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Mapping progress:  Improving learning in rural India

ACER and ASER are travelling the same road to collect information about children’s basic literacy and numeracy in India.

Dr Sarah Richardson, Research Director at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) India, joined ASER Centre staff and volunteers to find out how this large, citizen-led survey operates.

The ASER Centre, an assessment, survey, evaluation and research unit within Pratham Education Foundation, a non-government organisation, has monitored schooling and learning across rural India for a decade.

Using a citizen-led approach to collect reliable information about children’s basic literacy and numeracy, ASER publishes the Annual Status of Education Report. ASER literally means ‘impact’ in Hindi, Urdu and several other languages.

Collecting survey information across India’s 575 or so rural districts involves the recruitment of local educational institutions and community groups. Without volunteers from these institutions and groups, it would be impossible to sample the villages to collect data.

Dr Richardson joined Ketan Verma from Pratham in north-east Uttar Pradesh to discover first-hand what the ASER survey involves.

‘One surprise was the starting point for the survey – map making. I had naïvely assumed that maps would be available for each village,’ Dr Richardson says.

‘For the ASER survey, a sample of about 30 villages is chosen from the census for each district, with volunteers from partner organisations then conducting surveys with a sample of about 20 households from each village. Each village is subdivided into four sections so that volunteers can visit each fifth dwelling, but to do that, you need a map.

‘Two volunteers – Nazia and Tanzim – moved painstakingly around the village, talking to community members in order to confirm the sketch they were skilfully compiling of streets and landmarks such as religious buildings and the post office. Once complete, they met with the elected representative of the village to redraw the map and confirm its details; then the survey could begin.

In order to collect reliable information, the local skill of the volunteers is paramount, Dr Richardson says. ‘The volunteers are able to allay the initial scepticism of householders, identify resident children in the target age range, which is no easy task, and coax shy or less willing children to participate.

‘This approach to measurement enables the ASER Centre to collect vital information about many children who would otherwise fall under the radar of formal assessments,’ Dr Richardson says.

‘It also involves communities in education, whether a surveyed household has children in school or not, and even in the target age range or not.’

The net result, says Dr Richardson, is that the survey itself raises awareness of local issues of schooling and learning levels, while the annual reports prompt policy discussion at the state level in India, since many state programs now aim to improve learning outcomes in response to ASER results. ■

Further information:

To find out more about the Annual Status of Education Report, visit the ASER Centre or download the ACER ‘Annual Status of Education Report survey: Monitoring learning levels of children in rural India’ evaluation by Charlotte Waters.

Read more about the citizen-led approach to the collection of information about schooling and children’s learning in 'Citizen-led educational monitoring shows promise'.

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