In a year marred by Covid-19, deep economic distress and uncertainty over school-reopenings, the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) underlines what could be key markers of that anguish — there are more children in government schools than two years ago, and a significant number of them are not enrolled in the current academic year.
The phone-based survey, done in September, the sixth month of national school closures, was released on Wednesday and shows a shift in enrollment from private to government schools — 69.55 per cent children in the 6-14 age group are enrolled in government schools, up from 66.42 per cent in 2018.
It’s a shift that’s visible across grades and among both girls and boys -– the survey shows the proportion of boys enrolled in government schools has risen from 62.8 per cent in 2018 to 66.4 per cent in 2020, while for girls, that number has gone up from 70 per cent to 73 per cent in the corresponding period.
While changes in school enrollment can only be accurately measured once schools reopen and children return to their classrooms, ASER 2020 shows that 5.5 per cent children are not currently enrolled for the 2020-21 school year, up from 4 per cent in 2018. This difference is the sharpest among the youngest children (ages 6 to 10), possibly because they have not yet secured admission to school. While 1.8 per cent children in this age group were not enrolled in 2018, that has spiked to 5.3 per cent.
Yet, in an academic year when learning has shifted almost entirely to online platforms, the survey has found that smartphones – that one device that spells access this school year – have penetrated deeply.
Among enrolled children, 61.8 per cent live in families that own at least one smartphone. Whether these were bought before the school shutdowns or after to facilitate learning, this is a big jump from two years ago, when merely 36.5 per cent children lived in families with at least one smartphone.
But in a sobering reminder that smartphone ownership alone doesn’t guarantee learning — especially in households with more than one child in school and where multiple fault lines such as gender play out — the survey found that despite the high smartphone penetration, only about one-third of them reported getting some form of learning material from their teachers in the week preceding the survey.
Yet, most children (70.2 per cent) said they did some form of learning activity that week through material shared by tutors or family members themselves.
It’s this parental/community involvement that’s among the most heartening finds of this survey — almost 75 per cent of children said they received some form of learning support from family members, with older siblings playing a key role.
This kind of support was evident even among children whose neither parent has studied beyond primary school, though children with more educated parents received more support.
For example, 54.8 per cent of children whose parents had completed Class 5 or less received some form of family support, as compared to 89.4 per cent of children whose parents had studied beyond Class 9. Similarly, children in lower grades get more family support than in higher ones.
Wilima Wadhwa, Director, ASER Centre, told The Indian Express that this role played by families is the big takeaway from the survey. “In our work in Pratham, we have always involved mothers and families. In this nationally representative sample, we see similar dynamics, where families — mothers, fathers, siblings — are supporting children regardless of their education levels. This strength needs to be leveraged by reaching out to them and reducing the distance between schools and homes,” she said.
In a sign that governments cranked up their machinery to respond to the crisis, while overall more than 80 per cent children said they had textbooks for their current grade, this proportion was higher among students enrolled in government schools (84.1 per cent) than in private ones (72.2 per cent).
ASER 2020 was conducted in 26 states and four Union Territories. A total of 52,227 households and 59,251 children in the 5-16 age group were surveyed.
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