School Children’s Learning Assessment

The Covid pandemic forced schools to close in March 2020, and India experienced one of the world’s longest school closures, with primary schools closing for nearly two years. The pandemic’s impact on education was feared to be twofold: learning loss associated with long school closures and higher dropout rates, particularly among older children, due to strained family budgets.

ASER survey during the pandemic

  • Estimates from these three state-level surveys could be used to determine the magnitude of children’s learning losses. These state-level estimates are extremely useful because they are the only ASER learning estimates available between 2018 and 2022.
  • Pre-pandemic learning level rise: Learning levels in the country as a whole increased slowly between 2014 and 2018, after remaining stagnant for several years. At the national level, for example, the proportion of children in Class III who could read a Class II level text (a proxy for grade-level reading) increased from 23.6 percent in 2014 to 27.2% in 2018.
  • ASER 2022 shows a significant drop in this proportion to 20.5 percent during a pandemic. This 7% drop is significant, given how slowly all-India numbers move, and confirms fears of large learning losses caused by the pandemic.
  • Higher losses in math: Learning levels in math had gradually increased between 2014 and 2018. Estimates for 2022 show a drop here as well, though much smaller than in the case of reading.

Case study: Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal.

  • In 2021, when schools were still closed or had just reopened, assess learning levels in three states: Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal. While these are not national estimates, they do provide an interim measure that is more reflective of pandemic-induced learning losses than the 2022 estimates.
  • Reading and math deficits: Except for Std V in West Bengal, all three states experienced large learning losses in both reading and math in 2021, totaling more than 7 percentage points. The reading loss is slightly higher, but not by much.
  • Learning losses were much lower than in 2014: In both reading and math, the 2021 learning levels in these three states were lower than in 2014. A year later, ASER 2022 data show that there has been a recovery in both reading and math across all three states (except Karnataka in reading and West Bengal in reading in Std V) since schools reopened in 2021-22.
  • Recovery remains below pandemic levels: In other words, while 2022 learning levels remained below or, in some cases, close to 2018 levels, comparing 2018 to 2022 obscures the dramatic drop in learning levels observed between these two points and the subsequent recovery that has occurred in the last year.

 Impact of New Education Policy

  • Focus on foundational competency: The introduction of the new National Education Policy (NEP) in 2020 was another significant development during 2020-21. For the first time, there was a strong emphasis on early childhood development and the importance of foundational competencies.
  • Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN): Once schools reopened, states moved quickly, and almost all states made a major push in the area of FLN under the NIPUN Bharat mission (National Initiative for Proficiency in Reading with Understanding and Numeracy). The ASER 2022 data reflects this push.
  • NEP Implementation Directive: As part of the survey, ASER field investigators visited one government school in each sampled village to record enrolment, attendance, and school facilities. This year, we also inquired whether schools had received any government directives to implement FLN activities in the school, as well as whether teachers had received FLN training. At the national level, 81% of schools reported receiving such a directive, and 83% reported that at least one teacher in the school had received FLN training.

Learning loss recovery

  • Some states have experienced partial recovery: We can extrapolate from the experience of the three states for which we have 2021 data that other states experienced significant learning losses during the pandemic. However, once schools reopened, states made a concerted effort to build or rebuild foundational competencies, resulting in a partial, and in some cases, complete, recovery.
  • Early reopening, faster recovery: The extent of recovery varies by state, depending on how long schools were closed and when learning recovery measures were implemented. Chhattisgarh, for example, was one of the first states to reopen their primary schools in July 2021, giving them a longer period to work with children than, say, Himachal Pradesh or Maharashtra, where schools reopened much later.
  • Chhattisgarh’s remarkable recovery: Taking 2021 figures into account, the 2022 estimates for Chhattisgarh point to a remarkable recovery, in both reading and math, that is hidden if we simply compare 2022 with 2018.
  • In the absence of a 2021 measurement for other states, it is difficult to say what the original pandemic-induced learning loss was that states are attempting to recover from.

@the end

According to the ASER survey, student learning losses were recovered more quickly than expected. The NEP appears to be very promising for improving learning outcomes for children and college students. Every state and union territory should fully implement the NEP.

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