Renu Seth, Ahmedabad

In 2005, during my initial days at Pratham, I was encouraged to read a lot about Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, the goals and milestones achieved so far and on what ASER was setting out to do. Though I was not part of the survey then, the first jottings in my note book have been about the education provisions in India courtesy ASER. Today, I feel privileged to have witnessed the processes of ASER since the year of its inception to this point when ASER is being carried for the eleventh time!

In the initial years, our interactions after the release of ASER report were ‘full of explanations’, as we would get a volley of questions around the process of ASER, media coverage, ASER tools, learning levels and comparisons with other states and more. The strength of ASER lay in going through this phase, even if it translated to being in a room with 26 District Primary Education Officers who were not happy with the media coverage on ASER.

And then, when the report came, I learned a lot more. ASER helped me get over my fear of numbers, to know what the data says in a particular state, to make co-relations between tables and to be able to understand the story behind the data. To be able to interpret ASER data, to link the age of young children in preschool and school, to understand the trends over time and, to relate it to the program activity our teams are doing in various blocks of the state for years have made me become stronger over the years. From nursing feelings of stress to moving to a zone of openness and composure, ASER has opened me up in more ways than one.

Year after year, the stringency of the survey process, and the state ASER team’s growing abilities to find solutions in uncertain situations, have strengthened our belief in the quality of the survey.  Being able to go with college volunteers for the survey and interact with a range of people before and after the survey in villages have given me insights into what education means for rural folk.

To disseminate the results we find and share a solution with them, to understand their problem/situation and plan for doing steps at the level of a village, a panchayat, a block or state is the impact many of us have seen amongst our team members.

So at this juncture, what continues to haunt though, are Lant Pritchett’s lines of the article (ASER 2011), on the slow pace of learning. Can we let a child who had come to school with the hope and promise of getting an education to transform his or her lives by the opportunities that learning enables, defer her learning, lose her dream?