IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Nearly 20% of rural school children had no textbooks due to COVID-19 impact, finds ASER survey

30th October, 2020 Education

Context: About 20% of rural children have no textbooks at home, according to the Annual State of Education Report (ASER) survey.

  • In Andhra Pradesh, less than 35% of children had textbooks, and only 60% had textbooks in Rajasthan. More than 98% had textbooks in West Bengal, Nagaland and Assam.
  • In the week of the survey, about one in three rural children had done no learning activity at all.
  • About two in three had no learning materials or activity given by their school that week, and only one in ten had access to live online classes.
  • Levels of smartphone ownership have almost doubled from 2018, but a third of children with smartphone access still did not receive any learning materials.
  • Centre has now permitted States to start reopening schools if they can follow COVID-19 safety protocols, the vast majority of the country’s 25 crores students are still at home after seven straight months.
  • The ASER survey provides a glimpse into the levels of learning loss that students in rural India are suffering, with varying levels of access to technology, school and family resources resulting in a digital divide in education.

About ASER

  • ASER is a nationwide survey of rural education and learning outcomes in terms of reading and arithmetic skills that has been conducted by the NGO Pratham for the last 15 years.
  • This year, the survey was conducted via phone calls, reaching 52,227 rural households with school age children in 30 States and Union Territories.

New findings

  • It found that 5.3% of rural children aged 6-10 years had not yet enrolled in school this year, in comparison to just 1.8% in 2018.
  • This seems to indicate that due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic, families are waiting for the physical opening of schools to enrol their youngest children, with about 10% of six-year-olds not in school.
  • Among 15-16-year-olds, however, enrolment levels are actually slightly higher than in 2018.
  • Enrolment patterns also show a slight shift toward government schools, with private schools seeing a drop in enrolment in all age groups.

Changes came

  • In 2018, ASER surveyors found that about 36% of rural households with school-going children had smartphones.
  • By 2020, that figure had spiked to 62%. About 11% of families bought a new phone after the lockdown, of which 80% were smartphones.
  • WhatsApp was by far the most popular mode of transmitting learning materials to students, with 75% of students who got some input receiving it via the messaging app.
  • About a quarter of those who got input had personal contact with a teacher.
  • However, two thirds of rural children nationwide reported that they had not received any learning materials or activities at all.
  • In Bihar, less than 8% got such materials from their schools, along with 20% in West Bengal, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
  • On the other hand, more than 80% of rural children in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala and Gujarat received such input.

  • Many children did learning activities on their own, with or without regular input.
  • Of the 70% who did some activities, 11% had access to live online classes, and 21% had videos or recorded classes, with much higher levels in private schools.
  • About 60% studied from their textbooks, and 20% watched classes broadcast on TV.
  • In Andhra Pradesh, half of all children did no learning activity at all, while in Kerala, only 5% of children were left out.
  • Parental levels of education and resources played a key role in whether children studied at home.
  • About 20% of children whose parents had less than five years of education got learning materials, compared to 46% among parents who had studied beyond Class IX themselves.
  • Almost 40% in low education households got no materials and did no learning, compared to 17% of high education families.
  • However, almost 40% of low education families persevered and did some learning activities even without receiving any learning materials at all, the survey found.
  • 80% of families provided learning support to children, whether from parents or elder siblings, ASER recommended that schools find ways to build on that home support going forward.