Friday, January 22, 2010

India's Report Card: ASER 2009

Assessment Survey Education Research Center, New Delhi in association with Pratham released its fifth annual survey report, ASER 2009 that studies the state of education in India. In 2009, ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) was conducted in 575 districts, over 16,000 villages and 300,000 households, 14560 schools, and surveyed almost 700,000 children. 568 partners at district level were involved in this mammoth effort. ASER yearly reports have drawn the attention of the concerned authorities. ASER is quoted in the Approach Paper to the 11th 5-year Plan (link). ASER model has been adopted in three East African countries - Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania - under the initiative called "UWEZO". ASER team is also helping Pakistan in replicating its model (links: here and here).

The survey has been conducted scientifically by taking into consideration a lot of factors that affect the learning ability of children. In each of the 575 districts, 30 villages were randomly sampled and children in the age group of 3-16 in each village were surveyed. A volunteer visits randomly selected houses in the village and collects information not only about the children but also about their parents' education and household characteristics. Village information like whether they have a bank, STD booth etc are also collected in addition to the school visits and information about the school. The statistics of Govt. and Private schools have been separated for analysis. Children are tested in reading abilities in mother tongue, English and arithmetic tasks. Reading ability in mother tongue includes identifying set of common letters, common familiar words with 2 letters, reading simple sentences and reading a short story with 7-10 sentences in increasing order of difficulty. English is tested by making the children read capital letters, small letters, simple 3 letter words and simple sentences. Arithmetic task includes number recognition, 2 digit subtraction with borrowing and dividing a 3 digit number by a 1 digit number. Each child is marked with the highest level he/she can read/perform. By collecting information about the parents' education, village, household environment, the survey data enables us to deduce their influence on children's education.

The summary of the report can be roughly put in one sentence: more schools, more enrollment, less learning. Though 96% of the children in the age group of 6-14 are enrolled in schools, only 50% of the students in Std V can read Std II level text, a trend which is more or less consistent since 2005 (page 68, Table 3). More than 30% of the students in Std VI cannot read Std II level text in their own language(page 71, Table 4). About 33% of the students in Std II cannot identify capital letters (page 71, Table 5). Out of the students in Std II and III who can read simple 3 letter English words like cat, cup, red, only 66% know their meaning (page 71, Table 5). Roughly 30% of the students in Std V and VI can do subtraction of 2 digit numbers with borrowing and only 38% of the students in Std V and 50% in Std VI can divide a 3 digit number by a single digit (page 72, Table 7).

The percentage of the students who attend extra paid tuitions has increased slightly from 2007 to 2009 (page 72, Table 8). While the percentages of private school students in Std I to IV who attend tuitions are higher than those study in Govt. school, the trend reverses for Stds V to VIII. While the percentage of Govt. school students of Std III who can read Std I level text is around 40-50%, the corresponding percentage for private school students is around 60% (page 73, Chart 8). Similarly, the percentage of Govt. school students of Std V who can do a division is just below 40%, it is around 50% for private school students (page 73, chart 9). Although the results seem to be better in private schools, the article "Are private schools really performing better than goverment schools?" by Dr. Wilima Wadhwa (page 17) shows that factors other than school type like parents' education, additional tuition, number of siblings, household characteristics contribute for the difference (significantly in some cases). To quote the article:

"All the variables are significant in the model and have the expected impact. Learning increases with age, but then levels off.(This is to be expected as the learning measure is a very basic and “floor” level indicator for reading.) A larger number of siblings, presumably, reduces time spent on learning and reduces learning outcomes. Education of both parents is positively correlated with their children’s learning level. Further, the impact of parents’ education rises monotonically with their education level. Tuition has a large impact on learning – almost as large as the impact of mother’s education. Finally, all household characteristics signifying greater affluence are positively correlated with learning outcomes."

Another concern expressed by the report is the level of attendance of the students. While the national average of enrollment is 96%, the average attendance percentage in primary schools is only 74.2% and in upper primary school it is 76.6% (page 13). While Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh have above 90% attendance, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar has less 68% attendance. Multigrade grouping, students of different classes sitting together, is widespread. Close to 50% of the students in Std II sit with students in Std IV (national average).

Coming to infrastructure, about 15% of the Primary Schools (PS) and 11% of the Primary+Upper Primary Schools (UPS) does not have water facility (page 74, Table 14). About 10% of the PS and 8% of the UPS have water facility but water is not available. Though the percentage of schools that have toilet facility has increased since 2005, still 16% of the PS and 10% of the UPS does not have toilet facility. About 32-34% of the PS and UPS have toilets but are not usable. 39% of the PS and 26% of the UPS does not have separate girls toilet facility (page 74, Table 16). About 79% of the PS and 72% of the UPS does not have a boundary wall (page 74, Table 15). Not all schools have received the annual school grants of last year (the percentage of visited schools receiving their grants in the 2008-2009 school year was 60% or below in Jharkhand, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh).

On the positive note, the percentage of the children (age 6-14) who are out of school has dropped from 4.3% in 2008 to 4% in 2009. The percentage of school girls in the age group 11 to 14 who dropped from school has decreased from 7.2% in 2008 to 6.8% in 2009 (though Andhra Pradesh and Punjab record increase in dropouts, 4.2% and 1.4% respectively). The percentage of students in Std I who can recognize letter or more has increased from 65.1% in 2008 to 68.8% in 2009. Similarly, the percentage of children who can recognize numbers has increased from 65.3% in 2008 to 69.3% in 2009. By Std 8, 60.2% of all children can read simple sentences. In all the north-eastern states (except Tripura), Goa, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala more than 80% of children in Std 8 can not only read simple sentences fluently but also understand the meaning (page 65).

The herculean task by ASER team that provides a benchmark for assessing the education system is laudable. It is a wake up call for all of us - Government, parents, teachers - to realize the need for improving the quality of education, not just the quantity. There is a need for similar effort to assess the success and impact of projects in other areas like health, governance, roads, water development, etc where the tax payers money is involved.

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