Survey
The ASER survey reports the status of children's schooling in the country.
Image for representation.

Did you know that 24% of youth in India between 14 and 18 years of age cannot count money correctly? Less than 42% of people in the same age could point out the state they lived in on a map. Compared to boys, more girls drop out of school as they grow older. All these revelations and more were highlighted in the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), which was released on Tuesday.

The ASER survey, now in its 12th year, reports on the status of children’s schooling and their ability to do basic reading, arithmetic and their application of knowledge to everyday tasks like reading simple instructions and making a purchase.

The study generally focuses on elementary schooling to understand if children enrolled in school in name are, in fact, educated correspondingly. In 2017, the survey grew to include students past the elementary level.

The survey was conducted in 26 rural districts in 24 states in the country, across 23,868 households and 28,323 youth aged 14-18. The information was collected in four major domains - activity, ability, awareness and aspiration.

Each state was represented by a district. Tamil Nadu was represented by Madurai; Mysuru was surveyed for Karnataka. Meanwhile, in Kerala, the ASER team chose to survey Ernakulam and in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Srikulam and Nizamabad districts were chosen for the study respectively.

For South India, ASER had some important findings.

For instance, during the survey in Tamil Nadu, nearly 53% of the students between the ages of 14 and 18 could not do basic arithmetic. However, 74.7% of youngsters in the state were enrolled in school up till class 12. Kerala, which although has the third highest number of students enrolled up till class 12 (89.6%), only 17% of children between the ages 14 and 18 could perform subtraction.

Education and work

Among the districts and students surveyed across the country, 79.5% were enrolled in class 12 or below.

Among the southern states, Kerala had the highest enrolment in school in the 14-18 age group at 89%. In the other four states, the enrolment was close to a consistent 75%. Apart from Tamil Nadu, each state had more boys who went to school than girls. In Tamil Nadu, 76.3% of girls were going to school, as compared to 73.2% of boys.

Meanwhile, a substantial number of these teens were found to be working as well, excluding household work – the highest being in Udaipur district, Rajasthan at 64.3%.

Karnataka had significantly more teens engaged in work compared to the other south Indian states. 48.5% of youth in Karnataka were found to be working. Andhra Pradesh came second in the south with 40% adolescent workers, and Tamil Nadu the least with 15.8%. Tamil Nadu is also the lowest in the districts surveyed by ASER.

Except for Karnataka, all south Indian states saw an increase in the number of working 17 and 18-year, as compared to those in the 14-16 age group.

According to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986, employment of children below 14 years of age is prohibited. Those between 14 and 18 years of age – adolescents – can work except in hazardous occupations like mining and explosives.

Basic reading, arithmetic and GK

While all the southern states boast of at least 74% enrolment in school, it appears that the application and absorption of education is lower.

Between the ages of 14 and 18, for instance, the study found that over 75% of the students in Tamil Nadu could not do basic subtraction. In Karnataka, only 32.7% students could do simple division. Only 15% of those surveyed could identify numbers between 10 and 99 or lower in Kerala, the lowest in the southern states.

Interestingly, more girls than boys could do division in all the southern states, though the tables turned when it came to subtraction.

When it came to reading, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh had the most adolescents among the southern states who could correctly read a sentence – 95% and 75.9% respectively. Kerala also fared best in this aspect among the other states.

Meanwhile, when it came to General Knowledge, the results indicate a mixed bag. Most teens from the south could recognise an Indian map, but fewer could name the Indian capital. For instance, while 96.2% of those surveyed in the 14-18 age group in Telangana recognized the map of India, only 54.2% could name New Delhi as India’s capital.

Adolescents in the district surveyed for Tamil Nadu - Madurai - did not fare very well when it came to naming their state or identifying it on the map. Only 79% could do the former, and 58.8% the latter. These were the lowest numbers of these two indicators in the south.

Applying education and daily tasks

Students were also asked basic questions on reading time, currency calculation, etc. to assess how they could perform daily tasks.

There were some shocking revelations here as well. Across the country, while a total of 82.7% could read the time when it involved only the hour, only 59.3% could tell the time when they had to read both hours and minutes.

The numbers reflected the same in the south as well. While 71% teens could tell what hour it was, the number dropped to half when they had to read the minutes as well.

Another task given to those surveyed was that of counting money and adding weight in kilograms. Most found the former easier – 75.7% could count money correctly, but only 55% could add weights.

In all of these tasks, the gender gap was visible, with the boys performing better, barring some exceptions.

On financial participation, the report revealed that over 80% of those surveyed had their own bank accounts while 60% had deposited or withdrawn money from a bank.

The survey found that while more girls between the ages of 14 and 18 have their own bank accounts, more boys have deposited and withdrawn money from their accounts, used an ATM and used net banking in the south Indian states.

Interestingly, the report also serves as a reminder of the stagnant levels of internet penetration in the state. While over 72.6% of the youth in India had used mobile phones the past week, nearly more than 60% of them reported that they had never accessed the Internet, and 75% had not used a computer.

Some other key findings across the country include the enrollment gap between males and females in the formal education system increasing with age, the proportion of youth not enrolled in school or college increasing with age and the low percentage of youth taking vocational courses. A substantial proportion of youth in the age group of 14-18 were also found to be working (42%), regardless of whether they were enrolled in formal education or not.

The survey was conducted by Pratham, an NGO that works to provide education to underprivileged children.

B Oliver, Pratham’s State Head for Tamil Nadu told TNM pointed out that reading and comprehension were problem areas in the state.

“Even after years of schooling, they are lacking in basic arithmetic. Even in reading, 17% are non-readers. They are not fluent enough to read Tamil text. Reading and comprehension are problems.”