Ten years ago, Pratham developed a revolutionary approach to assessing children’s reading and math achievement when it launched a nation-wide household survey called the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). As we’ve reported elsewhere, every year ASER tests children on their ability to read simple second grade level text and compute simple arithmetic up to fourth grade level. The entire process—from data collection to reporting—takes 100 days and engages tens of thousands of citizens in the process. The reports provide the only annual estimate of basic reading and arithmetic available in India.
This week, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recognized ASER as one of ten finalists for the DAC Prize for Taking Development Innovation to Scale, which acknowledges “development actors who take the step from supporting innovation to using it systematically and strategically to address development challenges, by taking it to scale.” In the ten years since it was first conceived by Pratham, ASER-like assessments have been implemented across six additional countries (Pakistan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mali, and Senegal) and are currently being planned for and piloted in two more (Mexico and Nigeria). More than one million children are assessed every year by ASER and similar assessments in other countries.
This recognition of ASER’s success at scale presents an opportunity to celebrate the characteristics that have made ASER and similar assessments unique in the world of assessments:
Start with the basics. ASER focusses on basic skills like reading, number recognition and simple arithmetic operations. If children cannot read, they cannot move ahead—either in the school system or in life.
Collect data in homes, not schools. Since children may be enrolled in government or private schools, formal or informal schools, and may irregularly attend or drop out, the best place to find a representative sample of all children is the household.
Assess children one-on-one. To understand if a child can read, the assessment needs to be one-on-one.
Let lots of people participate. To own a problem, it is important to understand what the problem really looks like in practice—to get a feel for it. The architecture of ASER was designed to enable large scale participation of ordinary people so that people at all levels understand that there is a problem and can engage in bringing about solutions.
Enable action. To fuel possible future action, the ASER tools are easy to administer and easy to understand.
These features were developed with context in mind. India has a large proportion of children who still have not mastered basic reading, a large share of children who do not attend regular schools regularly, and an emergent culture of measurement. Given many other countries share these features, there may be more scaling of this approach on the horizon!