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Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2023

  • Context (TH I IE): The gender gap widens with progressive levels of education owing to more significant barriers to schooling that girls face due to social norms.
  • The 2023 survey focused on an older group of 14–18-year-old children.
  • The ASER 2023 ‘Beyond Basics’ survey was conducted in 28 districts across 26 states.

About ASER

  • ASER is a nationwide citizen-led household survey by NGO Pratham Education Foundation.
  • It provides the status of children’s schooling and learning in rural India.
  • ASER reports are usually referred to by the government while formulating policies.
  • The ‘BASIC’ ASER:
    1. Collects information about enrollment in pre-school and school in the age group of 316 and
    2. Assesses children aged 516 one-on-one to understand their foundational reading and arithmetic abilities.

Objectives

  • 2023 survey focused on students’ ability to apply reading and math skills to everyday situations and their aspirations.
  • Generating evidence on diverse aspects of youth development in rural India.
  • Enabling stakeholders across sectors to use this evidence to inform policy and practice.
  • The 2023 survey explored the following domains:
    1. Activity: What activities are India’s youth currently engaged in?
    2. Ability: Do they have essential and applied reading and math abilities?
    3. Digital awareness and skills: Do they have access to smartphones? What do they use smartphones for, and can they do simple tasks on their smartphones?
    4. Aspirations: What do they aspire to become? Who are their role models?

Key Findings of the Report

Activity

Increased Enrollment

  • There has been overall increase in the enrollment of children in government schools.
  • Overall, 86.8% of 14-18-year-olds are enrolled in an educational institution.
  • The percentage of youth not enrolled is 3.9% for 14-year-old youth and 32.6% for 18-year-olds.
  • The decrease in the proportion of girls not enrolled in schools for the age group from 4.1% in 2018 to 2% in 2022 is a significant improvement and a positive development.

Vocational Training

  • Youth at the college level are the most likely to be taking vocational training (16.2%).
  • Most youths are taking short-duration courses (of 6 months or less).

More students transiting to secondary education

  • More children in India have more years of schooling than ever before.
    • Pandemic economic distress didn’t lead to older children dropping out.

Ability

Foundational Skills

  • 25% of 14-18 age group struggle to read a Std II level text fluently in their regional language.
  • Over 50% face difficulties with arithmetic skills expected by Grade 5 students.
  • More than half struggle with division (3-digit by 1-digit) problems and only 43.3% of 14-18-year-olds are able to do such problems correctly.

Everyday Calculations

  • Nearly 85% of surveyed youth can measure length using a scale when the starting point is 0 cm.
  • Overall, close to 50% of youth can do other standard calculations.

Daily Life Applications

  • About two-thirds can answer at least 3 out of 4 questions based on reading and understanding written instructions.

Financial Calculations

  • Over 60% are able to do the budget management task; about 37% can apply a discount, but only about 10% can calculate repayment.
    • However, females perform worse than males on almost all tasks.

Gender Disparity in Reading and Arithmetic Skills

  • Males performed better than females in arithmetic and English reading across most of the tasks.
  • For example, only 41.1% of females were able to tell the time compared to 51% of males.
  • Fewer females (28.1%) are in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics stream (STEM) stream as compared to males (36.3%).

Flat Learning Trajectories

  • Over time, there hasn’t been significant improvement in the academic progress of students.

Poor Quality Labour Force

  • This deficit in foundational numeracy and foundational skill gap significantly impacts the quality of the country’s labour force.

Digital Awareness and Skills

  • Digital Access: Close to 90% of all youth have a smartphone in the household and know how to use it.
  • Communication and Online Safety: Of all youth who used social media, only about half are familiar with the online safety settings that were included in the survey.
  • Digital Tasks: 70% of youth can browse the internet to find the answer to a question, and about two-thirds can set an alarm for a specific time.
  • A little over 30% can use Google Maps to find the time taken to travel between two points.

Underutilisation of Digital technology

  • Despite the high availability of smartphones in rural households (95%), their use for educational purposes is limited.
  • Close to 80% of the youth report having used their smartphone to do an entertainment-related activity, such as watching a movie or listening to music.
  • They mainly engage with social media.

Gender Disparity in Digital Skills

  • 43.7% of males own smartphones as compared to 19.8% of females.
  • Across all phone-related tasks, boys outperformed girls.
  • Females are less likely to know how to use a smartphone or computer than males.

Aspirations

Less Technical inclination

  • Most of the students in this age group (14-18 years) were enrolled in the Arts/Humanities stream.
  • In Std XI or higher, more than half are enrolled in the Arts/Humanities stream (55.7%), followed by STEM (31.7%) and Commerce (9.4%).

