Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2020

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Context: About 20% of rural children have no textbooks at home, according to the Annual State of Education Report (ASER) survey conducted in September, the sixth month of school closures due to COVID-19 across the country. The survey provides a glimpse into the levels of learning loss that students in rural India are suffering, with varying levels of access to technology, school and family resources resulting in a digital divide in education.

Relevance:
Prelims: Indian Polity and Governance– Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
Mains: GS II- Issues relating to the development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

 

About the Annual Status of Education Report

  • Every year from 2005 to 2014, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) report has provided district, state, and national estimates of the status of children's schooling and foundational learning across rural India.
  • It has been conducted by the NGO Pratham for the last 15 years.
  • It uses Census 2011 as the sampling frame and continues to be an important national source of information about children’s foundational skills across the country.
  • Starting its second decade of existence in 2016, ASER switched to an alternate-year cycle, where the 'basic' ASER described above is conducted every other year (2016, 2018). 
  • Children in the age group 3 to 16 are surveyed to find out their enrollment status in pre-school or school.
  • Children in the age group 5 to 16 are assessed one-on-one to understand their basic reading and arithmetic abilities.
  • In alternate years, ASER focuses on a different aspect of children's schooling and learning.
  • In 2017, ASER 'Beyond Basics' focused on the abilities, activities, awareness, and aspirations of youth in the 14 to 18 age group across 28 districts in the country.
  • In 2019, ASER 'Early Years' reported on young children's (age 4 to 8) pre-school and school enrolment status and their abilities on a range of important developmental indicators across 26 districts in the country.

What was the need for ASER 2020 Wave 1?

  • The COVID-19 crisis interrupted this alternate-year calendar, making it impossible to conduct the nationwide 'basic' ASER that was due to be repeated in 2020.
  • However, the urgent need to systematically examine the effects of the pandemic on schooling and learning opportunities of children across the country was apparent.
  • ASER 2020 survey was adapted to a phone survey format that could be conducted in multiple waves, in order to capture the effects of the pandemic on different aspects of children's education.
  • Recent global estimates suggest that school closures, unequal access to technology-based educational inputs used for remote learning, and other related disruptions due to the pandemic are likely to result in 'learning loss' and higher dropout rates, aggravating existing equity gaps in education among other consequences. 
  • It explores the provision of, and access to, remote education mechanisms and materials in rural parts of the country, and the ways in which children, families, and educators are engaging with these from their homes.

Objectives: The ASER 2020 Wave 1 survey focuses on the following key questions regarding the provision of, access to, engagement with, and challenges concerning remote learning during school closures:

  1. What resources do families have to support children's learning at home?
  2. How are families and other community members helping children with learning activities?
  3. What learning materials and activities are children and families receiving from schools?
  4. How are families and children accessing learning materials or activities?
  5. Are children engaging with these learning materials and activities?
  6. What kind of contact do teachers and children/parents have with each other?
  7. What kinds of challenges are families and teachers facing with regard to remote learning

This report uses the ASER 2020 survey data to explore the following areas:

Children's enrollment: Explores patterns of enrolment and dropout among 6-16-year-olds in rural India.

Children not currently enrolled: Examines which children are currently not enrolled in school and the reasons behind this.

Household resources: Explores whether households have key resources that can help support children's education. These include parents' own education levels; access to technology such as TV and smartphones; and availability of textbooks.

Learning support at home: Examines whether and how households support children during school closures. This includes support from family members as well as other support such as paid private tuition.

Access to and availability of learning materials: Reports whether families received learning materials or activities from schools, and the mediums through which they accessed these.

Children's engagement with learning materials and activities: Analyses the extent to which children actually engaged with different kinds of materials and activities received from any source; as well as the nature of contact between families and schools during the lockdown.

School survey: Explores teachers' preparation for and implementation of remote teaching-learning activities with their students, and whether they received any help from the community to support children's learning during school closures.

Children’s school enrollment

Have enrollment patterns changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • Beyond the health consequences of COVID-19, the pandemic has caused school closures as well as economic hardships due to migration and loss of livelihoods, among other reasons. 
  • Changes in school enrollment can only be accurately measured once schools reopen and children are able to return to their classrooms.
  • As compared to 2018, this interim measurement in ASER 2020 shows that:
  • At the all India level, there is a small shift towards government schools. As compared to data from ASER 2018, data from ASER 2020 (September 2020) show a small shift in enrollment from private to government schools, across all grades and among both girls and boys.
  • The proportion of boys enrolled in government schools rose from 62.8% in 2018 to 66.4% in 2020. Similarly, the proportion of girls enrolled in government schools rose from 70% to 73% during the same period.
  • In all grades, more children are enrolled in govt schools in 2020 as compared to 2018.

Children not enrolled in school 
  • One widely anticipated consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic was that many more children would drop out of school.
  • Although the true picture will only be known once schools reopen, ASER 2020 asked whether children were currently enrolled for the school year 2020-21.

Many young children yet to get admission in school: 

  • While the proportion of children not currently enrolled for the 2020-21 school year is higher than the equivalent figures for 2018, for most age groups these differences are small.
  • Higher proportions of children not enrolled are visible mostly among the youngest children (age 6 and 7), possibly because they have not yet secured admission to the school.
  • This proportion is particularly large in Karnataka (11.3% 6- and 7-year-olds not enrolled in 2020), Telangana (14%), and Rajasthan (14.9%).
  • 5.5% of rural children are not currently enrolled for the 2020 school year, up from 4% in 2018.
  • This difference is the sharpest among the youngest children (6 to 10) where 5.3% of rural children had not yet enrolled in school in 2020, in comparison to just 1.8% in 2018.
  • However, this proportion has increased much less among children in the 11-14 age group, among both boys and girls.
  • The proportion of children not currently enrolled has actually decreased over 2018 levels among the 15-16-year-old age group.
  • Across the entire 6-16 age group surveyed, more than half of the children not currently enrolled had ‘dropped out’ in 2020.
  • However, the vast majority of these children are not ‘dropouts’ in the usual sense of the term: they are awaiting admission to the school. This is particularly true for children in the 6-10 age group and explains the spike visible among the 6-year-olds in particular.
  • Because schools are closed, many young children have not yet secured admission to Std 1. 

