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Insights into Editorial: Three milestones in education

Insights into Editorial: Three milestones in education



If a person sleeps at 9:30 pm and wakes up at 6:30 am, how many hours did they sleep? If a t-shirt is priced at Rs 300 and the shop is offering a 10% discount, how much money would you need to buy it? On a map of India, can you point and show which state you live in?

These are some of the questions which 28,323 youths, aged between 14 and 18, were asked during the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)-Rural, 2017.

This round of the annual survey has been concerned with children in the age bracket of 14 to 18.


ASER stands for Annual Status of Education Report. This is an annual survey that aims to provide reliable annual estimates of children’s schooling status and basic learning levels for each state and rural district in India. ASER has been conducted every year since 2005 in almost all rural districts of India.

ASER is the largest citizen-led survey in India. It is also the only annual source of information on children’s learning outcomes available in India today.

Annual Status of Education Report, 2017:Beyond Basics

Every year since 2005, ASER has reported on children’s schooling status and their ability to do basic reading and arithmetic tasks.

Over this period, a clearly visible trend is that more and more students are completing eight years of elementary school at about age 14. Just four years later, these young people will become adults. So what do these youth do during these four years? Are we ensuring that they acquire the skills and abilities they will need to lead productive lives as adults?

To answer this question, the Annual Status of Education Report 2017 ‘Beyond Basics’ focuses on data on some important dimensions of the preparedness of youth, age 14-18, in rural India, with respect to their ability to lead productive lives as adults.

Unlike most other large-scale learning assessments, ASER is a household-based rather than school-based survey. This design enables all children to be included – those who have never been to school or have dropped out, as well as those who are in government schools, private schools, religious schools or anywhere else.

The 2017 12th ASER report has made an attempt to look ‘beyond basics’ and explore a wider set of domains beyond foundational reading and arithmetic. Four domains were considered – activity, ability, awareness, and aspirations.

Like before ASER 2017 too is a sample-based household survey, with tasks that are simple to administer and easy to understand.

ASER 2017: Key Findings

  1. Activity:
  • Overall, 86% of youth in the 14-18 age groups are still within the formal education system, either in school or in college. More than half (54%) of all youth in this age group are enrolled in class X or below.
  • The enrolment gap between males and females in the formal education system increases with age. There is hardly any difference between boys’ and girls’ enrolment at age 14; but at age 18, 32% females are not enrolled as compared to 28% males.
  • A substantial proportion of youth in the 14-18 age group are working (42%), regardless of whether they are enrolled in formal education or not. Of those who work, 79% work in agriculture almost all on their own family’s farm.
  1. Ability:
  • About 25% of this age group still cannot read basic text fluently in their own language.
  • More than half struggle with division (3 digits by 1 digit) problems. Only 43% are able to do such problems correctly.
  • 53% of all 14-year-olds in the sample can read English sentences. For 18-year-old youth, this figure is closer to 60%. Of those who can read English sentences, 79% can say the meaning of the sentence.
  • Interestingly, although reading ability in regional languages and in English seems to improve slightly with age the same does not seem to apply to math.
  • The proportion of youth who have not acquired basic math skills by age 14 is the same as that of 18-year olds.
  1. Awareness & Aspirations
  • Each sampled youth was asked a series of questions to understand their access to media, financial institutions, and the digital world.
  • Mobile phone usage is widespread in the 14-18 age groups. 73% of the young people had used a mobile phone within the last week.
  • However, significant gender differences are visible. While only 12% of males had never used a mobile phone, this number of females is much higher at 22%.
  • But for these young people, the use of internet and computers were much lower.

Apart from ASER, National Achievement Survey (NAS) was conducted by government

  • The National Achievement Survey (NAS) is the largest ever national assessment survey in the country and is amongst the largest in the world, was conducted throughout the country.
  • It was conducted for the Classes 3, 5 and 8 in government and government aided schools.
  • The survey tools used multiple test booklets with 45 questions in Classes III and V related to language, mathematics and 60 questions in Class VIII in Mathematics, Language, Sciences and Social Sciences.
  • The competency based test questions developed reflected the Learning Outcomes developed by the NCERT which were recently incorporated in the Right to Education Act (RTE) by the Government of India.
  • Along with the test items, questionnaires pertaining to students, teachers and schools were also used. 
  • The learning levels of more than 25 lakhs students from 1, 10,000 across 700 districts in all 36 States/UTs were assessed.
  • The district wise learning report cards are prepared based on software especially designed for this. Subsequently, analytical reports will be prepared.
  • The analysis will reflect the disaggregated and detailed learning levels.
  • The findings of the survey will also help in understanding the efficiency of the education system.
  • NAS results will help guide education policy, planning and implementation at national, state, district and classroom levels for improving learning levels of children and bringing about qualitative improvements. 

Different methodologies

  • ASER is a household survey and NAS is a school-based effort.
  • ASER conducts its assessment one-on-one, while NAS is a pen-paper test.
  • ASER is aimed at a representative sample of all children (whether in school and attending or out of school) whereas NAS is a representative sample of children who are enrolled in government or aided schools.
  • Typically, ASER focuses mainly on foundational skills like reading and arithmetic, while NAS looks at a wider variety of skills.

Utility of Survey Data

Both the surveys point to important trends related to children’s learning in India. They are also the only two sources of data that are repeatedly available (whether periodically in the case of NAS or annually in the case of ASER).

  • Data being available over time enables analysts to track progress and identify persistent gaps of different kinds.
  • District-level data are now available. This is significant as within the government’s education system, planning focuses on the district as the unit for planning, allocation and implementation.
  • Information on inputs or infrastructure is available annually at the district level.
  • One of the reasons for ASER collecting data on a representative sample of children at the district level was to contribute to decisions at that level.
  • With the timely release of the NAS district report cards, now districts in the same State will have the opportunity of making contextually relevant and appropriate plans to address the needs of their children.

Way Forward

At present, India is in a good position to think of effective new ways of moving beyond universal schooling towards learning for all.

The annual nature of the planning process in education may have been useful for when inputs had to be provided. But when the focus is moving from “providing schooling” towards “ensuring learning”, a multi-year period is needed for implementation.

Over and above whatever States do, for many years we have seen many instances where the district administration wants to implement serious district-wide learning improvement efforts.

But sometimes this energy can be constrained by lack of interest, funds and guidance at the State level. Although there is a provision for innovation funds in the annual work plan guidelines, these are usually not effectively spent.

Today there is much more data and evidence about the contours of the learning crisis in India than ever before. The time is ripe for timely and effective decentralised action to improve the quality of children’s learning outcomes.

So, unless we ensure that our young people reach adulthood with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities they need to help themselves, their families, and their communities move forward, India’s much awaited ‘demographic dividend’ will not materialize.

Youth is the most important asset for a country their future is the future of the Nation. So, the government must be compelled to provide basic education and skills.