ASER 2021 has a glimpse of how schools may respond to the post-Covid world

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The ASER 2021 State of Education annual report was released a few days ago. Given the pandemic conditions, this is not the usual face-to-face ASER household survey focused on reading and arithmetic. This ASER and that of 2020 were telephone surveys exploring underlying trends and learning opportunities during a period of extended school closures.

ASER is an assessment of the state of education in rural areas. ASER 2021 surveyed the following types of questions: What decisions have been made within families regarding the education of their children? What opportunities were available to households in different parts of the country? What was the relationship between home and school during this time of crisis? Such questions are important at all times, but even more critical today. Whether as a family, as a school system or as a country, we are looking at the next steps. Data that is routinely collected from a national sample in a timely manner is very valuable in planning the way forward.

A major discovery of ASER 2021 concerns a change in schooling patterns. Whether by age, grade or state, overall there is a clear and substantial increase in enrollment in public schools. On the one hand, a decline in enrollment in private schools can be directly linked to economic difficulties in the family. Discontinuities and disruptions force families to cut back or postpone spending. If schools are closed, why pay fees for the education of children? On the other hand, low-cost private schools in rural areas have struggled to stay afloat. At the same time, many state governments have made concerted efforts to reach children with learning materials and also rations instead of midday meals. Direct cash transfers from schools to families also increased during this period. Time will tell if this is a transitional phase or a more permanent change. Over time, as the economy recovers and schools move into a continuous cycle of work, we will know whether public schools are truly able to retain and increase the proportion of children directly to their load.

In this context, how the system helps children return to school will be crucial. Unlike densely populated urban areas where opinions can be divided, rural parents want their children to return to school and children are impatient and willing. This enthusiasm is an essential fuel to “build back better”. Children in classes 1 and 2 today have never been to school. They must be helped to prepare for schooling and learning. Class 5 today was in school almost two years ago in class 3. They are now returning to school older, perhaps wiser. But they will need help settling down and reconnecting. Will public schools demonstrate new ways of welcoming children? Will the interaction between parents and teachers help build confidence and faith? If this is the case, the transition to public schools can be long.

As the country moves through this stage of the pandemic, academic strategies need to be developed and modified to deal with today’s challenges in teaching and learning. Using a curriculum at the grade level may not be immediately helpful. Instead, meeting the children at the level they are at and using the “teach at the right level” approach is the need of the hour. Even the National Education Policy 2020 recommends that the acquisition of strong basic skills be the top priority. Research available in other countries shows that while school closures can lead to learning losses, what school systems do after schools reopen is even more critical. Getting children to attend the grade-level program after a gap of nearly two years or pushing them through the program are not appropriate responses. In fact, investing the time and effort now to rebuild and strengthen children’s ability to read comprehensively, improve their ability to apply problem-solving skills, and enable them to help each other in class can provide the big boost. necessary to bring the education system to where it was before Covid and go further. Will schools respond quickly to the current needs of children? Or will they revert to the linear age group program that, even in the pre-Covid era, left many children behind?

ASER 2021 surveyed households on smartphones at home. Data indicates that the availability of smartphones in households has almost doubled since 2018. This is true for families where children are enrolled in public schools and private schools. From ASER 2020 figures, it was clear that a smartphone had been purchased since the lockdown began in one in 10 households to help children with their studies. When we were asked the same question in ASER 2021, we found that the proportion had increased to 27.9%. In 2018, 27.9% of families with children enrolled in public schools had smartphones. This number rose to 56.4% in 2020 and to 63.7% in 2021. For families with children enrolled in public schools, the equivalent figure rose from 49.9% in 2018 to 74.2% in 2020 and 79% in 2021. Overall, around 67.6% of households with school-aged children had smartphones in 2021.

ASER also shows that access does not automatically mean use. Although there are large variations from state to state, just over a quarter of all children with at least one smartphone can easily access the phone, and another quarter are unable to access the phone at all. access the phone.

The digital divide has been widely discussed. Assuming that connectivity will continue to increase and level the playing field, having device libraries at the school or village level may be a solution. Individuals and families can borrow devices on a priority basis. Will public schools take the lead in this regard?

ASER 2021 allows us to foresee a period of educational transition. Will schools go back to their old ways? Will new methods of engagement with children and parents emerge? Will appropriate teaching-learning goals and activities be adopted for the remainder of the school year? Action on the ground will indicate the direction our education system will take in the near future.

This column first appeared in the paper edition on November 24, 2021 under the title “A different class”. The writer is CEO of the Pratham Education Foundation


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