Friday, February 03, 2006

"What gets measured, gets done"

This is how Ashok Kamath starts this India Together article about the recently released first Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER). The massive survey, meant to determine the outcomes of our school system, was conducted by Pratham, a network of social missions to achieve universal primary education in India. The survey itself is a pretty impressive affair:

Between Nov 11 and Dec 18, volunteers visited randomly picked villages in each district of India and surveyed 20 randomly chosen households in each village. In each household, children in the age group of 6-14 years were interviewed and tested for basic reading, writing, and arithmetic on a one-on-one basis. In all, Pratham and its partners surveyed nearly 6 lakh children in 2.4 lakh households from 12,000 villages in 525 rural districts.

As Kamath says, "the entire exercise was conducted by a total of 776 NGOs and institutions from all over the country." And, Kamath himself is with Akshara, a Bangalore based NGO that partnered with Pratham on this survey.

The full report is here. Gurcharan Das devoted an entire column in the Times of India last Sunday.

Some of the results are quite revealing:

This was not an elaborate survey but one that stuck to the basics: standard 2 competencies in language and math were tested for all children in the 6-14 years age group. [...]


It should both numb us and excite us that we have nearly 190 million children in the 6-14 years age group. What is exciting about this number is the tremendous human resources we have access to if we are able to train and tap this huge pool of young citizens; on the other hand what is numbing is that any statistic beyond this tells you that our problems are in the many millions. What do I mean? ASER says that 51.9% of children cannot read Standard 2 level material � this means 98 million children need remedial help in language. ASER says that 65.5% of the children cannot do division � this means that 124 million need remedial help in arithmetic.

Pratham and its partners have promised to return to this survey again next year, and the year after, and so on. They are right to shine the spotlight on learning outcomes and their measurement. Hats off to them.