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Learning for beginners worsens in Karnataka: ASER 2020 findings

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The cases of inadequate foundational skills among school-going children in Karnataka have risen during 2020, according to the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER).

“The consequences of not designing mechanisms to address the situation of the youngest learners will be extremely grave, not only for individual children but for school systems as a whole,” the ASER report said.

Karnataka is the only State where PRATHAM, a non-government organisation, was able to conduct a field-based ASER, including a learning assessment, since the Covid-19 pandemic began. The fieldwork was done in March 2021, just ahead of the second wave of Covid-related shutdowns.

“The data on children’s foundational reading and arithmetic abilities was alarming even then, and it would be another six months before schools finally begin to reopen across the country,” the ASER found.

This survey covered almost 20,000 children aged 5-16 across 24 of Karnataka’s 30 districts. “The learning data shows steep drops in children’s foundational skills, particularly in lower primary grades when these foundations are often still shaky,” said the ASER 2021.

According to the report, in reading, the proportion of children in Standard II in government schools who were as yet unable to read even letters (‘beginner’ level) had increased by 13 percentage points over 2018 levels. The proportion of children in Standard III who could read at least Standard I level text had fallen sharply, from 41.8 per cent to 24.2 per cent over the same period. In arithmetic, the proportion of children in Standard II at beginner level had doubled since 2018.

ASER has been reporting inadequate foundational skills among school-going children for more than 15 years now. Although ASER 2021 was unable to do a learning assessment of sampled children, a state-wide assessment was conducted earlier this year in Karnataka.

The report recommends that there is a need to speed up mechanisms for finding and enrolling children who are not currently enrolled, so that young children can avail of critical inputs during this vital phase in their development.

“Since almost all enrolled children have access to textbooks, once brought into the system they will have at least some amount of learning material at hand, although much more can surely be done,” ASER said.

Meanwhile, there has been a clear shift from private to government schools between 2018 and 2021, in all grades and among both boys and girls. The increase is most striking among children enrolled in the lowest grades. For example, among boys enrolled in Std I-II, enrollment in government schools increased by more than 10 percentage points from 2020 to 2021.



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