ASER 2020 survey highlights huge learning gaps during COVID 19 pandemic school closures

ASER 2020 in a first ever phone-based ASER survey conducted in September 2020 shows ‘there is limited evidence on the extent to which this content is reaching children; whether they are engaging with it; and the impact it is having on their participation and learning.’

The survey released on Oct 28  explored provision of and access to distance education mechanisms, materials and activities for children in rural India, and the ways in which children and families are engaging with these remote learning alternatives from their homes. ASER 2020 was conducted in 26 states and 4 Union Territories. It reached a total of 52,227 households and 59,251 children in the age group of 5-16 years, as well as teachers or head teachers from 8,963 government schools offering primary grades.

At the all India level, there is a small shift towards government schools. As compared to data from ASER 2018, data from ASER 2020 (September 2020) show a small shift in enrollment from private to government schools, across all grades and among both girls and boys. The proportion of boys enrolled in government schools rose from 62.8% in 2018 to 66.4% in 2020. Similarly, the 2 proportion of girls enrolled in government schools rose from 70% to 73% during the same period.

Among enrolled children, more than 60% live in families with at least one smartphone. This proportion has increased enormously in the last two years, from 36.5% to 61.8% among enrolled children. The percentage point increase is similar in households of children enrolled in government and private schools. States that show an increase of more than 30 percentage points in the proportion of children whose families own a smartphone include Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Tripura.

 Whether acquired before or after school closures in March 2020, more than 80% children have textbooks for their current grade. This proportion is higher among students enrolled in government schools (84.1%) than in private schools (72.2%). Across states, the proportion of children with textbooks at home falls below 70% in only three states: Rajasthan (60.4%), Telangana (68.1%), and Andhra Pradesh (34.6%).

Governments and others have used a variety of mechanisms to share diverse learning materials with students during school closures. These include activities using traditional materials like textbooks or worksheets; online or recorded classes; and videos or other materials shared via phone or in person, among others. ASER 2020 asked whether households had accessed or received any such materials from children’s schools in the week prior to the survey in September 2020.

 Overall, about one third of enrolled children had received some form of learning materials or activities from their teachers during the week preceding the survey. This proportion was higher in higher grades than in lower ones; and higher among students in private schools than in government schools.   However, there are significant variations by state in children’s receipt of learning materials or activities during the reference week. States where less than a quarter of all children had received any materials include Rajasthan (21.5%), Uttar Pradesh (21%), and Bihar (7.7%).

Regardless of school type, WhatsApp was the most common medium through which activities and materials were received. However, this proportion was much higher among children in private schools (87.2%) than those in government schools (67.3%).  On the other hand, of children who had received some materials, those in government schools were much more likely to have received materials via personal contact with a teacher (31.8%) than those in private schools (11.5%), either when the teacher visited the household or else when a household member visited the school.

 Among the roughly two-thirds of all households that reported not having received learning materials during the reference week, the majority said that the school had not sent any materials.

Although only a third of children had received materials from their teachers during the week preceding the survey, most children (70.2%) did do some sort of learning activity during that 4 week. These activities were shared by diverse sources such as private tutors and family members themselves, in addition to or instead of what was received from schools.

The major types of activities done involved textbooks (59.7%) and worksheets (35.3%). The proportion of children in government schools and private schools doing these activities was similar.

 However, one major difference visible by school type is that children in private schools were much more likely to have accessed online resources than those in government schools. For example, 28.7% of children enrolled in private schools had watched videos or other prerecorded content online, as compared to 18.3% of government school students.

 For about a third of all students, teachers had some form of personal contact with households during the reference week.