During the past decade, India reached the milestone of universalization of primary education. The Right to Education Act and Midday meal scheme have helped achieve significant increases in enrollment of children in school, and several grassroots organizations have worked on a case-by-case basis to enroll individual children facing family-financial or stigma-based challenges that previously prevented them from going to school. Now, the focus is shifting to ensuring that all these children in school are actually receiving what a school is supposed to give them; a comprehensive education that puts them on the same playing field as their peers around the country, and ideally, around the world.
To ensure attainment of such a high reaching goal, we need an ongoing, consistent means to measure progress and identify specific areas for growth. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) was launched in 2005 with this very goal; to measure children’s educational outcomes in rural districts of India. It is a citizen-directed survey; every year, 25000 volunteers visit 15000 villages all over the country and collect data representative of 700000 children.
Here are some figures unearthed by the 2016 administration of ASER:
Quantitative (enrollment statistics):
- 96.9% enrollment for age group 6-14
- 84.7% enrollment for age group 15-16
- Unchanged enrollment in private schools since 2014 (30.5%)
- Some states with greater than 8% girls out of school
Qualitative (reading and math ability):
- Improved reading ability in early years at the national level, but still not level with age, with Standard III students still attempting to read Standard I texts, or standard V students attempting Standard II texts
- Decline in reading ability among Standard VIII students
- Slight increase in ability to do basic arithmetic at the state level
- Decreased overall ability to do division
It is clear from ASER 2016 that while enrollment is high, quality is still not age-appropriate. ASER also follows up on their findings by conducting studies correlating different factors in children’s lives to discern those that will lead to most success in school. One such study is the India Early Childhood Education Impact Study (IECEI) that was held from 2011 to 2016. While final results from this study haven’t been published yet, the baseline report indicates positive correlations of the following with school readiness:
- Availability of reading material at home
- Preschool participation
- Physical infrastructure
- Classroom planning
- Interactivity and higher order thinking in the teaching process
These findings are being translated into policy briefs for implementation in elementary classrooms around the country.
So what have Vibha’s contributions been toward this process, and what impact, or ‘asar’ have they had on a large scale?
Sikshana is a Vibha-aided project in Karnataka that has adopted a number of public schools with the aim of improving the quality of education and retention rates. Previously, 8 million children in the state, though enrolled in schools, were not receiving education at the level that would endow them with skills in a timely manner. The Karnataka State Government hence implemented a policy allowing for the adoption of schools by private parties and organizations, with the aim of better support and funding for infrastructure. Through teacher trainings, community awareness drives and improvement of curriculum, Sikshana has enabled students in the adopted schools to achieve a 50% improvement in standardized tests administered by the Azim Premji foundation.
However, despite this progress being seen at the elementary schooling level on a national scale, the Indian education system overall, and especially the higher education system, is far from competing with that of other world economic powers like China. This is a stark paradox in an era when India is in the running with China in outracing the US economically. In 2009, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranked India 73rd among 74 countries for quality of education, while China ranked 1st. If that weren’t bad enough in itself, India withdrew from the 2012 administration of PISA, providing the reason that testing items did not match what was being taught in Indian schools. Recognizing this need, in 2016 the Indian government launched a Higher Education Financing Agency with a starting budget of 1.5 billion USD. The hope is that, in the next decade, such moves and more that follow the educational models of successful countries like China, can be replicated in India to institute a change in the higher education system.