With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated lockdowns, schools quickly pivoted to online learning. However, there was limited information about whether children had access to learning materials, and what was actually taking place within households.
In this edition of I4I Conversations, Rukmini Banerji and Wilima Wadhwa discuss the role that the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) played in remedying this gap in the data. They discuss three major findings from the survey on learning outcomes during the pandemic: although the proportion of children not enrolled in schools went up, the proportion of children enrolled in government schools increased, and most of them had access to digital learning materials due to an increase in smartphone coverage.
They discuss the challenges they faced while conducting ASER during the pandemic, including being limited to phone surveys and rallying volunteers amidst uncertainty. However, after the lack of data during the first year of the pandemic, the state-level ASERs carried out in three states in 2021 – Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Uttarakhand – were critical to gaining clarity on the extent of learning losses among children. They acknowledge that while learning levels were low even pre-Covid, an unanticipated consequence of the pandemic was a heightened awareness of the need to measure learning outcomes among policymakers.
They additionally highlight several other surveys that assess learning levels carried out by the government and other organisations during the last two years. While their administration may differ, multiple efforts to measure learning outcomes all indicate a trend of stagnant learning outcomes in the previous decade, which have accelerated to a decline during the school closure years. It is hoped that policymakers make serious efforts to firm up school education to meet the NIPUN Bharat and Sustainable Development Goals, ahead of 2030.
Also available as a podcast.