Balancing Academics and Family Responsibilities

  • Most of the youths face compounded challenges as they need to balance academic requirements with responsibilities, such as working on family farms.
  • Around 30% are already working, often for their parents. However, they don’t want to continue the same work in future.
  • These responsibilities impact the aspirations of youth.

Acute Academic Competition

  • Parents in India often harbor overambitious aspirations for their children.
  • These aspirations of parents translate into acute academic competition, widespread coaching, and heavy expenditure by families.

Not Motivated to Study

  • A more significant proportion of boys than girls reported not wanting to study after class 12.
  • Girls wished to study at least the undergraduate level, while boys talked about earning money.

The Dearth of Clarity

  • There is a lack of clear guidance for students when it comes to making decisions about their future.
  • Many students are unsure about what to study, how much more education they need, and what kinds of jobs they should be aiming for.

No Role Model

  • 42.5% of males and 48.3% of females did not have a role model for their aspired work.

Key Concerns Highlighted in the Report

Inadequate Teacher-student ratio and Teacher’s Training

  • Almost 8% of India’s schools have only one teacher (2023 data).
  • Teachers lack training in modern pedagogical methods and struggle to employ interactive and engaging teaching techniques.

Insufficient Learning Resources

  • Limited access to textbooks and learning materials hinders students’ ability to practice and reinforce foundational skills.
  • The Lack of reading materials also affects students’ language development.

Socio-economic Disparities

  • Students from lower-income families face challenges such as inadequate infrastructure, lack of educational support at home and limited access to extracurricular activities.

Language Barriers

  • Students studying in non-native language face challenges in understanding and expressing themselves.
    • E.g. Students from tribal regions face English reading barriers.

Outdated Curriculum

  • The School Curriculum doesn’t incorporate digital literacy and thus students remain unprepared be a part of the modern workforce.

Assessment Practices

  • Assessments focussing on memorization rather than critical thinking, has led to students prioritising rote learning over understanding foundational concepts.

Recommendations of ASER 2023

  • Devolution of central and state grants to local bodies: The Central and State grants should be disaggregated to Local Bodies, ensuring direct transfer of untied funds to schools.
  • Development of Public libraries– Public libraries should be developed to address the scarcity of learning resources.
    • E.g. The Karnataka government has done commendable work on strengthening its public libraries.

Community management of schools

  • Schools must be community-managed, and the State government should primarily act as the financing agent.
  • The private sector should be encouraged to adopt schools to improve their quality.
    • E.g. The Mid-Day Meal responsibility should be handed over to the village-level self-help group (SHG) of women.

Regular school-level interactions with parents

  • Teachers must build a relationship with every household to ensure children’s care and learning.
  • Parental involvement can greatly improve learning outcomes.
    • E.g. The Nipun Bharat Mission to ensure oral and written literacy and numeracy should become a people’s movement like the Total Literacy Campaign.

Ease Out Early Childhood Struggles

  • Financial Aid and Grants: Provide financial aid to economically disadvantaged students as many of these students need to earn and support their families financially during this age group.
  • Shifting the Social Norms: Among girls, shifting social norms with regard to the appropriate age of marriage emerged as a key driver of young women’s ability to study further.

Prepare Future Ready Students

  • Focus on Developing Critical Thinking: Reducing curriculum in each subject to its core essentials, and enable critical thinking and more inquiry, discovery, discussion and analysis-based learning.
  • Future Oriented School Systems: Our school system needs to be more future-oriented which can guide the kids into paths that may benefit them and place them in secure position.
  • Digital Mentorship Programs: Implementing mentorship programs to connect students with professionals in their fields of interest, helping them to make informed decisions about their future.

Comprehensive Strategy for Learning Improvement

  • Reform Assessments: NEP 2020 speaks of the goal of 100% secondary school enrolment, to be achieved through “careful tracking of students’ enrolment, attendance, and learning levels.
  • Examination pressure can be reduced by reforming how and when assessments can happen.
  • A close tracking of outcomes will be key to improvements and eventual success.
  • Pathway Linking: Linking secondary school reform concepts with NIPUN will be crucial in transforming school reform ideas into practical measures.

Flexible Education System

  • Embracing flexibility often involves leveraging technology to facilitate remote learning, online resources, and interactive platforms, enhancing the overall educational experience.
  • Leveraging smartphones to improve learning outcomes: Smartphones can be used to deliver online modules to students to supplement classroom teaching.
    • For ex- Interactive online tests should be designed in the form of games for the students.
  • Innovative learning methods: Indoor and outdoor sports, cultural activities, play-way learning items, video films, and sound boxes must be used to supplant learning.
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