The word Aser means "impact" in Hindustani. This final installment of the Making of ASER blog looks at “ASER-ka-aser”, the impact of ASER, over the decade since it was first implemented in 2005.

Impact on Policy

Back in 2005, parents and policy makers alike aimed to get children into school. They did so very successfully: today more than 96% of all children in the 6-14 age group are enrolled in school. Back then, most people thought that schooling would automatically lead to learning. This was assumed not only in India, but globally: even the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for education, which had been agreed on by 189 countries around the world, were defined in terms of access rather than quality. 

Changing long held assumptions takes time. Part of the argument for doing ASER annually, on a fixed calendar, was that making current data available on a regular, predictable timeline was important to make “learning outcomes" and "learning assessment” – at that time little known concepts among the general public – part of the educational landscape in India.

It took three ASER cycles before impact began to be seen on education policy. In 2008, after three successive years of ASER, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) guidelines for the district Annual Work Plan and Budget (AWP&B) were amended to include ‘learning enhancement programmes’ as a line item for which funds could be budgeted. Previously, line items had focused on school infrastructure and inputs; this was the first time that learning-related criteria were incorporated into the education planning process.

Awareness and dissemination of ASER findings have grown with each passing year. Since 2009, ASER findings have been highlighted every year in the Economic Survey of India. They have also been cited in the Education chapter of the XII Five Year Plan (2012-2017). 

“21.31. Having achieved near-universal enrolment at the lower primary level, it is critical to turn the focus on the poor levels of learning outcomes achieved by children who complete five years of primary schooling. Several independently conducted national studies including the ASER (2005 to 2011) and the School Learning Study (2010) have reported very low levels of learning among Indian school children. The ASER 2011 findings illustrate that over half the children in class V are unable to read even at class II level.”

-- Planning Commission, Government of India. Twelfth Five Year Plan, Chapter 21, Education, p.53

Extract from the Economic Survey of India 2015-16
Extract from the Economic Survey of India 2015-16

More recently, the draft New Education Policy references ASER findings several times in its review of evidence relating to quality of elementary education in India (see the report of the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy, pp 25-27). 

During the last few years learning assessments have become very much part of the education system in India, with NCERT’s National Achievement Surveys (NAS) and state Learning Assessment Surveys (SLAS) reflecting this new focus. Although these are school-based, grade level assessments that are very different from ASER's household-based assessments of children's foundational skills, overall awareness of the problem of poor learning outcomes and the importance of measurement have grown enormously over the decade. 

The 64th Meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) was held under the Chairmanship of Union Human Resource Minister Shri Prakash Javadekar on 25th October, 2016. CABE is the highest advisory body advising the central and state governments in the field of education. At this meeting, one of the agreements reached was that learning outcomes should be codified and be made a part of rules of Right to Education Act (RTE). Even more recently, the Group of Secretaries of Education has included third party surveys to measure learning outcomes as one of its recommendations to the Prime Minister.

Although the results of all these measures are yet to be utilized to rethink actual teaching-learning processes in schools, there's little doubt that much has changed in the eleven years since the first ASER report was released. 

International Impact

Over the past decade the ASER model has become well known not only in India but around the world. People heard about ASER, came to see how it works, took the model home and adapted it to suit their own context. This organic process of spreading to other countries is captured in this short video.

The ‘citizen-led assessment’ (CLA) model, as it has come to be known, is currently implemented in 13 countries across 3 continents. In India and Pakistan, the exercise is called ASER (which means "impact"), in East Africa it is called Uwezo (which means "capability"). The Mali effort is named "Beekungo" (meaning "we are in it together") and in Senegal it is called Jangandoo (meaning "learn together"). The Medicion Independiente de Aprendizajes (“Independent assessment of learning”, or MIA) began in 2014 and LearnNigeria in 2015. Bangladesh, Cameroon, Ghana and Mozambique joined the family in 2016.

These efforts are coordinated by the People’s Action for Learning (PAL) network, established in 2015 to coordinate, support, and promote the work of these countries. All countries in the network have adapted the basic ASER model to suit their own contexts. But each country follows a set of principles defined for the network as a whole. Together, these initiatives around the globe reach more than a million children.

Staff from ASER Centre and from many of the PAL network countries have participated on important global education platforms, including the Learning Metrics Task Force, the Global Monitoring Report, and the UNESCO Institute of Statistics among others. As a result, the CLA model of household based oral assessments of basic reading and arithmetic have been introduced to a much wider audience.

Interest in the model continues to grow and more countries are expected to join the network in the coming years.

UIS publication on oral reading assessments
UIS publication on oral reading assessments

Impact on People

Changing policy and influencing actors in other countries - none of this would have been possible without changing people. Perhaps the greatest strength of the ASER model lies not in the statistics it produces each year, but in its power to draw people in and show them something that they did not know before.

Rather than describe this impact ourselves, we asked people inside and outside of Pratham and ASER to tell us what ASER has meant to them. You can read and listen to their words below.

If you would like to contribute to this section, we would love to hear from you! Please send us a short writeup, audio or a video recording at 91 96504 01085 or to sendtoaser@gmail.com, and we will post it here.