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Enrolment up, learning outcomes down: What ASER’s pandemic-period study in Chhattisgarh schools shows

The findings in the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Chhattisgarh (Rural) 2021 underline the learning crisis unleashed by pandemic-induced disruptions since March 2020, when states stopped in-person classes and switched to online teaching.

Written by Sourav Roy Barman | New Delhi |
Updated: January 26, 2022 10:54:34 pm
Trained surveyors were fielded to assess whether children were acquiring foundational reading and arithmetic skills. (File)

The proportion of primary school children who cannot recognize letters of the alphabet has doubled since 2018, and fewer students can now do basic subtraction or division, a major survey in Chhattisgarh has found.

The findings in the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Chhattisgarh (Rural) 2021 underline the learning crisis unleashed by pandemic-induced disruptions since March 2020, when states stopped in-person classes and switched to online teaching.

The survey and sample

The two-stage survey was conducted in October-November 2021 in 28 districts of Chhattisgarh, which lag behind in several social indicators. The survey covered 46,021 children belonging to 33,432 households in 1,677 villages.

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In the first stage of the survey, 60 villages in each district were sampled using Census 2011 numbers. In the next stage, 20 households were picked randomly in each of the villages that were selected in the first round.

“This sampling strategy gives a sample of 1,200 households per district and generates a representative picture of each district,” according to the ASER report.

Assessment parameters

Trained surveyors were fielded to assess whether children were acquiring foundational reading and arithmetic skills.

The surveyed children were given reading tasks in local languages to evaluate familiarity with a set of commonly used letters, small words, a set of four simple linked sentences found in class I textbooks, and class II-level short stories of 7-10 sentences.

They were also tested on recognising numbers from 1 to 99, 2-digit numerical subtraction problems, and 3-digit by 1-digit division problems.

Key findings: reading abilities

Both reading and numerical abilities have taken a severe beating, the survey found.

The proportion of children who were unable to recognise even letters in classes 2, 3, and 6 has doubled since 2018 — from 19.5% to 37.6% for children in class 2, 10.4% to 22.5% in class 3, and 2.5% to 4.8% in class 6.

Only 12.3% pupils in class 3 were able to read class 2-level text, down from 29.8% in 2018.

Key findings: arithmetic

The proportion of children who were unable to recognise even single-digit numbers has increased since 2018 from 11.4% to 24.3% in class 2, and from 1.7% to 4.5% in class 5.

Only 4.3% students in class 5 can do basic divisions, down from 11.3% in 2018, when a field survey was last undertaken in the state.

This fall was from 29.8% to 18.2% among students of class 6. Nine per cent students of class 3 could carry out subtractions, as against 19.3% in 2018.

General situation pre-pandemic

The report points out that both in terms of reading and numerical abilities, children have touched the lowest point in a decade.

Back in 2014, 70.7% children in class 2 of government schools could read letters. This improved to 77.1% in 2016, and fell marginally in 2018 to 76.3%. In 2021, it had crashed to 57%.

In the case of arithmetic, 14.2% of children in class 3 (in both government and private schools combined) could do subtractions in 2014; this rose to 20% in 2016, and fell slightly to 19.3% in 2016. In 2021, this number stood at just 9%.

Among class 5 pupils, 18% could do division in 2018; this rose to 23.1% in 2016 and 26.9% in 2018, and fell to 13% in 2021.

State of enrollment

The findings on enrollment in Chhattisgarh are among the very few positive aspects in the state captured by the survey.

The survey found an increase in government school enrollment from 76.4% in 2018 to 82.9% in 2021 in the age group of 6-14 years. More importantly, the enrollment rates did not fall during the pandemic, the survey found. These findings were more true for girl students than boys.

“In 2021, more girls in every age group are enrolled in school than boys,” it noted.

Other states and studies

ASER’s flagship annual survey, facilitated by the Pratham Foundation, was phone-based in 2021. It focused entirely on access to digital devices, enrollment in government and private schools, and dependency on tuition classes.

ASER’s last field survey to assess learning outcomes was carried out in Karnataka in March 2021. That survey found a 16 percentage point rise in class 1 students who were unable to read letters, and a 12 percentage point increase in class 1 students who were unable to recognise numbers.

A study carried out by Azim Premji University in 1,137 public schools across Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand in January 2021 had found that 92% of primary school students had lost at least one language ability from the previous year, and 82% of students in classes 2-6 had lost at least one mathematical ability during the same period.

The report of the National Achievement Survey (NAS) carried out by the Centre in November to assess learning outcomes of children across the country is expected to be out in March.

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