and Telangana Everyone associated with ASER will find it hard to refute the indelible mark it leaves on them through its sheer scale. If one meets the ASER team during the ASER National Workshop in August, it would be difficult for the person to believe that in the next two months this team of 60-odd young individuals would lead a survey covering more than 15000 villages across the country. That an effort led by a handful of individuals can change the education landscape of the second most populous country and, arguably, the most diverse country in the world has helped me expand my horizons of what an individual, or specifically, a small team of individuals, is capable of achieving. I am sure every single person who has ever been part of the ASER experience will subscribe to this Asar (impact) of ASER.
I have had this feeling about ASER since 2010 when I first became involved in managing the effort. But in 2014 when I went to the Harvard Kennedy School to study in the Masters in Public Administration in International Development (MPA-ID) program, I realized I only had understood a fraction of ASER’s – to put it in the words of my classmates at the Kennedy School – ‘awesomeness’. A substantial fraction of my 60-odd classmates from the MPA-ID program at the Kennedy School already knew about ASER before hearing about it from me. The rest learnt about it from the faculty, the classroom material, including case studies, and guest lecturers. ASER was regularly cited not just as a national-level survey for collecting information on children’s learning levels but more so as an inspiring strategy to engage with local communities, civil society organizations, bureaucrats and politicians and bring the concerning learning situation to their focus. Over the course of my two years at the School, a few students approached me to learn more about the ASER effort, and understand how they could initiate a similar citizen-led-movement in their own countries – The learning crisis is not specific to India but afflicts most – not just developing – countries in the world today. While I was managing the nuts and bolts of ASER, perhaps I had failed to completely grasp how it incorporates some of the best insights and lessons from economic and development theory on bringing about a development change. My two years at the Kennedy School enabled me to do just that and to start looking at ASER in a very different perspective. But the fascination with ASER did not end at the School (or at ASER Centre); it continues to only grow with time, irrespective of where I am.