Nationwide large scale annual assessments are gathering momentum across Asia and Africa making learning central to the debates on education, illustrating the power of informed citizenry to influence national and global agendas for education and learning. ASER or impact, Uwezo or capability, Beekungo or are we are in it together, Jangandoo or learn together represent an organically growing movement for ‘the right to learn and to be’.
ASER Pakistan (The Annual Status of Education Report), covering a large sample of villages across the country, is a part of this growing movement. Reaching 263,990 children (3-16 years) in 87,044 households, 4,382 villages/ urban blocks in 2013 alone, ASER Pakistan is a powerful accountability movement that has been initiated with and for citizens to create a clear connection between universal learning and sustainable access to education. For ASER, these two dimensions are inextricably linked and non-negotiable if all children are to realize their fundamental right to education. First initiated in Pakistan in 2009, the ASER movement’s coverage has grown from 11 to 138 out of 145 districts, each year providing ranked and gender disaggregated data across households, villages, districts and provinces. The data reflects student learning levels, enrollment, attendance, teachers, facilities, multi-grade classrooms, and grants to government schools. Additional household data also provides information on parental education and proxy indicators for income in order to generate findings about levels of inequality.
The journey of ASER has very much been the journey of the Right to Education Article 25 A, which was inserted in the 18th Amendment of the Constitution of Pakistan on April 19, 2010, making it a state obligation to provide free and compulsory education for all children aged 5-16 years. The article was a breakthrough for citizens’ rights as it showed the state’s commitment to fulfilling the fundamental right to education. To promote the implementation of Article 25 A, ASER spurred the One Million Signature Campaign, which was undertaken in two rounds with two million signatures collected from both in and out of school children in a record time of 13 months. The signatures were presented nationally and globally to Gordon Brown and the Government of Pakistan in November 2012 and April 2013. These initiatives have cumulatively created the evolution of the Citizens Movement for Quality Education (CMQE) campaign informed by evidence collected by ASER Pakistan.
ASER Pakistan is symbolic of the power of citizens coming together in an organized manner with systematic capacity building for measuring children’s learning capabilities. Through a rigorous dissemination strategy, ASER prioritizes learning alongside access rather than access first and quality later. Its findings are now a part of the annual Economic Survey of Pakistan prepared by the Ministry of Finance and are also influencing regional and global stakeholders.
Despite occupying space in the Economic Survey of Pakistan, in key government documents and in sector analyses both within and outside of Pakistan (such as Global Monitoring Report (2013-2014), The Right to Learn (Save the Children), ASER remains people driven. The message is simple: citizens and governments alike must aggressively and creatively take action to improve the quality of education.
In 2014, as local governments are formed, ASER 2013 will aim to address governance through local mayors, through the campaign “mera nazim mera school” or “my mayor my school” and teacher katcheries or courts.
The team at ASER believes that sustained flows of information and ideas for practical action create pressure for educational change and propel individuals, communities and eventually key institutions to act in response. It is due to this that the results each year are awaited by government/private citizens alike. These results influence the right to education debates and ultimately make learning for all take precedence over schooling for all.