Steffi Elizabeth Thomas – ASER: An on-the-go reality check



It has been almost two years for me at ASER Centre. I have always had an inclination towards research and ASER gave me the opportunity to do the same. Besides, while doing what I love I also got to travel to different parts of the country, particularly to rural India. While I am yet to become a part of the main ASER survey, I have been part of multiple pilot studies for ASER 2016.

Having lived in the capital city since my childhood, I always wondered what an Indian village would be like. The pilots allowed me to explore and understand Indian villages.

Villages are a complete contrast to the cities. One gets to see clear blue sky, breathe fresh air and experience peace and tranquility in a village all of which are a rare experience in a city. But each and every village is unique in itself. Cultural and linguistic differences exist, but there is more.

As part of the pilot studies I visited villages in Kullu and Kangra valley in Himachal Pradesh. These villages contradicted my image of the conditions in a village. Most of the houses in these villages were pucca houses and almost every household had toilets. Most children attended schools and their learning levels were good too. Some of the older children had also had the opportunity to visit a nearby city or town.

My next visit was in the villages of Gaya in Bihar for ASER Centre’s mega pilot with the Beyond Basics tools. And these villages were a stark difference from what I had understood a village to be like. None of the houses were pucca houses, the floors were polished in ‘gobar’, very few houses had toiletsand I was surprised to see how humans and cattle coexisted under a single roof! Many of the children had dropped out of schools, particularly girls, owing to financial constraints or child marriage.

One only hears about poverty and low learning levels, but to witness them is a different experience. To know that the country has places that are well developed and equally under-developed is a different window to reality. To know that there are people in India who have not seen any means of conveyance beyond a bullock-cart and at the same time there are people who have never seen a bullock-cart, gives a different perspective to look at India.

Steffi Elizabeth Thomas

Assessment Associate (Statistics), Assessment Unit