From Andhra Pradesh to Jammu and Kashmir to Meghalaya to Tamil Nadu, over 30,000 14-18-year-olds were chosen to be surveyed for the 12th Annual Status of Education Report, “Beyond Basics,” and the results are dismal.
Some key findings of the 2017 report facilitated by the Pratham Foundation are: while 86 percent of this age group are still in school or college, this number, particularly among females, decreases sharply with age. About 42 percent are working, overwhelmingly on a family farm; roughly 25 percent cannot read a simple text in their own language fluently, and only 43 percent are capable of solving a basic division problem; 49 percent of males and roughly 76 percent of females have never used the Internet; of the 60 percent who want to study beyond grade 12, almost half cannot read a grade 2-level text; less than two-thirds could correctly do commonplace financial calculations like managing a budget or making a purchase decision; and although many of the youth had professional aspirations (males favoring the army, police and engineering; with females showing interest in teaching or nursing), 40 percent had no role models for the career they aspired to.
The ASER report provides data on some important dimensions of the preparedness of youth in rural India, with respect to their ability to lead productive lives as adults.
Every year since 2005, ASER has reported on children’s schooling status and their ability to do basic reading and arithmetic tasks. Since 2006, ASER has focused on the age group 5 to 16. Over this period, a clearly visible trend is that more and more students are completing eight years of elementary school at about age 14. Just four years later, these young people will become adults. So, what do these youths do during these four years? Are they acquiring the skills and abilities they will need to lead productive lives as adults? To answer this question, ASER 2017 focuses on an older age group: youths who are 14- to 18-years-old. The survey, “Beyond Basics,” explores a wider set of domains beyond the foundational reading and arithmetic in an attempt to throw light on the status and abilities of youth in this age group. Four domains were considered – activity (what the youth are currently doing in their lives), ability (whether they are capable of applying basic numeracy and literacy skills), awareness and exposure (what exposure they have had to media as well as digital and financial instruments and processes), and aspirations (what they report as their educational and career goals).
ASER 2017 examined the learning levels of 28,323 youth from 23,868 households in 26 rural districts across 24 states.
“These years, 14 to 18, are very crucial years in the life of a young person. These are years when career paths are chosen,” according to ASER center executive director Wilima Wadhwa. “These are years when the transition to secondary happens. And we felt that it was time to shine the spotlight on this age group this year.”
This age group is the first generation to have finished eight years of school since India’s Right to Education Act was passed in 2010.
The survey also points out that the enrollment gap between males and females in the formal education system increases with age. There is hardly any difference between boys’ and girls’ enrollment at age 14; but at age 18, 32 percent of females are not enrolled as compared to 28 percent males.
The survey also noted significant gender differences in mobile phone and computer/internet usage: while only 12 percent of males had never used a mobile phone, this number for females was at 22 percent. About 59 percent of these youths had never used a computer and 64 percent had never used the internet. While 49 percent of males had never used the internet, the figure for females stood close to 76 percent.
With respect to participation in financial processes and institutions, close to 75 percent have their own bank account. Interestingly, a slightly higher percentage of females have bank accounts than males in this age group.
ASER is a household-based survey. This design enables ASER to generate estimates of schooling and basic learning for all children, rather than only those enrolled in government schools and present on the day of the assessment.
The report concludes that: “Unless we ensure that our young people reach adulthood with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities they need to help themselves, their families, and their communities move forward, India’s much awaited ‘demographic dividend’ will not materialize.”