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Citizen-led educational monitoring shows promise

A citizen-led approach to the collection of information about schooling and children’s learning is showing great promise in terms of educational monitoring and policy making.

According to a review undertaken by Charlotte Waters at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), the citizen-led approach being used in India, Mali, Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda is yielding reliable information about children’s basic learning levels, measuring change in these levels and raising awareness of local issues.

The ACER review addresses four citizen-led, household-based assessments: the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in India, Beekunko in Mali, Jangandoo in Senegal, and Uwezo in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. ACER is providing support in terms of capacity building and is in negotiations to provide similar support to ASER-Pakistan, a citizen-led assessment organisation modeled on ASER India.

According to Ms Waters, ‘The “citizen-led” description refers not only to the fact that the data collection activities are completed by volunteers in each district, but also to the focus on local data collection in a way that engages locals, and thereby raises awareness of local issues of schooling and learning levels, and triggers discussion about possible solutions to these issues.’

To highlight the impact of the citizen-led approach, ACER has invited Dr Rukmini Banerji, Chief Executive of the Pratham Education Foundation, to speak at Research Conference 2015 in August.

Pratham Education Foundation, a non-government organisation, through ASER, has monitored schooling and learning across India for a decade. According to Dr Banerji, ‘aser’ actually means 'impact' in Hindi, Urdu and several other languages.

‘ASER is much more than simply a survey. The reason we started doing this was in order to have an impact across the country,’ Dr Banerji said, ahead of the ACER Research Conference 2015.

With more than 600 districts, each with anywhere between 1000 and 3000 schools, the plan was not only to maintain a national survey, but also to build traction in every district through a citizen-led, household-based approach.

‘ASER focuses on India’s 575 or so rural districts, and works with a local institution or organisation, whether a college, non-government organisation, university, women's group or the like, that shares an interest in understanding children’s learning,’ Dr Banerji said. A sample of about 30 villages is chosen from the census for each district, with partner organisations then conducting surveys with a sample of about 20 households from each village.

‘The ASER model enables the collection of information about the basic reading, arithmetic and of course schooling of between 500 000 and 600 000 school-aged children. We publish the annual ASER report in mid-January, so that the data for the current school year is available within the school year itself.’

The survey would not be so broad in scope, large in size or fast in terms of data collection without the involvement of local educational institutions and community groups, since it is volunteers from these institutions and groups who travel – sometimes under difficult conditions – to sampled villages to collect the data.

‘The citizen-led approach to the ASER student achievement survey, rather than a government-led approach through schools, was chosen for a variety of reasons, but one of the big reasons is that we want to get everybody involved. Schooling and learning concern all citizens and not just those who are in education,’ Dr Banerji said.

According to Dr Banerji, the citizen-led approach also addresses the realities of educational monitoring in developing countries. ‘With a large school-age population but also a burgeoning and mostly unregulated private school sector, attempting to collect the kind and volume of information of the kind we collect through education systems would probably lead to a biased sample.

‘If you're interested in finding out how a representative sample of children are doing, you are forced to go outside the school, not because school is unimportant, but because our school lists don't cover all schools and because children may be absent from school on the day of the survey. The ASER citizen-led approach captures information about the children who need the attention the most.’

Ms Waters said the ASER survey has had an influence at the state level in India, with many state programs now aimed at improving learning outcomes in response to ASER results. The regular assessment of student learning outcomes is becoming a feature of state systems, and several states are now using ASER-like tools to conduct these assessments, she said. ■

Further information:
Research Conference 2015, on the theme Learning Assessments: Designing the future, will be held from 16 to 18 August in Melbourne. Visit <www.acer.edu.au/rc> for more information.

Download ‘The Annual Status of Education Report survey: Monitoring learning levels of children in rural India’ paper by Charlotte Waters.

Listen to Rukmini Banerji speaking with with Teacher magazine editor Jo Earp in a special edition of The Research Files, or read the transcript

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