Household resources
  • A family’s resources influence the type and amount of support they can provide for children’s learning, not only in terms of choosing a school to send their child to but in many other ways as well.
  • Increasingly, parents of children currently in school have been to school themselves.
  • On average, more educated parents have households with higher incomes. as parents’ education level increases, the likelihood that the household has a smartphone also increases; and the probability that the sampled child is studying in a government school decreases:
    • Almost a quarter of all children have parents in the ‘low’ education category (22.5%).
    • The vast majority of these children study in government schools (84%) and less than half of their families have a smartphone (45.1%).
    • Similar proportions of children have parents in the ‘high’ education category (27.6%).
    • But a far lower proportion are in government schools (53.9%), while most have families with a smartphone (78.7%).
  • Among enrolled children, 61.8% live in families that own at least one smartphone which was merely 36.5% in 2018.
  • About 11% of families bought a new phone after the lockdown, of which 80% were smartphones.

Do children have textbooks at home?

  • Overall more than 80% of children said they had textbooks for their current grade.
  • This proportion was higher among students enrolled in government schools (84.1%) than in private ones (72.2%).
  • In Bihar, less than 8% got such materials from their schools, along with 20% in West Bengal, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
  • More than 80% of rural children in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala and Gujarat received such input.

Learning support for children at home
  • For both types of schools, more younger children receive help from families than older children.
  • Overall, 81.5% of children in Std I-II receive help from family members as compared to 68.3% of children in Std IX and above.
  • For each grade level, private school children get more help than government school children.
    • For example, for children in Std III-V, 75.3% of government school children receive help as compared to 81.7% of children enrolled in private schools.
  • As children move into higher grades, fewer get help from family members, especially mothers.
    • For example, 33% of Std III children receive help from their mothers but only 15% of Std IX & above children are helped by their mothers.
  • However, help from older siblings increases as children move to higher grades.

Access to and availability of learning materials and activities
  • Overall, approximately one-third of all enrolled children received some kind of learning materials or activities from their teachers during the reference week.
  • A slightly larger proportion of students in higher classes received materials as compared to lower classes. For example, close to 38% of high school students received materials as compared to 30.8% of children in Std I-II.
  • But those who did receive material received it in a variety of ways.
  • Regardless of school type, WhatsApp was by far the most common medium used for sharing learning materials and activities, followed by phone calls and visits.
  • A higher proportion of students enrolled in private schools received materials through WhatsApp than their counterparts in government schools.
  • Accessing materials/opportunities via phone calls or visits was more common among children enrolled in government schools.

Children's engagement with learning materials and activities
  • Most children (70.2%) did some form of a learning activity through material shared by tutors or family members themselves, with or without regular input.
  • 11% had access to live online classes, and 21% had videos or recorded classes, with much higher levels in private schools.
  • About 60% studied from their textbooks and 20% watched classes broadcast on TV.
  • More educated parents had greater contact with school teachers, as well as a lower proportion of children who did not do any activity in the reference week.
  • This suggests that children whose parents could offer support at home were also those who got more support from the school.

Suggestions

Fluid Situation: When schools reopen, it will be important to continue to monitor who goes back to school as well as to understand whether there is learning loss as compared to previous years.

Building on and Strengthening Family Support: Parents’ increasing levels of education can be integrated into planning for learning improvement, as advocated by National Education Policy, 2020. Reaching parents at the right level is essential to understand how they can help their children and older siblings also play an important role.

Hybrid Learning: As children do a variety of different activities at home, effective ways of hybrid learning need to be developed which combine traditional teaching-learning with newer ways of “reaching-learning”.

Assessment of Digital Modes and Content: In order to improve digital content and delivery for the future, an in-depth assessment of what works, how well it works, who it reaches, and who it excludes is needed.

Mediating the Digital Divide: Children from families who had low education and also did not have resources like smartphones had less access to learning opportunities. However, even among such households, there is evidence of effort with family members trying to help and schools trying to reach them. These children will need even more help than others when schools reopen.

Way Ahead
  • That schoolgoing children have suffered hugely is obvious. Covid-19 severely disrupted lives across India, as elsewhere.
  • Millions of people lost sources of livelihood during the lockdown; those in the informal sector did not get paid for several months; even during the “unlock” phase, earnings have dipped. Household savings have evaporated. Many people are in deep debt.
  • But what leaps out from the flood of depressing news is that even while negotiating this catastrophic turn of events, families, rich and poor, have tried their best to support their children’s education when classroom teaching went virtual.
  • Two key issues must be given top priority. Along with strengthening family support in children’s learning, working on more impactful digital content, etc, there needs to be special, targeted incentives for children at risk of dropping out of school in the coming days. They must stay on.
  • Second, there is an urgent need for free remedial classes for all those who didn’t have optimal access to learning sources when there was no physical classroom teaching or who have not been able to absorb what they received remotely.
  • The pandemic has affected every child in India, but not equally. When schools reopen, it is vital to continue to track who goes back to school, and to understand whether there is a learning loss compared to previous years.
  • Children who have fallen behind and who need more help than others should be policy priorities. 
  • The nationally representative sample highlighted the role played by the families where everyone in the family supported children regardless of their education levels.
  • This strength needs to be leveraged by reaching out to more students and reducing the distance between schools and homes.



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