How well can Indian children read and write? It is well known that although raising literacy levels has been a goal endorsed by virtually every government, hundreds of millions of citizens remain outside the reach of this promise even today. It is also no secret that the quality of public education across the country is inadequate; enrolment in school alone is not enough to ensure that today's children too will not fall prey to the same forces that kept their parents illiterate. These generalities, however, are too sweeping, and do not provide meaningful indicators to the state of public education in India. An important first step to creating measurable change in the future, therefore, is to properly understand the current state.
ASER and beyond
"My name is Minu Bora"
Series: Lens on Education
ASER findings (63 Kb, PDF).
ASER asked simple questions, designed to provide a good first look at the state of education. Do children have a school? Can children read? Can they write? Can they do basic arithmetic? Are there teachers in schools? Are enrolled children attending school? Based on the answers, ASER has ranked the states and districts, and plans to do this every year until 2010 - the deadline for achieving quality universal elementary education. Following the 2005 report, the district and state level groups will interact with state and district governments. ASER 2005 is expected to become a tool in the hands of people so that they can monitor, and help in improving in the status of education around them.
|Out of school children: Proportion of boys and girls|
Nearly 1.4 crore children are out of school; this situation is especially worse in Bihar, Rajashtan and Jharkand, where 10% or more of school-age children are not enrolled.
The gender gap in the percentage of children out of school, however, has dropped. In 2001, it was estimated that 2 out of 3 dropouts were girls, but this study finds that only a little more than half (52-55%) of the children out of school are gilrs.
In three out of four schools visited by volunteers collecting data, the teachers were present, as they are expected to be. In several states, all the teachers assigned to surveyed schools were present. Unexpectedly, however, teacher absenteeism was high in Kerala, where 3 out of 10 schools visited did not have any teacher present.
The really worrisome findings from ASER relate not to attendance and demographics, but to learning. The tests of reading ability were quite simple (a short paragraph at the grade 2 level), but even then 35% of children aged 7-14 could not pass this test, and 60% of the children could not read a simple story, also at grade 2 level. This situation was in fact worse in states like Tamilnadu and Gujarat, where the usual indicators (school availability, enrolment, teachers, etc.) are all good. Students in Bihar and Chhatisgarh fared better, despite really poor education infrastructure indicators for their states.
Just as important as the findings, however, is the establishment of an independent citizen-led assessment process. Participants in ASER hope that in future years even more organisations and individuals will participate in the data collection, and the findings will be that much more informative as a result.