The Map of India

 (The first part of this blog post was written during the roll out of the first ASER survey in 2005.)

November 30, 2005
ASER 2005 Notebook 1
Think of the map of India. Think of how it normally looks – dots for towns, bigger circles for big cities, dotted lines demarcating districts and solid lines outlining states. From about the middle of November if you looked closely at the map of India and then closed your eyes for a few seconds you would be able to see an amazing movement: people moving from place to place, jumping across the dotted lines of districts, solid lines of states, moving by bus, by train, on crowded and overloaded jeeps, on mopeds and motorbikes, walking across fields, under coconut trees, inside jungles, in some places there is snow and in others it is hot as summer.
This massive movement is ASER 2005. You can open your eyes now. No, you did not imagine what you just saw. It is really happening……………..
In almost every district of the country, local people and local groups are taking a few days time out to visit villages, to meet families, to talk about schooling, to understand if children can read, to write and do arithmetic.  People are visiting schools, talking to teachers and observing how the school functions. 
This is a first step. The first attempt across the country, for citizens to participate in understanding how far we have come in helping our children go to school and learn well. 
About a month ago, there were many questions. How could all districts in the country be reached? How would local groups be found – groups that were interested in understanding and then strengthening elementary education in their villages? How would they be convinced that as citizens we need to engage, to participate and to work together if we want change? 
From the beginning of November, people began to travel – from state capitals to district head quarters, from block towns to villages, talking to people, all kinds of people, in groups and one-on-one. Despite the winter, people in Leh and Kargil, in Jammu and in Doda came forward.  Despite heavy rains, people in Tamil Nadu participated; over 100 NGOs in Gujarat and another 120 in Maharashtra alone. Universities, colleges, high schools, self help groups, students, professors, youth organizations, women’s groups –  people coming together, to help and to learn.
20 randomly chosen villages in each district. 20 randomly chosen households in each village.  500 districts, 10,000 villages, 200,000 households and perhaps a half million children will be part of ASER 2005.  People trying to understand where their children are today and where they need to be tomorrow. Learning to work together to build a better future. 
The first step will be completed soon. “Taking stock” and understanding the current status. The findings of ASER 2005 will be presented to the Planning Commission on January 17 2006. People are thinking of the next steps. Already there is debate and discussion – what to do next, what to plan, how to collaborate, what is to be done and where. The results of next year’s ASER have to be better than this year’s.    
The map of India is coming alive. It is alive with people, citizens who are taking a look at their own schools and children, citizens taking initiative, working to make things better.  The map of India is alive with tremendous energy, immense potential and possibility.

December 10, 2014
Ten years have passed since that day in November 2005. Every year since then ASER has gone to every rural district in India. The mammoth ASER exercise has taken place like clockwork. Today we know much more about the status of schooling and learning in our country than we did before.
Today too, there is a new wave across India and new hopes and expectations. As we celebrate our tenth year of ASER, we think it is indeed possible to have every child reading and doing basic arithmetic if citizens and governments work together towards this basic and common goal.    
We are extremely grateful to our all supporters, individuals and institutions, in India and abroad, to all our participants and to each and every one of the ASER volunteers for the past ten years. It is you who have made this incredible ten year feat possible and successful. It is you who have shown how simple things can go so far. It is you who have proved that to do big things – all you need is true commitment and courage. On the 100th day of the 10thASER we dedicate this year to you. 

Rukmini Banerji, Director, ASER Centre