By D Dhanuraj*
Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for 2014 was released by the ASER Centre mid-January. This is their tenth report which in their own words “a way summary of what we have observed over the tenures of UPA I and II. It is also a baseline for the new government and what it has to deal with”.
ASER has been making wave in the education circles for quite a number of years and has been a reference point for the academicians, administrators and investors these years. Every year, there would be a debate around the report when it gets published and in a few days time, it becomes a routine and goes to oblivion.
This year, the report also tried to compare ASER and National Achievement Surveys (NAS) conducted by NCERT every year. The comparative study concludes that “estimates generated by these assessments neither cover the same populations nor assess the same content, their results are not comparable” for both ASER and NAC. Like in school level education, there are many rating reports for college education published by different media houses over the years. They may not be comparable but these have opened and widened the scope for the informed discussion and choice among the stake holders to improve the system. But how well are we utilizing this information for the betterment of the system?
Various reports in the market place indicate various trends in the education sector. Some may highlight the lack of infrastructure and absence of teachers while others will discuss on the poor quality of education and lack of incentives for the parents to send their kids to schools. In a multi culture society, this cannot be addressed by the (Union) Government alone. It demands the participation of various stake holders and transparency.
In every ASER, there will be the results which would be agreed and disagreed by many. But these results are considered as a reflection of the Education System in India. For eg; ASER 2014 states that India is close to universal enrollment for the age group 6-14, with the percentage of children enrolled in school at 96% or above for six years in a row. Universal enrollment was a question that everybody including the Government wanted to address for so many decades. Now this mission has been accomplished; but what next? If the question on enrollment took many decades and crores of rupees of expenditure to be solved and achieved, one should turn back and ask whether we reached the fullest potential and efficiency through an efficient and systematic manner?
We should retrospect whether the practice that we adopted for achieving this goal was the best possible one??- If we don’t assess and learn from the past, there is no way we can improve any system and we may tend to build on the same practices. As is said, ‘those who do not know history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them’. Are we ready to accept failures in the implementation of policies in the past, if we find some or do we disregard them and dumb them in trash box? This is a question of meaningful governance and policy making.
Once we attain the goal of universal enrollment, what about retaining the trend and quality of education? What if, the methods and policies that we adopt to address these issues also take a few decades to accomplish the mission? Can we afford such delays and expenditures any further?
According to ASER report in 2014, 30.8% of all 6-14 year old children in rural India are enrolled in private schools. This number is up slightly from 29% in 2013. Five states in India now have private school enrollment rates in the elementary stage that are greater than 50%. These are Manipur (73.3%), Kerala (62.2%), Haryana (54.2%), Uttar Pradesh (51.7%), and Meghalaya (51.7%).For a policy maker, it is a very useful information and more than a trend. This exposes the myth that the parents would seek Government assistance to educate their kids or it is only through the overnment support, poor can be educated. With the aspiring mass of the society on the rise, they are open and informed about the status of the education through various channels. They are very careful in decision making. Here comes the question of the Government spending and planning for the status of the education system through their own channels believing that everything would be alright if more money and resources are spent.
This is indicated in another portion of ASER report, “only 6% government schools do not have toilets but an additional 28.5% do not have toilets that are usable. 18.8% Schools do not have girls’ toilets and 26% have girls’ toilets that are not usable or were locked. So, meeting this target should be relatively simple…”. This is mostly true with various schemes and plans in the school education field. So the question is how do we fix these fallacies?
In the earlier columns I had argued for the decentralization of the power structure of the regulatory systems in the education sector.. States like Kerala is a classic example of successful conduct of school education system. But there again, the quality of the education is derided as it was not let go by the administrators for the choice of markets.
Superimposing structures and institutions alone cannot make improvements in the Education Sector. At one set, we need edupreneurs and innovative tools to improve the system. Whether it is through the aided school system or the voucher system or through skill vouchers, the scope of participation and accountability could be enhanced and scaled up rather than spending the limited resources on unaccountable systems. Let’s hope the results of the ASER 2014 will guide us in the right direction rather than becoming another bunch of paper published every year.
MadhavChavan, ASER 2014, page no 1
 ASER 2014, page no 319
MadhavChavan, ASER 2014, page no 3
*Dr D Dhanuraj is the Chairman of Centre for Public Policy Research
**This article is a reproduction of views which appeared in Pallikkutam, a monthly magazine published by Rajagiri Group of Educational Institutions