The total percentage of children in rural areas who were not enrolled in any school doubled during the Covid pandemic with the Government schools witnessing a raise in enrolment at the expense of the private schools, as stated according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2021. More than a third of children who were enrolled in 1st and 2nd standards have never attended school physically.
However, enrolment does not actually mean that learning took place. In a survey of a number of more than 76,000 households with children in the age group to 6 to 14, ASER realized that while 92% of children had access to textbooks for their grade, only around a third had any sort of access to any other learning sources or support. With the availability of smartphones and only limited access, online learning was restricted to only a quarter of students though there were many differences in the experience of students from various states. For example, 91% of children from Kerela and 80% almost from Himachal Pradesh ha access to online education but in Bihar it was only 10% and in West Bengal, it was only 13%.
Survey on phone
Due to the Covid pandemic, ASER’s 16th annual report was completely based on a phone survey which assessed enrolment in schools and tuition classes and access to devices and also learning resources, rather than the organization’s usual physical survey which assesses the learning outcomes and children’s competencies in reading as well as arithmetic skills.
In 2018, it was only 2.5% of children who were not enrolled in school.
The major shift
In both the surveys of 2020 and 2021, the figures jumped to 4.6%. Government school enrolment raised significantly from 64.3% in 2018 to 70.3% in 2021 where the private school enrolment dropped from 32.5% to 24.4% over the same time period. “The shift to government school enrolment could be a result of financial distress, the closure of affordable private schools and the movement of migrants to rural areas,” as stated by the ASER Centre director Wilima Wadhwa.
“Although it is not clear if this is a permanent phenomenon or will be reserved post the pandemic, it is important to ensure that government schools and teachers are equipped and given the necessary resources for this surge in enrolment,” she stated.
This is mostly true for 1st and 2nd standard students as 37% of those who are enrolled in the government schools have never even stepped into a face-to-face classroom before. “The habit of going to school, sitting in a classroom and teaching in a classroom has been disrupted significantly. We need to ask if this disruption can be repaired simply by reopening schools,” stated by Madhav Chavan who is the president of Pratham which is the educational NGO which is the parent organisation of ASER, which emphasises that a “business as usual” approach could not be improved.
During the pandemic almost around 40% children took tuition classes as many parents had a hard time to provide the learning support students were not getting any proper education from school. Although textbook distribution was a grand success story in most of the states, with 92% of the children having the texts for their grade level. Just over third of children enrolled in closed government schools in 2021 received worksheets, messages from phone or any other sort of learning activities or materials in the week of the survey.
Rukmini Banerji who is the CEO of Pratham said, “Going forward, there is a need for device libraries, so all children can have access to needed devices.”
“As students return to school, it is important to start by assessing where they are, rather than teaching from where the curriculum thinks they should be. Teachers must be given the tools and agency to carry out such an assessment , so that no chils is left stranded, ”said Dr. Wadhwa.