At the release of the latest Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) 2019 on Tuesday, Madhav Chavan, president of the Pratham Education Foundation, spoke about the NGO’s early work in its balwadis or pre-school education centres in the slums of Mumbai. Around 25 year ago, when the project began, it took off quickly because “parents, especially mothers, wanted their children to go to pre-schools just like the children of the middle-class families in the apartments where they worked”.
But the NGO soon found that after a year at the balwadi, parents started moving their children to nearby private schools: “The parents who had seen how their children were learning in our balwadis were eager to give their children ‘English’ education,” Chavan said, while talking of how “parents’ aspiration”, especially that of mothers, determines the kind of pre-schooling that children are exposed to.
Among the key findings of ASER 2019 is that the mother’s education often determines the kind of pre-schooling or schooling that the child gets. The report says that among children in the early years (ages 0-8), those with mothers who had completed eight or fewer years of schooling are more likely to be attending anganwadis or government pre-primary classes, whereas their peers whose mothers had studied beyond the elementary stage are more likely to be enrolled in private LKG/UKG classes.
With a little less than half (46.9%) the mothers surveyed having studied up to Class 9 or more, the child of a mother whose educational qualification is Class 11 or more is more likely to be in a private LKG/UKG class (37.8%) or a private school (35.3%) than in an anganwadi or government pre-primary class (11.1%) or government school (37.8%).
ASER 2019 also shows how, among 4- and 5-year-olds who were administered a four-piece puzzle and 6- to 8-year-olds who were asked to solve a 6-piece puzzle, those whose mothers had completed Class 11 or more had a higher chance of solving these cognitive tasks. For example, 7.9% of all 4-year-olds whose mothers never went to school could do all three cognitive tasks given to them as compared to 16% of all children in the same age group whose mothers had completed Class 11 or higher.
This correlation between mothers’ education and children’s learning levels has been stressed in several studies, including previous ASER reports. Between 2011 and 2012, researchers at MIT’s Poverty Action Lab worked with Pratham to study whether literacy classes and other interventions for mothers could improve children’s learning outcomes. They found that their interventions have “had small positive impacts on mothers’ math and literacy skills, the home learning environment, some forms of school attendance, and ultimately children’s learning levels”.
While stressing the role of Early Childhood Education (ECE), the report and its authors take pains to point out that the idea is not to get younger children into formal schooling systems, but to ensure that they have the required cognitive skills before they enter Class 1.
Chavan said that with 75% women in the productive age group not in the workforce, they can be better engaged in their children’s development, learning and school readiness. In an article accompanying the ASER report, Chavan writes: “Most of the young mothers in the next decade will not be very young as median age of marriage has increased from 18.2 years in 2001 to 19.2 in 2011 to nearly 21.7 in rural India and 23.4 in urban India by 2016. Further, most of these young mothers will have had at least five years of schooling. These changes in the young Indian mother’s profile need to be taken into account when thinking of the education inputs to be designed for the Indian child of the next decade.
Suman Bhattacharjee, Director, ASER Centre, Delhi, said, “There is a lot families and communities can do. The idea behind early childhood education is not more institutionalisation in the form of private pre-schools or play schools but to involve children through cognitive tasks that mainly involve play”.