ASER 2020: Lockdown-induced remote learning must evolve into greater family involvement in education, suggest report's findings

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to do things differently from the past and have created momentum for change

Nimisha Kapoor and Shweta Bhutada December 12, 2020 14:14:54 IST
ASER 2020: Lockdown-induced remote learning must evolve into greater family involvement in education, suggest report's findings

Representational image. Unsplash

Editor's note: This is the second part of a three-part series on the ASER 2020 findings examine the challenges to education due to sudden closure of schools during the lockdown and its shift to the remote learning model. This part deals with the learning support that children received in studying at home during the pandemic.

Read the first part of the series here.

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The previous article in this series shed light on children’s access to learning materials in rural India. This article will explore the role that families played in children’s learning during the lockdown.

The pandemic has unleashed a crisis of access to education and has interrupted the learning trajectories of children around the world. As India locked down in March 2020 to fight the spread of COVID-19, people across the country were faced with several unprecedented situations which tested many boundaries – one of them being school closures. As schools shut overnight, homes, instead of schools, became the centres for children’s learning.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2020 Wave 1 discovered that an unexpected result came out of this unusual arrangement – children received support in their learning activities from various members of their households, even if they did not receive it from their schools.The survey found that overall, three-quarters of all enrolled children in rural India received some form of learning support from their families during the lockdown.

The ASER 2020 Wave 1 phone survey collected data on children’s enrollment, learning support at home, learning activities, and contact with schools since the lockdown for 59,251 children (age 5-16) across 26 states and 4 Union Territories in India. Information about whether and how schools tried to stay in touch with students, and the associated challenges, was also collected from 8,963 school teachers and head teachers. Learning support was defined as any type of help that children received while studying at home.

ASER 2020 findings indicate that the learning support that children received varied by several different factors. As children moved to higher grades, help received from their families decreased – from more than 80 percent in Classes 1 and 2 to less than 70 percent in Class 9 and above. Thus, younger children received more help at home than older children. Another aspect that affected this support was the type of school that children were enrolled in. More private-school going children received help in each grade as compared to their government school counterparts – an overall difference of 7.4 percentage points.

Various family members such as mothers, fathers, older siblings and others like uncles, aunts, and grandparents helped children in studying at home. Variations were observed across different grade levels in who helped most often with children’s studies. As children progressed to higher grades, help from older siblings gained more significance. While 8.3 percent of all children in Classes 1 and 2 received help from their older siblings, this proportion shot up to 21.8 percent for children in Class 9 and above.In contrast, mothers had a more important role to play for children in early primary grades than for those in secondary grades.

Significant variations also exist in the obtained learning support on account of parents’ education levels. Parental education can be seen as a proxy for the household’s socio-economic status which is now, more than ever, a critical factor in deciding access to learning, as education systems shift to digital platforms and inequities widen. To understand this phenomenon, ASER 2020 grouped children based on their parents’ education into three categories – low, medium and high. The ‘low’ parental education category includes children with both parents who have completed Class 5 or less; the ‘high’ education category includes children with both parents who have completed at least Class 9; and children of parents with all other combinations of schooling levels are in the ‘medium’ category. In this article, these categories will be referred to as ‘low parental education’, ‘medium parental education’ and ‘high parental education’.

ASER 2020 results suggest that with an increase in parents’ education level, the probability that a household owns a smartphone also increases. Almost a quarter of all enrolled children had low parental education,and just 45 percent of these children’s families owned smartphones. A similar proportion of children had high parental education (27.6 percent), and a majority of their families (80 percent) owned smartphones. Children’s access to technology-based learning aids like smartphones is thus impacted by families’ socioeconomic status, as reflected in parents’ education level.

Along with influencing children’s education indirectly through their access to digital technology, parents’ education level also impacts children’s education by means of the support that they are able to provide their children. The more educated the parents, the more help their children received. Among children with high parental education, close to 90 percent received help from their families, and it was most often mothers who provided this support. But even at the other end of the spectrum, despite the limitations faced by children with low parental education, such as a lack of smartphones and less educated parents, a notable 54.8 percent of these children received help at home — often from older siblings, fathers and other family members rather than from mothers.

In terms of learning support that children received from their schools, of all children enrolled in government schools, one-third received learning materials from their school teachers during the week prior to the survey. Out of these children, 31.8 percent were given these materials during personal visits that were made either by the school teachers to the children’s households or by the parents/children to the schools. Households also reported that close to one-third of the children in government schools were called or visited by their school teachers during the reference week. In comparison, more private school children were contacted by their school teachers (37.4 percent).

While schools provided support to children and their families, two-thirds of the school teachers also reported taking help from the village or community members in order to reach and support children. Out of these school teachers, close to half reported receiving this help from parents and caregivers.

ASER 2020 also looked at children’s engagement with learning activities using different materials and media such as textbooks, online classes or recorded videos, and television, during the reference week. The data reveals that 70 percent of all the enrolled children did some learning activity during the reference week. Although a difference is seen in children’s engagement based on their parents’ education level, close to 60 percent children with low parental education did some learning activity during the reference week.

These activities were given to children not only by their school teachers, but also by their families, tuition teachers, or by other organisations working with children. Families played a significant role in keeping their children engaged. For instance, out of the 60 percent children who did learning activities using textbooks, close to half were given these activities by their parents or older siblings.

Global estimates now suggest that school dropout rates will rise and children’s foundational skills will suffer due to prolonged school closures in the post-COVID world. ASER 2020 has already found equity gaps due to unequal access to different forms of technology-based educational platforms.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to do things differently from the past and have created momentum for change. Child development experts have been emphasising the positive impact of family involvement on children’s academic achievement for years now. ASER 2020 findings are encouraging and point to the possibility of a new collaboration between homes and schools, which should now be treated as a priority.

Schools must gain insight on the needs of students and their families in terms of education; families must be included by schools in learning how to support their children so that they can make complementary efforts; teachers need to be upskilled in supporting families, especially the ones most in need. Policy makers and practitioners must use this pandemic as an opportunity to harness the powerful parent-family-school complex. This direction is one that offers hope to minimise the probable learning loss among India’s young and the ensuing disruption of education systems.

The authors are associated with ASER Centre.

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