Tina Rosenberg talks about the education system, the ASER report and children getting left behind in India.
School attendance is rising nearly everywhere. In India, for example, 96 percent of school-age children are enrolled — in part due to a 2009 law making education free and compulsory for children ages 6 to 14. India is winning the battle to get children into school.
But it is losing the war: Only some of these children are getting an education.
We know this mainly because of the tests done by the volunteers. Their report is called ASER, the Annual Status of Education Report (“aser” also means “impact” in Hindi), which is now in its 10th year.
ASER is more than a survey. By making children’s learning visible to parents, teachers and policymakers, it has become a mobilizing force for better-quality education. It has helped to turn the government’s focus beyond enrollment, toward learning.
Rukmini Banerji, who leads the ASER, says Pratham’s evidence shows that the most important reason is something else: By law in India, the teacher must cover the entire year’s formal curriculum.
“When the fourth-grade teacher uses the fourth-grade textbook, you’re eliminating 80 percent of the class,” Banerji said.
Someone sitting in a fourth-grade classroom who can’t read a simple sentence will be lost on the first day — and never catch up. “The learning curve is flat.”
Testing children at home not only catches a more representative sample, it creates ASER’s impact. When children don’t go to school, it’s visible. When they go to school but don’t learn, it’s invisible. “That children are in school but not learning is a very new realization for parents as well as policymakers,” Banerji said. “Parents don’t know about this — even those who can read themselves. They assume that in school means O.K.”