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  • Yoshita Arya

Attempts to go ‘beyond basics’ by overlooking reality

Updated: Mar 31

How are we taking a step into the new world when partially able to overcome the existing blockages?



Image Credit: NDTV

Over the years a major shift has been seen in the Indian education market, its practices and its results, most of it arising from the emerging trends and the continuous efforts made by various government and non-government organizations to establish and re-establish the sector which holds the future of the society in its hands. The Annual Status of Education Report (‘ASER’), released biannually by Pratham Education Foundation, focusing on students in rural parts of India, in its 18th edition, ‘Beyond Basics’, places a strong emphasis on the digital aspect of learning while significantly highlighting its contribution to the overall fundamental and practical learning of students between the age of 14-18 years. The four major domains that this year's report reports on are: activity, ability, awareness and digital aptitude, and aspirations.


With the emergence of the New Education Policy (‘NEP’) 2020; transformation was made in the sector of education by attaching a more holistic approach to it, Sustainable Development Goal 4 (‘SDG’); aiming at providing quality education to the masses, along with the existing Right to Education Act, 2005 (‘RTE’); highlighting the need for mandatory elementary level education, some shift in the sector and its target population is recorded by the organization. While it is known that the focus of RTE is on the students falling between the age group of 6-14 years, making elementary education a necessity, NEP takes a step ahead by focusing on secondary-level education. This forms a part of the area under study of the ASER to see its pros and cons and to look at all the possible challenges being faced when the policies are implemented. 


This year's report records responses from 34,745 teenagers, in the age group of 14-18 years. The survey was conducted in 28 districts throughout 26 states through which it was revealed that post-pandemic, with the establishment of NEP 2020, the introduction to new modes and methods of learning has spread out to various parts of the rural economy (which is the focus area of ASER). 

Having a country moving on the path of digitalization, knowing how to use devices becomes a necessity for survival in today's time. The modes of assessment now have a new factor to count on for the well-being of the country's future. As good as the idea of digitalization and new policies sounds, it lacks elements that are necessary for its implementation on the ground level: a proper plan.


After the pandemic, a striking shift was recorded in the purchases of smartphones which was 36% in 2017 to 74.8% in 2022 contributing to the emerging ‘digital dividend’. Through a self-reported survey, it was revealed that having access to smartphones was not merely enough to have digital aptitude, but it was also the ownership of it that added to the effective utilization of the emerging mode of knowledge. It was found that accessibility without ownership made one deprived of the basic understanding of the devices. This inaccessibility was mostly seen in the case of girls (pointing at the gender disparity), which was also found in the enrollment process, though more age-wise inequalities were seen than gender for the latter, as there is a high possibility, with evidence from the past, of older youths having low to no record of enrollment- 32.6% for 18 years old compared to that of 3.9% for 14 years old. Along with the digital dividend, the report also highlights the ‘demographic dividend’ which talks about the formation of the country's population, majorly comprised of the working/young population. By utilizing the youth to its full potential with the implementation of policies in favour of them, the country will be able to achieve immense growth in its economy while also fulfilling the development aspect.


The participants for the survey were provided with five different tasks: Basic mathematics; English comprehension and reading; application of fundamental skills for daily calculation; performing real-world financial computations and reading; and comprehending written structures. The results were that a large portion of youngsters struggle to read the text at Standard II level fluently in their native language and find it difficult to do basic calculations like division, discount, etc., which raises questions about the working of such a crucial department and forces one to think- are the efforts lacking something more?


The survey also sheds light on the importance of learning about the significance of climate and sustainability, considering the awareness angle of it. Also talking about the introduction of courses that will be diverse (like vocational courses) and helpful for the youth in the future. It will not only open gates to new opportunities for them but also new ideas. It is also NEP’s ‘learning for work’ objective that influences the youth’s participation from learning in classrooms to learning in fields of work. Major emphasis is put on courses having the benefit of helping in building a better future.


Conclusion

The question that arises with the existing efforts being made to uplift the current condition of education is that of proper know-how. When the learning taking place physically was met with various roadblocks and a lack of accessibility to the teachers and classrooms, can an online mode of learning fill the gaps? Or know any better? Who is monitoring what is happening behind the scenes? Merely providing devices is not enough, but it being used also forms a part of it. Though now the options are endless for one to choose from, how to decide on the right one or how to know if the options there exist?


There is still a long way to go and since rural areas form a major construct of India, improvement in its economy will have a direct effect on the country’s overall economy. It is important to consider the potential of such a large population if in need of better and overall development. With no shortfall in ideas and proposals for a better future for youth and the country's system, it is something else that these ideas demand, for them to work out in the best possible way. 


About the Author

Yoshita Arya is a 1st year MA Public Policy student at Jindal School of Government and Public Policy. With an idea about the subtleness of power held by education, she is trying to explore the field's impact on our lives and society.

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