We are happy to see the ASER report 2017, which shines a spotlight on youth and their ability to navigate the world in the 21st century.
When Asha was created in 1991 (and the Asha Boston chapter was created in 1995), projects focused on basic education and literacy. Projects included activities like creating awareness in education among parents and communities. 10-15 years later, this had changed. Parents were eager to send their children to school. The government continued to implement programs like Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and numerous others in government schools, tremendously important because government schools are the only option for 90%+ students in rural areas. Private education efforts (profit and non-profit) also began to increase, particularly in urban areas. Students thronged to schools, and girls and boys are in classes in equal numbers.
Our projects’ work has also shifted accordingly. Over the last 10+ years we have been focusing on quality of education, or as ASER puts it, improved abilities and the ability to do activities. Rote memorization in formal schools is one of the root causes of poor quality of learning. Some projects like SEED PLAN and Seed Narpanigal have been tremendously successful in addressing this. They complement the formal school system with after school study centers, which focus on real learning, and various activities like debates, libraries, discussion, drama, theater to develop reasoning and critical thinking skills, so essential in the current economy. Several students from these centers have gone on to be very successful in whatever career they choose. The Mobile Science Van project in Karnataka focuses intensely on learning Science and developing a temperament of scientific thinking. In all our projects we are constantly looking for ways to get beyond rote memorization and enable better learning. Teacher training and other activities are a significant part of this. What is the point of finishing class X with the ability to just to read a few words?
Career counseling is the other big challenge. Youth who finish class X or class XII do not have any guidance on what they need to do next. Our project BSPES (a school for girls in UP) has a very strong emphasis on helping students in their school identify careers, get the skills to start those careers (pass selection exams, etc.) and prepare for success in those careers. They are planning to start a formal Center which will provide a one year ‘course’ for students graduating from class XII to plan for and work towards these careers. Friends of Children (FoC) in Pune is entirely focused on helping youth from poor families be successful in college. We are now looking at creating a support structure for career counseling and other activities for class X students in Sahanivasa, after 15 years of working with them to improve class X pass rates and primary school activities. Education is now much more than just finishing primary school, or even finishing class X or class XII. Our youth need the skills to transform and super charge the economies of their communities and the economy of the country. They need to be thinking individuals who can safeguard democracy and help it flourish. These are goals beyond literacy and are the urgent need of the country.
We thank ASER for shining a light on these challenges.