The Annual Status of Education Report 2020 provides insights into access to remote learning among children across rural India during the pandemic.

Young boys in uniform seated at a distance on benches in a classroom while wearing facemasks as a teacher stands byImage for representation/PTI
news Education Thursday, October 29, 2020 - 17:39

As schools remained closed because of the pandemic, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh were among the states where school children had the least access to textbooks for their current grade, according to a nation-wide study conducted in September. The fifteenth Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2020 Wave 1), released on Thursday, provides insights into access to distance education and learning materials among children in rural India. The study also included family engagement in their childrenā€™s learning, as schools have been closed for nearly seven months at a stretch. 

The phone-based survey was conducted in 26 states and four union territories, and the findings are from 52,227 households and 59,251 children in the age group of 5-16 years, as well as teachers or head teachers from 8,963 government schools offering primary grades. 

Access to learning resources

When it comes to learning resources available at home, nearly 60% of the students who were surveyed reported that there was at least one smartphone within the family. ā€œThis proportion has increased enormously in the last two years, from 36.5% to 61.8% among enrolled children,ā€ the report said. 

Across India, more than 80% of children had access to textbooks for their current grade, with the proportion being higher for students enrolled in government schools. In only three states, less than 70% of children had access to textbooks at home ā€” Rajasthan (60.4%), Telangana (68.1%), and Andhra Pradesh (34.6%). 

In Andhra Pradesh, textbooks were distributed to students in government schools only recently, on October 8, as part of the Jagananna Vidya Kanuka scheme. However, the proportion is lower among private schools (24.7%) than government schools (38.5%).  

In Kerala, around 92% of students had access to textbooks, while in Karnataka, the number was 89.1%. In Tamil Nadu, around 86.4% of students had access to textbooks. In Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the proportion was much higher among government school students. 

In terms of access to other learning materials like worksheets and recorded video lessons, the study found that across government and private schools, WhatsApp was the most common medium through which learning activities and materials were received. The number of students receiving learning material from their school was higher among students of private schools, and students of higher grades, the study found. 

Read: Data of disparity shows why itā€™s critical that digital learning is inclusive

Nearly two-thirds of households reported that they had not received any learning materials from their school during the week preceding the survey.

While access is just one aspect of learning, when it comes to engagement with the material, nearly 70.2% of the children had engaged with learning activities (in spite of a much smaller number receiving material from school) using material from private tutors or family members, apart from school resources. However, private school students were more likely to access online learning resources. 

In the southern states, access to smartphones among students varied across states. Kerala had the highest number, with 94.3% of the students surveyed having at least one smartphone in the household. Telangana followed with 74% of students with access, while in Karnataka (68.6%), Tamil Nadu (64.1%) and Andhra Pradesh (61.5%) reported even lesser numbers. 

Read: Digital divide worsens social exclusion: Anti-caste activists on Devikaā€™s death

Family support in studentsā€™ learning

The study showed that family support in a studentā€™s learning varies based on the level of education of the parents, and the studentā€™s grade level. However, nearly 75% of children receive support from parents or siblings in some form, the study shows. 

Children with parents who had more formal education received more support from them, while parents are more likely to be able to help their children in lower grades.  

Around 89.4% of children whose parents had studied beyond class 9 received some kind of support from family for their learning. Only 54.8% of children whose parents had completed class 5 or a lower grade received family support, the study found. 

School enrolment numbers 

While the number of 6 to 7-year-old children not enrolled in schools in 2020 was found to be high in Karnataka (11.3%) and Telangana (14%), the report says that these changes can only be measured accurately once schools are properly reopened. 

The study highlights the importance of understanding the ā€˜learning lossā€™ among students in 2020 as compared to previous years, as they have stayed away from schools for an exceptionally long period. It also calls for a better understanding of the kind of digital content that is effective for learning, as well as addressing the digital divide which deeply affects children from families with low education levels, and are less likely to have family support as well.

Also read: The impact of COVID-19 on kidsā€™ lives and how it may linger for years

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