State of adolescent learning

Context: Over the last few decades in India, there has been a massive government drive to push for universal enrolment, extending to secondary as well as primary school children.

Successive Annual Status of Education Reports (ASER) have shown that this drive has been largely successful for both age groups, with high enrolment rates even during the pandemic.  But enrolment is only one piece of the puzzle.

What are the challenges faced by children wrt their education during the pandemic?

Learning at home through online education during the pandemic has been far from successful for the children. As per ASER 2020 and 2021,

Access to technology-based resources:

Children: Even though over 70% of children in Classes IX to XII had a smartphone at home, only about 35% of them could use it for studies at all times, while 17% could not use it at all. In the absence of formal schooling, family members often assumed the task of teaching.

Adolescents: The ASER reports show adolescents did not fare well — older children received less learning support as compared to younger ones.

Additional task burden:

Additionally, some children — especially older girls — faced competing demands due to financial stress and increased requirement of care work at home.

– Gender divide in housework: Even in 2017, ASER had reported that almost 90% of female youth aged 14-18 did housework on a daily basis, compared to three-fourth of male youth.

– Pandemic worsened unpaid care work burden: According to the Building Back Better report by UNICEF, school closures worsened girls’ and women’s unpaid care work, limiting the time available to learn at home. During COVID-19, girls might have had to replace the work done by the missing caregiver, or simply because of gendered expectations.

In all age categories, girls were more likely than boys to be taking on this additional burden.

How gender disparity impacts learning outcomes?

The kind of work children did during lockdowns shows that they are exposed to gendered expectations from a young age. A study using ASER, India Human Development Survey and National Family Health Survey data suggests that long before the pandemic, gender disparity had started impacting learning outcomes too. As per the study,

Female disadvantage persists in mathematics learning outcomes over the last decade, and shows no signs of disappearing. The study correlates this finding with “regressive household practices” that limit the autonomy of women (such as veiling of the face by women, and the practice of women eating after men). It further finds that female disadvantage in mathematics learning is higher where there is higher prevalence of such practices.

What is the way forward?

All of the above findings show that there’s an eminent need to integrate gender sensitisation modules into curricula for adolescents’ education.

School-based gender sensitisation programmes can play a transformative role in ensuring that all children get an equitable environment to grow.

For example, an attitude change programme in Haryana run by Breakthrough and evaluated by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) showed promising results, with participants exhibiting gender-equitable behaviours even two years after the programme ended. It was centred around interactive classroom discussions about gender equality in secondary schools.

Scaling up such programmes for all schools and States could help bring about more gender-progressive views among communities.

Source: This post is based on the article “State of adolescent learning” published in The Hindu on 12th Apr 22.

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