**MUST READ** If you are short on time I would recommend reading pages 13 - 28 for comments from the people who designed, executed and analyzed ASER 2008. Also handy are pages 50-53 for a summary of findings and page 61 for India stats. Note - these numbers are based on the pdf page number rather than what is written in the Table of Contents in the report.
Findings I found interesting:
- Overall enrollment is up to 95.7% i.e., this percentage of 6-14yr olds are in some form of elementary school. That means that the number of kids registered to attend school has increased but it's fairly obvious that just getting a child to school is not enough; we need to be able to keep her there and educate her. Still, there is some consolation in the fact that schools are more accessible than they were in the past. A primary school is located within 1 Km radius of habitation for 92.5% villages. 67.1% villages have a government middle school while 33.8% have a government secondary school.
- Overall, the learning levels in India are either stagnating or declining (page 61). This varies considerably over states but if one were to consider that SSA was rolled out by the central government as a plan to fix primary school education all over the country, it would appear that the scheme has delivered (enrollment is up; schools are accessible) but not accomplished (learning is down) its stated aim. For example the percentage of children in between standards 1-8 who read a story was 43.6% in 2005 and 41% in 2008. Similarly in Maths, the percentage of children who were able to do long number division was 30.9% in 2005 vs 27.9% in 2008.
- Children are increasingly attending private schools - 16.4% in 2005 vs 22.5% in 2008. This trend varies significantly between states with Himachal Pradesh and Kerala having the highest numbers. Interestingly, overall enrollment in private school doesn't correlate that well with increased learning levels for states like Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh (MP). In fact, MP has the same level of private school enrollment as Tamil Nadu (15%) and yet they are on either side of the spectra as far as learning outcomes are observed (Table 1).
- Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh are states with the most significant improvements in learning outcomes. From Table 1 it would appear that MP has beat Kerala as the most 'well read' state. What was shocking to me was the poor learning levels in Tamil Nadu, the first state to introduce midday meal schemes and with high educational inputs. Surprisingly, of the BiMaROU (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh) states only UP is doing worse than Karnataka and just based on my perhaps skewed perception of economic development I would consider Karnataka more developed than them. In the same league is Gujrat, another state praised for its rapid economic development under the Modi government yet, their learning indicators are dismal. All this would suggest that since educational strength doesn't match up with a State's economic development we are going to see huge migrations as more educated youth move to where the industry and jobs are.
Table 1 - Ranking order of Indian States based on 2008 values for reading and maths.