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The Pratham Column: After ASER

Pratham's Early Childhood and Middle School Education studies in India.
BY Manjistha Banerji |   14-03-2014
Pratham: Every Child in School and Learning Well...
The annual assessment of the state of learning of children in ages 5-16 conducted by Pratham is a one-of-its-kind survey in India that takes learning assessments out of the exclusive confines of the academia and makes it accessible to a wider audience of parents and policy makers.

However, because the highest level of learning assessed in the ASER surveys correspond to Std I and Std II, it must not be assumed that research at Pratham is limited to primary education alone. Two interesting research studies that we are currently working on at Pratham focus on pre- primary education and middle school education in India.

Early Childhood Education, ECE, Study

Most of us are likely to have attended preschool or nursery before we went to primary school. But is this true for all young children in India, particularly in rural India? Do factors such as a child’s gender, caste or household income levels or parental education affect early childhood education? Do parents have a preference for government-run or privately-managed pre- primary centres? To what extent is their decision influenced by the functioning of early childhood education centers and/or availability of ECE centres in the neighborhood? Does attendance in a pre-primary centre, whether government or privately run, make a difference in terms of a child’s preparedness for primary schooling?

The study on early childhood education - jointly carried out by ASER centre and Centre of Early Childhood Education - Ambedkar University, Delhi, seeks to answer these questions. The focus of the study is on children aged between 3.5- 4.5 years, in two districts each in three states of India - Rajasthan (Alwar and Ajmer), Andhra Pradesh (Medak and Warrangal) and Assam (Kamrup and Dibrugarh). In order to get a holistic sense of the various processes involved in early childhood education, we studied the household, the early childhood education (or ECE) centres and the child’s participation in terms of attendance.

To make better causal inferences, we will follow these children until they are in Std 3. This means that in addition to observing early childhood education centres, we also observe primary schools. Finally, the study uses a mix of methods to allow for triangulation of findings - while the ASER strand uses survey methods to answer the above questions, Ambedkar Univesity takes a more in-depth look at ECE-related outcomes via qualitative methods.

Middle School Study

The ASER surveys have repeatedly highlighted that in spite of close to universal enrolment, learning levels in primary grades are poor, but it remains to be seen if this pattern of universal enrolment and low learning levels holds for upper primary grades as well. The Middle School Study, which focuses on children who are currently in Std 6, 7 and 8 and aged between 11-16 years, proposes to answer this (and other) question(s). The study covers about 9,600 children in two states in India - Maharashtra and Bihar and incorporates three rounds of data collection comprising a baseline, an intermediate and an end-line visit.

The idea behind spacing the study out to three rounds of data collection is to understand the processes that underpin a child’s learning level. This study takes a holistic approach focusing not only on the household, but also on the school and community. As the age group corresponds to adolescence years, special attention is paid to the barriers which girls possibly face in accessing post primary education.

Yet another reason to focus on the age group of 11-16 years is that India has one of the world’s largest youth populations, but few studies have looked at youth aspirations. A considerable portion of the household survey is therefore devoted to capturing the employment aspirations of children and of their parents. We hope the results will indicate, among other things, whether parents and children share similar aspirations, if these aspirations vary by caste, gender and class and if they are commensurate with educational investment and learning levels.

Both studies are ongoing and it will be sometime before we can discuss their findings. As the data is analyzed, I hope to keep the readers of this column updated with the findings of these studies.

These studies are likely to provide major contributions to education research in India. Much of the research on ECE in India uses ethnographic or qualitative methods, By using survey data to map the landscape of ECE in India, ASER Centre fills in a major gap in the literature. Likewise, there is very limited research on middle schooling in India, the middle school study too, therefore, fills a major vacuum in the literature.  

Dr Manjistha Banerji holds a PhD in Sociology from University of Maryland, College Park. At ASER Centre, she is involved in two research studies, Early Childhood Education and the Middle School Study. 



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