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ASER 2023 What did we learn about learning
Posted By Manahil Naeem

What is ASER?

The Annual Status of Education Report 2023 was launched on 8th March, 2024. With a sample size covering 151 rural and 123 urban districts nationally, it surveyed almost 90,000 households and 272,370 children, of which 210,000 children were assessed to measure their learning levels. 

How does ASER test foundational learning?

ASER tests many aspects of education, including foundational literacy and numeracy.

The literacy test:

  • A child is first asked to read a sentence.

  • If the child can read the sentence fluently, they progress on to story reading.

  • However, if the child struggles, they are asked to read words.

  • If they struggle with that they are asked to read letters.

Similarly in the Maths section, children are tested on subtraction problems from which they either move up to division or regress to number recognition, based on the child’s proficiency level. 

What does ASER tell us about foundational learning levels in Pakistan?

Key foundational learning findings from the report are:

  • Reading levels are low, and getting worse. Urdu/Sindhi reading levels for class 5 children dropped from 55% to 50%. Similarly, for class 3 and class 5 children, English reading levels (class 2 level sentences) dropped by 2% to 18% and 54% respectively. 

  • Maths proficiency levels are very low, and getting worse. Compared to 2021 Class 3 children who can do two-digit division have dropped from 20% to 13%. Similarly class 5 children who could do two digit division dropped from 51% to 46%.

  • Young children are not getting the early support they need. A striking 60% of children aged 3-5 are not enrolled in a preschool or early childhood education programme. 

  • For the first time, we have data on transgender students. Policy makers need to make good use of this data, which consists of information about enrollment and learning trends for around 2000 students. (However, further development is required to make this data widely available and fit for purpose). 

  • ASER 2023 provides invaluable data on learning levels of out of school children, which will be crucial for future targeted remediation programmes.  

  • AJ&K and Punjab are doing better, Sindh and Balochistan are far behind. AJ&K is the best performing region, followed closely by Punjab (see above). Learning levels in Balochistan and Sindh are extremely low.

  • Sindh is going through a learning crisis. The figure below illustrates a comparison of Sindh’s learning levels with the overall national literacy and numeracy levels. 

  • Dropout is high after grade 5, especially post-Covid-19. 31% of children drop out after grade 5. Notably, the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as the leading cause of dropouts: 44% of grade 5 dropouts were due to the pandemic. This highlights the need for a time-sensitive solution before learning losses become irrecoverable. 

  • Girls are performing worse than boys

    • In contrast to the findings of the National Achievement Test, girls are performing worse than boys according to ASER 2023.

      • In 2019, 22% of girls could read a Sindhi story compared to 25% of boys, and by 2023, the gender gap widened further, with only 15% of girls and 19% of boys achieving this milestone.

      • 45% of girls can read sentences in Urdu/Sindhi, compared to 50% of boys.  

      • 49% of girls can read English words, while 54% of boys can do so. 

      • In Maths, 49% of boys can do subtraction, compared to only 45% of girls.

  • Accessibility remains a widespread issue, especially for disabled girls. Only 33% of girls’ schools have accessible toilets, only 31% have ramps, and only 20% provide transport (compared to 55% boys’ schools that provide transport to children with disabilities). 

  • Natural disasters have badly impacted education in rural Pakistan. In Balochistan, 73% of rural households reported being affected, while in Sindh, the figure stood at 69%. Nationally, on average, 29% of rural children's schooling has been disrupted by natural disasters, with Sindh experiencing a higher rate of 42%, followed by Balochistan and AJK at 36% each.



Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of ASER Pakistan.
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