall scenario, households reported that about 75% of the children get some help at home and roughly 30% of the children attend paid tuition classes. Parental help to children rises with education. In “low” education families, siblings help a lot too. Additionally, parents with similar education levels are likely to help their children whether children are studying in private schools or government schools. In the same line, when it comes to study materials and activities being sent to students, 33.5% of all government school children get them regularly, while for private school children, the percentage is 40.6. The medium through which a child gets the learning materials or activities are through; Whats App – 67.3% for government schools and 87.2% for private schools, Phone Calls – 12.3% % for government schools and 9.9% for private schools and Personal Visits – 31.8% for government schools and 11.5% for private schools. The data reflects that there is some amount of learning taking place and efforts are being made in trying to reach out to the student’s community to facilitate learning at home. With reference to maintaining contacts between the children’s teachers and parents, it was found that educated parents have more contact with the schools.
Data in relation to school efforts during the pandemic which is an ongoing process reveals some interesting facts. Out of 16,761 government schools that were contacted, which has primary sections, 8963 schools responded. The individuals who responded were either a teacher or the headteacher. They were then asked to select one specific grade that they could give maximum information about. 40.8% reported having phone numbers of all the school children, while 37.7% reported having phone numbers of at least half of all the school children. Overall, 86.8% of school respondents reported distributing textbooks to all children in the grade they were reporting about. When it comes to the data of training received in conducting remote teaching-learning activities, 50.0% reported receiving training of some sort while 68.8% got brief instructions (series/set of sessions). What is pleased to note is that across rural India, 70% of schools got help from community members while reaching out to children.
The survey appears to have touched on all key aspects relevant to the present time and the fact that the survey was conducted in the month of September this year, has enabled ASER to document happening occurrences which will be of key references for future research. The thoughts put forward have been explicitly outlined. These include: When schools re-open, it will be important to continue to monitor who goes back to school and most importantly to understand whether there is learning loss as compared to previous years. Parents are more educated than ever before. More than 75% of fathers and mothers have more than primary school education. This fact should be integrated into planning for learning improvement of children. This is perhaps the reason why the National Education Policy advocates “Reaching parents at the right level” to figure out in what way they can help their children. Elder siblings also play an important role in children’s education. Children are doing a variety of different activities at home. Effective ways of “hybrid” learning need to be developed. How traditional teaching-learning in terms of home-learning can be combined with newer ways of reaching-learning needs to be worked out. In-depth assessment of “what works and how” is needed to improve digital content and delivery for the future. Expectedly, families who had low education and also did not have resources like smartphones were more deprived of learning opportunities. But even among such households, there is evidence of effort: family members who try to help and schools who try to reach them via phone calls or visits. These children will require more help as compared to others when schools reopen. Closer contact with such parents will be needed.
In pre-COVID times, typically the primary “mode” of learning was centred on teachers and students with teaching-learning happening in school. Everyone came to school daily, sat in classrooms, and used materials such as textbooks and worksheets. In the period of school closure, many more methods, materials and modes have been tried. Parents, siblings and others in the community have perhaps become more involved in children’s learning. Moving forward, all of these efforts need to be effectively integrated to help children to learn well (Source: www.pratham.org). The new normal will take some more time for things to balance, in particular for the students who are still trying to cope up with the newer ways of learning. This will remain a challenge for our rural schools which we hope will be sorted out sooner than expected.
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