The ASER report makes a case for reimagining education

November 22, 2021 3:45 AM

A troubling finding in the report is that an increasing number of students—both in government and private schools—are opting for private tuitions

However, a continuance of the private tuition culture is a bad omen—conflicting with the spirit of the National Education Policy 2020.However, a continuance of the private tuition culture is a bad omen—conflicting with the spirit of the National Education Policy 2020.

By Ashok Pandey

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) has illuminated educators and policymakers since 2005. An annual nationwide survey of children’s ability to read the age-appropriate text and to do level-specific arithmetic informs citizens how learning is progressing in the country. The exuberance of Wilima Wadhwa, director, ASER Centre, was palpable emanating from a massive phone-based survey reaching out 76,706 households in 17,184 villages, in 581 districts across 25 states, three UTs and 7,299 schools.

However, the report (Rural) focuses on enrolment, migration, engaging in private tuition, acquisition of smartphones, institutional support in providing learning materials, training in Covid protocol—all essential input components. The report reads those enrolments in government schools in 2021 rose by five percentage points over 2020 figures—at the same time, it went down in private rural schools by four percentage points. The causality is missing in the report.

The report cites respondents’ claim that financial distress caused an increase in enrolment in government schools. That is understandable. However, an attendant claim is that facilities available at government schools catalysed the increase in enrolment. It needs independent verification. Government schools were closed, so which facilities—mid-day meals, learning materials, coaching, home visits, scholarships, counselling—were provided?

The pandemic has accelerated the need to go digital. Possessing a basic smartphone is a strong indicator of the ability to access online education. However, bandwidth availability, ability to recharge data cards and owning or sharing devices are vital variables affecting learning. The ASER report suggests that the number of children having smartphones has doubled in 2021 over 2018.

A troubling finding in the report is that an increasing number of students—both in government and private schools—are opting for private tuitions. Whether or not this trend was driven by closure of schools, parental anxieties, emergence of Good Samaritans and learning pods, one does not know. However, a continuance of the private tuition culture is a bad omen—conflicting with the spirit of the National Education Policy 2020.

School closure and partial reopening have impacted learning adversely. The teaching value chain (TVC) comprising teachers sharing content, students listening, assimilating, raising questions, working in groups, helping and valuing each other, undertaking further studies, applying knowledge, and solving problems has suffered a lot. As we limp back to the reunion, taking feedback, adaptive teaching, remediation, and mastery building will be the challenges.

It is instructional to note that the new global report published by the UNESCO entitled ‘Reimagining our Futures Together: A New Social Contract for Education’ raises three pertinent questions: (1) What should be continued (educational practices)? (2) What should be abandoned (something that has not worked or is not likely to work in the post-pandemic environment)? (3) What needs to be creatively invented afresh? Answers to these questions lie in our commitment to ensure quality education for each child throughout life and strengthening education as a public common good. The agency’s report calls for a new social contract based on inclusion equity, cooperation and solidarity.

Madhav Chavan, co-founder, Pratham, focused on learning, student engagement and settling down with the normal in our contexts which is central to the debate. The end-goal of education is preparing the youth to face life and work, embedding skills, character and meta-learning.

The author, an educationist, is director, Ahlcon Group of Schools, Delhi. Views are personal

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