ASER report: Rise in Maharashtra govt school enrolment, student households with smartphones doubled in 3 years

Maharashtra has emerged as one of the top five states in the country where enrolment in government schools has risen sharply by 9.2 per cent since 2018.

The result of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on families, migrants returning to villages and closure of affordable budget schools is reflecting in school education as the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) underlines what could be a key outcome of these factors combined — a big jump in government school enrollment accompanied by a fall in private school enrollment.

Maharashtra has emerged as one of the top five states in the country where enrollment in government schools has risen sharply by 9.2 per cent since 2018.

With schools having just reopened for physical classes for higher grades and primary schools still closed, it will take time to tell if this is a temporary phenomenon or a more permanent feature.

The phone-based survey done in September 2021, when schools in most states had reopened after 18 months of closure, shows that enrollment figures for government schools in Maharashtra in 2018 were 60.5 per cent and rose to 69.7 per cent in 2021. Across India, the same figures stood at 64.3 per cent in 2018 and 70.3 per cent in 2021.

The report also shows that the number of children in the state not currently enrolled in any school has risen to 1.2 per cent in 2021 from 0.6 per cent in ASER 2018, though considerably lower than the national average of 4.6 per cent. The divide in gender is visible here as among those not enrolled in schools, according to ASER 2021 data, 0.6 per cent were boys and 1.9 per cent were girls.

With learning entirely online during the pandemic and a possibility of a ‘hybrid’ model continuing for the current year at least, a positive development is the penetration and availability of smartphones.

Though the survey confirmed that smartphone ownership has increased tremendously since 2018, nearly doubling in certain states, the presence of a smartphone alone in the family does not guarantee its access to children for learning.

In Maharashtra, where 42.3 per cent enrolled students had a smartphone at home in 2018, the same number jumped to 85.5 per cent in 2021. But only 27 per cent of these children were able to access it at all times for studies, 62.7 per cent had occasional access to it while 10.3 per cent children never got access to it. And even in this, the bias in preferential treatment given to older children for studies over younger ones in households lamented by teachers over the last 18 months is evident. Maharashtra data shows that while 35.4 per cent children from Class IX onwards always had access to a smartphone, the same figure stood at 19.4 in Classes I-II. These findings become important as future plans are made for remote learning or the use of digital content and devices.

However, the access to learning material has improved considerably as nearly 90 per cent students reported having textbooks for their current grade in government and private schools as compared to 80.8 per cent in the last survey. The involvement of parents in Maharashtra in children’s learning is also quite high with 42.7 per cent students in government schools and 51.2 per cent in private ones doing learning activities at home helped by schools or parents. Of these, 71.5 per cent government school students and 68.4 per cent private school students reported receiving help from family members while studying at home.

Meanwhile, “tuition” or local coaching classes have emerged as a response to an extended period of school closure and uncertainty. Nationally, 28.6 per cent children took tuition classes in 2018 but by 2021, this number has reached 39.2 per cent. In Maharashtra, the figures dropped in the first six months of the lockdown to 9.3 per cent in ASER 2020 as compared to 20.7 per cent in the latest survey.

ASER 2021 was conducted in 25 states and three Union Territories reaching 76,706 households, including 4,242 households and 4,023 children between 5 years and 16 years of age from Maharashtra.

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