Nearly all children now enrol in grade 1 and 80 percent are reaching grade 5, currently the final year of primary schooling. In the Primary Education Completion Exam (PECE), a mandatory national exam introduced in 2009, the latest pass rate is 98.5 percent. This is a success that cannot be ignored.
In 2016, as many as 96.5% of rural elementary government schools in India had toilets, but more than one in four toilets (27.79%) were dysfunctional or locked, according to data collected for the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), a citizen-led survey on the status of elementary education in rural India. About 68.7% of schools had working toilet facilities for students.
Since 2015 there have been intensive efforts to design metrics intended to measure and track countries’ progress towards the 17 agreed on Sustainable Development Goals and their respective targets. But is this the kind of evidence that will help countries plan action on the ground to meet these ambitious objectives? Not necessarily.
Leading academic and researcher, Dr. Rukmini Banerji, recently wrote a blog post, When Schooling Doesn’t Mean Learning, that was published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The post talks about ASER (Annual Status of Education Report), a citizen-led assessment that measures children’s learning levels, and how the assessment has challenged the idea that being in school guarantees an education.
The first-grade classroom was tucked away in the back of the school. Thanks to the cold, the little children were dressed in bright blue track suits instead of the school uniform that the older children were wearing. It had been raining continuously from the morning. The children could not leave the classroom. They were peering through the windows curious about the visitors.
It was a hot summer afternoon in a village in central India. A man lay on a string cot in the shade of a mango tree while his two sons played marbles. We approached him with hesitation. “We are making a village report card of schooling and learning,” we said tentatively. “Can we ask your sons to read?”
It was just walkable distance to reach the railway station. I saw a big crowd over there. Curious, I went to find out the reason. An old lady with her belongings was crying, trying to get back her luggage from the railway police. No one was bothered about her sorrow, pain, problems. After hearing the details, I went with her to the railway police. She narrated her story in front of the government railway police (GRP), who simply said to wait till his immediate boss came. Then the police officer got busy with his work like maintaining his register and asking his subordinates for a cup of tea.
It was in the year 2008 that I came to know about ASER. I was doing my Masters in Social Work when our teacher told us that we will be taking part in a survey, we didn’t know what kind of survey but all of us were excited that the organization will pay us for doing it (hahaha).
I am a simple guy with a simple lifestyle. I used to work in the pharmaceutical industry as a commercial officer where my role was handling dispatches to domestic and international customers. After working for almost 2 years there, I felt I was living a mechanical life but this continued only until I joined ASER.
The official ASER statistic – that a quarter of all children in Std VIII cannot read a Std II level ‘story’ – just does not convey the reality of the situation. I am in a village in Bodhgaya block in Bihar, watching 16-year-old Reshma try to read. She is focused on the task, trying very, very hard.