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Beyond ASER 2017


In the article “Assessing ASER 2017: Reading between the Lines” (EPW, 24 February 2018), Disha Nawani succinctly points out the limitations of large-scale assessments, the foundations of which are based on a limited and flawed understanding of education and learning. Conclusions drawn from ASER such as the “better outcomes of private schools,” do not take into account the social and political context of learning and education.

While I am in solidarity with the author with respect to her criticism of ASER and its dangerous claims for the deregulation of private schools and scrapping of no-detention policy, I think that attention should not shift away from the poor quality of education that millions of our children are trapped in. Unlike ASER, the Literacy Research in Indian Languages (LiRIL) project—jointly funded by Tata Trusts and Azim Premji University, in collaboration with Quality Education Support Trust (QUEST), Maharashtra and Kalike, Karnataka—goes beyond the “performance-levels of students” and tries to understand the complexity and nuances of literacy acquisition. The project collected data on children, teachers, curricular materials, teaching–learning processes, and on children’s environment beyond schools. Even such a study, with a larger canvas of understanding of literacy learning, confirmed that children in both the project sites—Wada in Maharashtra and Yadgir in Karnataka—perform very poorly in a variety of reading and writing tasks. While understanding the politics of large-scale assessments like ASER and their unjustifiable appropriation of education systems and processes, we should not ignore this other elephant in the room.

I do not agree to the assertion that “detention is required for ensuring learning.” At the same time, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE) provisions for continual and regular support for student learning is clearly not implemented on the ground. In the current context, neither detention nor non-detention is capable of making any deeper educational change, especially for children in difficult circumstances. After detention, children are “given” the same educational experience they have received the previous year, without any change in pedagogy, classroom culture or teacher–child relationship. It is more likely that after detention, the child either discontinues schooling, or gets an automatic promotion in the second year, or experiences one more stressful school year. 

The system should be able to locate children in the diversity of their individual dispositions as well as in the sociocultural, economic, historical and political-rootedness of their lives. Unless the system responds to this complex being of children (or for that matter any human being), it will continue to treat children as “raw materials,” uniform in nature, which can be transformed into “products” of uniform quality. This is of course the kind of epistemological change that educationists have been arguing for, for decades. The point is that the roots behind inadequate quality of schooling, unjust and meaningless schooling experiences (especially for children in difficult circumstances), and what schooling means to such children’s lives, is more complex than one can imagine. Unless we think through our education system in such a deep and complex manner, and envision a meaningful educational change through difficult and challenging actions and parti­cipation, detention or non-detention will continue to reproduce the existing quality and equity of our education system.

As the author rightly points out, the public education system needs to be strengthened and the state needs to be held accountable to the poor children, for whom quality education is still a distant dream. Education cannot be left to the charity of individuals and mercy of the market, and the state cannot have double standards when it comes to the education of poor children. Blind endorsement of large-scale assessments like ASER, without reflecting on their sociopolitical implications for educational policy and practice, will only add fuel to the pyre, beneath which our education system lies.

Vijitha Rajan 

Comment on website


Updated On : 9th Mar, 2018


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