The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is a household survey that provides estimates of children’s schooling status and their ability to read simple text and do basic arithmetic. The survey reaches almost all rural districts of India and covers children in the age group 3-16. 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 or have dropped out, as well as those who are in government schools, private schools, religious schools or any other type of school. It thus generates estimates of basic learning for all children in rural India.
ASER is the only annual source of information on children’s learning outcomes available in India today. With the exception of 2015, ASER has been conducted every year since 2005. This is the eleventh ASER report.
ASER is a rural survey. Urban areas are not covered. In most years, ASER has attempted to reach every rural district of the country (although in some years certain states have been excluded for logistical reasons, such as Arunachal Pradesh in 2013 and Jammu and Kashmir in 2010). However, every year ASER is unable to reach some rural districts. Generally this is due to natural disasters, situations of unrest or conflict in the district.
Salient outcomes of the ASER Report
At the all India level, enrollment increased for all age groups between 2014 and 2016.
Enrollment for the age group 6-14 increased from 96.7% in 2014 to 96.9% in 2016.
Enrollment for the age group 15-16 has also improved for both boys and girls, rising from 83.4% in 2014 to 84.7% in 2016.
At the all India level, the proportion of children (age 6-14) enrolled in private schools is almost unchanged at 30.5% in 2016, as compared to 30.8% in 2014.
• Gender Gap
Gender gap in private school enrollment has decreased slightly in both the 7-10 and the 11-14 age group.
In 2014, among children age 11-14, the gap between boys' and girls' enrollment in private school was 7.6 percentage points.
In 2016, this gap had decreased to 6.9 percentage points.
• Quality of Education
Nationally, the proportion of children in Standard III who are able to read at least standard I level text has gone up slightly, from 40.2% in 2014 to 42.5% in 2016.
Nationally, reading levels in Standard VIII show a slight decline since 2014 (from 74.7% to 73.1%).
In almost all states there is some improvement in the arithmetic levels of children enrolled in government schools in Standard III.
From 2014 to 2016, for Standard V children, the level of arithmetic as measured by children's ability to do simple division problems has remained almost the same at 26%.
However, the ability to do division among Standard VIII students has continued to drop. This declining trend has been observed since 2010.
c) English Readability
Ability to read English is unchanged for lower primary grades.
Children's ability to read English is slightly improved in Standard III but relatively unchanged in Standard V.
In 2016, 32% children in Standard III could read simple words in English as compared to 28.5% in 2009.
In comparison, in 2016, 24.5% of children enrolled in Standard V could read simple English sentences. This number is virtually unchanged since 2009.
Children's attendance shows no major change from 2014.
In 2016, ASER data indicates that 71.4% of enrolled children in primary schools and 73.2% of enrolled children in upper primary schools were present on the day of the visit.
In 2014, these figures were 71.3% in primary schools and 71.1% in upper primary schools.
• Quality of Infrastructure
As part of the ASER survey, one government school with primary sections is visited in each sampled village. ASER 2016 visited 15,630 government schools with primary sections. Of these 9,644 were primary schools and 5,986 were upper primary schools which also had primary sections.
ASER records whether toilets are available and useable on the day of the visit.
Since 2010, there has been significant progress in the availability of useable toilets.
Nationally in 2016, 68.7% of schools visited had toilet facilities that were useable as compared 47.2% in 2010.
In 2016, only 3.5% of the schools visited had no toilet facility.
The proportion of schools visited where girls' toilets were available and useable has gone up from 32.9% in 2010 to 55.7% in 2014 to 61.9% in 2016.
b) Drinking Water
Drinking water was available in 74.1% of the schools that were visited in 2016, down from 75.6% in 2014.
In 2010, this figure was 72.7%.
There has been no change in the availability of computers in schools since 2014.
The 2016 figure is 20% as compared to 19.6% in 2014.
The proportion of schools with libraries has fallen from 78.1% in 2014 to 75.5% in 2016.
However, children were seen using library books in more schools in 2016.
In 42.6% of schools that were visited, children were seen using library books as compared to 40.7% in 2014.
The reasons for poor state of education are:
• The formal school system, denies space to children and teachers to engage with subjective experiences and life as it plays out for the student. There is a gap between the world of books and the world a child inhabits. School textbooks are out of sync with the reality a child lives in. The clash between these two worlds produces dissonance.
• The teacher-child relationship remains confined in hierarchical terms. All children who come to a learning site should have the opportunity to contribute to the attractions of the space by their conversations and their questions.
• The quality and quantity of teachers are very poor. The existing teacher‘s training and education programs are ill suited to meet the contemporary understanding of students’ needs.
• As per the No Detention Policy, no student up to class VIII can be failed or expelled from school. All the students up till Class VIII will automatically be promoted to next class. This policy has led to students developing a lackadaisical attitude, with there being no risk of failing. It also makes no distinction between good and bad students, and between those who work hard and those who don't. Thus it makes no effective way to implement good level of teaching and learning.
The phenomenon of poor learning outcomes is the product of many factors which influence learning, and should not be conveniently pinned to the door of the no-detention policy.
The steps that can be taken to improve learning outcomes can be:
• Measuring learning level outcomes of all children on a regular basis.
• Catalysing a "performance-driven culture" and rewarding high performers at every level.
• Changing stakeholders' mindset and preparing them for new provisions, in which parents were made responsible or accountable for full attendance of their children.