Did Technology Enable Inclusive Education in Rural India in a Year of Lockdown?

In collaboration with ASER CentrePratham India

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ASER 2020 reached 584 districts across 26 states and 4 Union Territories in rural India. A total of 52,227 households were surveyed, covering 59,251 children in the age group 5-16. Designed as a companion volume to the main ASER 2020 report released in October 2020, the report ‘ASER Digital Check 2020’ explores the question – Did technology enable inclusive education in rural India in a year of lockdown?

School enrollment

Enrollment in school is a vital potential enabler of children’s access to teaching-learning materials while schools were closed. Changes in school enrollment can only be measured accurately once schools reopen and children are able to return to their classrooms. As compared to 2018, this interim measurement in ASER 2020 shows that:

  • Overall enrollment (age 6-14): The enrollment of children in the age group of 6 to 14 is above 95%, similar to recent years. The proportion of children (age 6-14) who are not enrolled has increased only slightly to 4.6%.
  • At the all India level, there is a small shift towards government schools. As compared to data from ASER 2018, data from ASER 2020 (September 2020) show a small shift in enrollment from private to government schools, across all grades and among both girls and boys. The proportion of boys enrolled in government schools rose from 62.8% in 2018 to 66.4% in 2020. The proportion of girls enrolled in government schools rose from 70% to 73% during the same period.
  • Many young children yet to get admission in school. ASER 2020 shows that while the proportion of children not currently enrolled for the 2020-21 school year is higher than the equivalent figures for 2018, for most age groups these differences are small. Higher proportions of children not enrolled are visible mostly among young children (age 6 to 10), possibly because they have not yet secured admission to school. This proportion is particularly large for 6 to 10-year-olds in Uttar Pradesh (11.1% not enrolled in 2020), Tamil Nadu (9.4%) and Meghalaya (7.8%).

Household resources

While schools were closed, children relied mainly on the resources available at home to help them learn. These resources consisted of people who could support their studies (for example, educated parents) and technology based educational inputs (TV, radio or smartphone). We categorized parents’ education as ‘low’ (families where both parents had completed Std V or less) or, at the other end of the spectrum, ‘high’ (families where both parents had completed at least Std IX). All other parents were in the ‘medium’ category where there were many possible combinations.

  • A relatively small proportion of students in school today are first generation school-goers. More than three quarters have at least one parent who has completed primary school (Std V). More than a quarter have both parents who have studied beyond Std IX.
  • More educated parents usually have households with higher incomes. As parents’ education level increases, the likelihood that the household has a smartphone also increases; and the probability that the sampled child is studying in a government school decreases.
  • Among enrolled children, more than 60% live in families with at least one smartphone. This proportion has increased enormously in the last two years, from 36.5% to 61.8%. Although the percentage point increase is similar in households of children enrolled in government and private schools, a significant gap remains – 56.4% children enrolled in government schools have a smartphone at home as compared to 74.2% private school going children. • States that show an increase of more than 30 percentage points in the proportion of children whose families own a smartphone include Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. In Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, more than 85% children have a smartphone at home. In Odisha and West Bengal, less than 50% children have a smartphone at home.

Support in learning at home

With learning materials being provided remotely if at all, children relied heavily on family support to engage with their studies during school closures. ASER 2020 data shows that regardless of parents’ education level and the child’s sex, families invested significant effort in supporting children’s learning.

  • Whether acquired before or after school closures in March 2020, more than 80% children had textbooks for their current grade on the day of the survey. This proportion is higher among students enrolled in government schools (84.1%) than in private schools (72.2%). Across states, the proportion of children with textbooks at home falls below 70% in only three states: Rajasthan (60.4%), Telangana (68.1%), and Andhra Pradesh (34.6%).
  • While schools were closed, almost three quarters of all children received help from family members in studying at home. Notably, family members provided support even when neither parent had studied beyond primary school.
  • Children with more educated parents received more family support than those with less educated parents. For example, 54.8% of children whose parents had completed Std V or less received some form of family support, as compared to 89.4% of children whose parents had studied beyond Std IX.
  • As children progress to higher grades, parents are able to provide less help. For example, 33% of mothers of young children in Std I-II were able to help their children, as opposed to 15% of mothers of children in Std IX and above. But for children in higher grades, support from older siblings becomes steadily more important.

Access to learning materials and activities

Governments and others have used a variety of mechanisms to share learning materials with students during school closures. These include activities using traditional materials like textbooks or worksheets; online or recorded classes; and videos or other materials shared via phone or in person, among others. ASER 2020 asked whether households had accessed or received any such materials from children’s schools in the week prior to the survey in September 2020.

  • Overall, about one third of all enrolled children had received some form of learning materials or activities apart from textbooks from their teachers during the reference week. This proportion was higher in higher grades than in lower ones; higher among students in private schools than in government schools; and higher among children with parents in the ‘high’ education category than children with parents in the ‘low’ education category. There was no noticeable difference in receipt of learning materials and activities by sex.
  • The availability of a smartphone in the household made a big difference to whether children received learning materials/activities in the reference week. While close to half the children who had a smartphone at home received materials, this proportion was only 17% for children who did not have smartphone at home.
  • There are significant variations by state in children’s receipt of learning materials or activities during the reference week. States where less than a quarter of all children received any materials include Rajasthan (21.5%), Uttar Pradesh (21%), West Bengal (20.5%) and Bihar (7.7%). States where more than 80% of all children received learning materials include Punjab (87.6%), Himachal Pradesh (87.2%), Kerala (82.9%) and Gujarat (82%).
  • Regardless of school type and parental education level, WhatsApp was the most common medium through which activities and materials were received. This proportion was much higher among children in private schools (87.2%) than those in government schools (67.3%); and much higher among children with parents in the ‘high’ education category (85.3%) than among children with parents in the ‘low’ education category (55.9%).
  • On the other hand, of children who had received some materials, those in government schools were much more likely to have received materials via personal contact with a teacher (31.8%) than those in private schools (11.5%), either when the teacher visited the household or else when a household member visited the school.
  • Among the roughly two-thirds of all households that reported not having received learning materials during the reference week, the majority said that the school had not sent any materials.


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