ASER Survey and issues in school education – Explained, pointwise

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Recently, the 16th Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) survey 2021 has been released. Unlike other ASER reports that are focused on learning outcomes, 2020 and 2021 reports are focused on rural school education levels in a post-pandemic world.

It also captures trends during the early phases of partial school reopening. The survey results are important for India, as the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in one of the longest school closures in the world.

About ASER 2021 Survey

The ASER survey is facilitated by Pratham Education Foundation. The survey is known for the range of insights it provides on levels of foundational learning at the elementary level.

The 2021 survey was based on a household-based telephonic survey conducted in rural areas across 581 districts in 25 states and three Union Territories.

The survey assesses enrolment in schools and tuition classes and access to devices and learning resources rather than the organisation’s usual face-to-face survey (Face to Face survey assesses learning outcomes and children’s competencies in reading and arithmetic skills.)

What are the Key findings of ASER Survey 2021?

Increase in Enrolment in Government Schools: Around 70.3% of children in India enrolled in government schools in 2021. This is up from 65.8% in 2020 and 64.3% in 2018.

Decrease in enrolment in private schools: In 2020, the enrolment rate was 28.8%, which decreased to 24.4% in 2021.

Tuition Dependent: There was a 40% increase in the number of school-going children taking tuition during the closure of their schools amid the pandemic.

Digital Divide: Smartphone penetration in rural India had grown from 36.5% in 2018 to 62% in 2020. 68% of enrolled children had at least one smartphone at home, but their percentage varied sharply between children attending government schools (63.7%) and private ones (79%).

In states like Bihar, UP, the lack of access varied from 54 to 34%.

One-third of children in Classes I and II have not yet seen the inside of a physical classroom.

State-run schools ran online classes more reliably than private ones in rural areas.

Read moreWhy do we need to reopen schools?
Why there is an increase in government school enrolment?

1. Result of financial distress due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 2. The closure of affordable private schools, 3. The movement of migrants and their children to rural areas, 4. State governments concerted efforts to reach out to children with learning materials.

What are the challenges highlighted by the ASER Survey?

Unable to catch up with syllabus after schools reopen: In the reopened schools surveyed, the ASER Report found that the children face hardship in catching up with the syllabus. This is one of the biggest challenges in the school education system.

Vulnerability of most disadvantaged households: The largest increase in children taking tuition was in the most disadvantaged households. This raises the question regarding the efficacy of remote learning and technological solutions to a crisis of access and inequality. So, there is a sign of the persistent demand for good education among vulnerable sections.

Impact on nutritional health: The closure of schools also affected the level of nutrition among the children where the midday meals have been stopped.

Reduction in school budget: This year, the Centre slashed the education budget by 6%, with school education taking the biggest cut.

Intergenerational learning loss:  Junior school kids are found to have lost elementary skills. Educationists fear that the learning loss caused by the pandemic might be inter-generational, with grave consequences for the economy and society.

Benefits were not evenly spread: In homes short of digital devices, students in higher classes typically got usage precedence over the younger lot, so the facility’s benefits were not evenly spread.

How to bridge the learning gaps?

Repeat the academic year: One way of addressing the learning crisis might be to repeat the entire academic year. For instance, The government in Kenya has recently decided to do just this. Some countries, such as the Philippines, allow extended time for classes on resumption, both in the duration of school hours and more calendar days of interaction.

Bringing back the dropouts: Whenever schools reopen, the government has to bring back the dropouts. For instance, the Uttar Pradesh government proposes to track all students disappearing between Classes VIII and IX. Similar tracking is necessary at the India level.

Special focus on marginalised sections: Introducing the concept of One-to-one tutoring for the most disadvantaged learners. For example, the National Tutoring Programme of the UK and a similar programme in Ghana were done this. In Italy, university students are volunteering to conduct one-on-one classes for middle school children from poor immigrant backgrounds.

How to improve school education?

1. Invest heavily in public education by increasing budgetary support, 2. Forestall recovery plan’s potential fallout over the next decade and thereafter, 3. Focus more on the digital infrastructure, especially in the remote areas where more disruptions are visible.

Read moreBlended model of learning – Explained in detail
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