Working at micro to impact the macro level

As teachers our focus is usually on the micro level, the immediate needs of our students and the learning they need to acquire to move to the next level – which may be just the next grade or more crucially the board exams. We may pay attention to individual challenges and trying to see what kind of support certain students need as they prepare for this. When you gather as a team across the school, the focus widens a bit to understand broader trends; which classes seem to be struggling with certain subjects more than others? What seems to be working (or not) for some groups? Are there any categories of students that need attention?

And then as we pull back further to look at state-wide or nation-wide data, even broader patterns become visible, particularly those that relate to gender, caste, and other socio-cultural and economic categories. The most recent Annual State of Education Report (ASER) 2023, released earlier this year, gives us a sense of how much learning is taking place among children in rural India. In this round of the survey, the group honed in on an older age group to measure learning outcomes – teenagers in the age group of 14 to 16, rather than on primary school children as in earlier surveys. This is significant because these are the children who will now move on to enter vocational and higher education and soon enter the work force. The report shows that while enrollment rates remain high among this age group in rural schools, the learning levels leave much to be desired. The learning gaps in math and language ability that had been identified in earlier iterations of ASER clearly come to roost in higher classes, with close to a quarter of the children still unable to fluently read a standard II text in their regional language, and more than half struggling with division problems (a standard III skill).

The 2023 report raises many other concerns for educators, including, significantly, the development of digital literacies, which is now not only a vocational skill but also a life skill. The survey showed that even as a majority of children had some form of access to a smartphone, boys were much more likely than girls in this age group to be comfortable using it for a variety of purposes – including sending email, searching for information, or guarding their privacy online.

So, what do we take back from such surveys as we pull back into our own contexts? What meaning even does it have for teachers at different levels, let alone in non-rural contexts? One way to read between the lines of ASER is to think about how these variations, or gaps, in learning might relate to our own classrooms, particularly in relation to gender, digital access or other variables? What are the contextual factors that affect student learning, and how might we address them? It is after all the changes that happen among small groups of students that feed into larger changes.

Leave a Reply