Research and Advocacy
We measure learning outcomes to improve education quality.
Since 2005, Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) has been a mobilizing force for education, capturing reliable data on school enrollment, facilities and children’s learning outcomes. The survey, which measures basic literacy and numeracy skills, reveals the unspoken problem that school enrollment has not automatically translated into learning.
Despite near-universal enrollment of 97%, Indian schools are plagued by poor attendance, overcrowded classes and antiquated teaching methods. The hard data we’ve collected over the years has become an essential reference guide for the decision-makers at all levels of government for the allocation of funds and development of education policy. ASER has also enabled citizens to demand better quality education for their children.
This idea of “evidence for action” led to the formation in 2008 of the ASER Centre, an independent unit within the Pratham network. Identifying and quantifying a problem is the first step in enabling action at the community level; the Centre provides such knowledge by measuring, monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of social sector programs.
The world’s largest household survey of its kind, ASER measures the basic literacy and numeracy skills of 600,000 rural children aged 3 to 16 at district, state and national levels, monitoring changes in these parameters over time.
HOW DO WE DO THIS?
We quantify learning outcomes.
Pratham has developed simple assessment tools that anyone can administer anywhere. Tests consist of two papers: one asks children to read letters, words, paragraphs and stories; the other presents number recognition and mathematical problems in subtraction and division. Test administrators record the highest level at which each child is capable, and this information is consolidated into a village report card.
The survey also evaluates the quality of a school’s facilities, including books, supplies, sanitation and drinking water.
ASER’s rigorous methodology, uniform procedures and simple assessment tools quantify learning in concrete and actionable ways.
We make learning visible.
The strength of this effort lies in its simplicity. The assessment tools are easy to grasp and administer, allowing ordinary citizens to get involved in the process. By testing children at home, volunteers make the quality of education visible to all, creating a dialogue among parents, teachers and neighbors.
Such awareness turns to action when communities realize their schools are failing their children.
By visiting children at home, ASER volunteers collect data on the large number of children who are enrolled in school but don't make it to the classroom.
We emphasize collaboration and evaluation.
Such a large undertaking requires enormous support, and Pratham effectively uses low-cost methods to achieve wide-scale assessments. Roughly 25,000 volunteers from 500 partner organizations participate in the data collection, which covers every rural district in the country. Results are tallied and widely distributed inside and outside the government.
In 2013, Pratham established its Measurement, Monitoring and Evaluation (MME) unit to evaluate the effectiveness of its programs. The MME assesses outcomes, provides feedback for improvements, and suggests adjustments necessary for scaling up our programs and making them sustainable.
In 2015, Pratham recruited hundreds of thousands of Indian citizens to stand up for the children in their communities through the Lakhon Mein Ek campaign. The three-month effort mobilized 375,000 volunteers to assess the literacy and numeracy level of 10 million children. Village report cards were generated and shared with the community as a first step toward advocating for their children’s educational needs.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
ASER 2017: Beyond Basics
Having successfully provided data on primary school children for over a decade, Pratham sought to better understand the condition of youth between the ages of 14 and 18. This generation is the first to have finished eight years of school since India’s Right to Education Act was passed. For this older age group, the pilot survey measured a broader set of dimensions. Roughly 2,000 volunteers from 35 partner institutions conducted the inaugural survey of 28,323 youth across 24 states.
In 2017, the ASER Centre conducted Beyond Basics, its first-ever survey of 14 to 18 year olds. The report concluded that millions of children and young adults are receiving neither the preparation nor the education needed to support themselves, their families and ultimately their communities.
ASER 2019: Early Years
Then, in 2020, a variation of the survey was released focusing on children aged 4 to 8. The report, called “Early Years,” targeted four key areas of development—language, cognitive, numeracy, and social/emotional. The wealth of findings it produced suggest that the solution to India’s learning crisis lies in its approach to early childhood education.
IS IT WORKING?
ASER is impacting education around the globe.
In India, ASER led to the creation of our Read India program, designed to ensure that all children acquire basic reading, writing and math skills.
ASER-modeled surveys are being implemented in more than a dozen countries on three continents to measure learning outcomes and advocate for improved quality of education.
Our ASER model has inspired parallel citizen-led assessments (CLAs), with seven other countries already implementing CLAs and five more slated to enact them in the coming year. Spanning three continents, these CLA efforts are reaching more than a million children annually as part of the People's Action for Learning (PAL) network, which strives to bring learning and measurement to the center of educational policy and practice.