Bad signals from ASER 2017: Teenagers lack basic skills. Boys beat Girls hands down

The Annual Status of Education Report 2017 shows boys outperforming girls in almost every sphere.

Shocking details on the status of education among teenage students have emerged with the release of the annual ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) 2017.

Unlike earlier surveys, which measured learning levels in the 5-to-16 age group, ASER 2017 has focused on 14- to 18-year-olds — those who have moved just beyond elementary school age and are on the threshold of their teens.

The study this year has looked at skills beyond foundational reading and arithmetic and focusing on four As — activity (what they are doing), ability (level of basic skills), awareness (their access to media, traditional and new).

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), carried out by NGO Pratham and released in New Delhi on Tuesday, found that while 86% of youth in the 14-18 age group are still in the formal education system (school or college) and 73% students had used a mobile phone within the last week, more than half of them (57%) struggled with simple Class 2-level division.

The report points out categorically that while Indian teenagers in the 14-18 age group are adept at cellphone usage, they struggle hard to read basic texts, and are dismal at maths. The condition of girls education is much worse than boys vis a vis education in the country. In villages, as they grow up, more girls drop out of schools.

High on aspiration but low on perspiration is what the ASER 2017 summarises the status of this age group, over 60 % of whom are keen to go in for higher education but do not have the necessary soft and linguistic skills to bolster this aspiration.
Most children in the age group preferred to stick with the formal education system even though the Right to Education umbrella folds up at age 14: 86% of youth were in school or college. More than half (54%) of them were in Class 10 or below and only 14 not enrolled anywhere.
In rural India, Boys and girls in this crucial age are most likely to be enrolled in schools or colleges with access to a mobile phone and may be operating individual bank accounts but find themselves unable to cope with elementary math and English. Only 40% can identify their home state on a map of India. out of ten can, on a map, point to the state they live in.
About 2,000 volunteers visited over 25,000 households in 1,641 villages, surveying more than 30,000 14- to 18-year-olds in 28 districts of the country to compile data and observation for this year’s ASER Report.

But the study found that school education currently isn’t equipping youngsters for life outside.Over 25 percent of those in this age group couldn’t read basic text fluently and 57% struggled when asked to divide a 3-digit number by a single digit.

This year, the survey picked simple tasks such as counting money, knowing weights and telling time.

“Our education system is currently designed to get you to Class 10, 11 and college. But these academic skills don’t seem to get transferred to life skills or everyday skills. It’s time to connect the dots. It probably involves a relook at the curriculum. What the survey tells us is that this is a group that is not confident to engage, doesn’t know math, doesn’t want to stick their necks out. These skills that they are lacking in are important not just in terms of work but broader life itself,” says Pratham CEO Rukmini Banerji.

The survey points out at a glaring gender divide with boys outperforming girls in almost every task assigned to them, such as counting money and adding weights, and on many other parameters such as access to digital media.

While there is hardly any difference between enrollment levels of boys and girls at age 14 when Right To Education (RTE) was in effect, by age 18, when the State doesn’t enforce compulsory education, 32% girls are not enrolled as compared to 28% boys. Which shows RTE played its part in helping girls stay in school.

Girls and young women had far lower access to computers and the Internet when compared to boys – while 49% males had never used the Internet, the number of girls was 76%. Asked about their preferred career choice, 17.6% boys mentioned “Army/police” as their professional choice while over a quarter(25.1%) girls preferred a teaching profession. Both boys (12.8%) and girls (9.3%) mentioned a preference for “any government job”.

After the release of the report, Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian expressed concern about the growing
“wedge” between girls and boys.

“What’s worrying is that while in normal ASERs (previous reports that surveyed 5- to 16-year-olds, we didn’t see much difference in reading levels and math between boys and girls, here in almost every task assigned to them, there is a gender difference. What it probably tells you is that some of these daily tasks, such as calculating money, involve an exposure to a world outside their homes which these girls don’t have access to,” says Banerji.
Girls tend to outdo boys in financial participation, with 76.4% operate their own bank accounts as compared to 71.9% for boys – e-transfers of scholarships and other financial benefits had ensured that close to 75% youth have their own bank accounts. But on all other parameters – depositing/withdrawing money, using an ATM, using Internet banking – boys fared better.

The survey also asked each sampled youth a series of questions to understand their access to media, both traditional and new and found that, as expected, this is a digital generation, with 73% of young people using a mobile phone within the week and only 58% reading a newspaper.

The youth aren’t too aware of their own surroundings, the survey found. When shown a map of India and asked to point their state on the map, only 42% could do so.

The study also shows how 42% of youth in the 14-18 age groups “are working”, regardless of whether they are enrolled in formal education or not. Of those who work, 79% work on their family farm and more than three-quarters of them do household chores daily.

Shirin Abbas

Dr. Shirin Abbas is the Bureau Chief "TheIndiaObserver.Com". She is a world-renowned journalist, winner of several national and international awards for her contribution to Media Research.The first recipient of the prestigious British Chevening Scholarship for Print Journalism in 1999 from her state of Uttar Pradesh. Under the same, she studied at the School of Media, Communication, and Design at the University Of Westminster, London and interned with The Irish Times, Dublin. She has been a journalist for over three decades, working at several national English dailies in North India. She completed her PhD. in Mass Communication in 2016.

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