Varsha Joshi, Director with the office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India was at CCS on 23 May 2014 to discuss how to look at education data in India. Having conducted the Census of India 2011 for Delhi, and with a particular interest in data for education, gender and development, Varsha has extensive experience working with big data and how to mine and analyse data in the education space in India.

The Chintan was an extremely useful session for those conducting research in education as Varsha walked them through the various data portals available to them and the pros and cons of different assessments as they currently stand.

Starting with District Information System for Education (DISE) she stated that one of the biggest limitations with DISE data is the fact that unless one physically visits an area, they cannot get the full picture of the status of education. For unrecognised schools, it is left to their discretion whether or not they choose to share information with the officials, and there is no real incentive for these schools to enter into the DISE assessment, since it is more likely that once they submit this data, local education authorities will push them to get recognition, or shut them down. Amit Kaushik, Practice Head, Education & Skills Development with IPE Global, pointed out that this is more a problem with education policy than with the data collection – the reason we have so many unrecognised schools is because the law makes it difficult for them to get recognition. This then causes a problem with the enrolment figures DISE provides, which are simply the tip of the iceberg.

Another limitation to data collection, Varsha pointed out, was that a number of private schools no longer ask for information regarding SC/ST certification, though some still record OBC status. Data collectors then lose out on the picture of SC/ST enrolment.

Moving on to the National Achievement Survey (NAS) conducted by the NCERT, Varsha explained that it examines higher competencies of students in schools, and is essentially an evaluation of the school and not the child, for whom NAS is a low-stake test. For a child’s performance, and a focus on lower competencies, one should look at the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) by Pratham.

The two tests serve different purposes – while the NAS looks at grade-appropriate requirements, the ASER is a dipstick survey to assess how well Class V students are able to manage, academically. Varsha pointed out that the government should embrace and support surveys like ASER, rather than see them as ‘coming in the way’ or ‘giving the government a bad name’. The government needs to know how the average child in a school is faring, and it says a lot about the philosophy behind our education policy, whether we focus solely on the performance of the school in terms of higher competencies and infrastructure, or also examine how much a kid in school has actually learned.

Varsha also pointed out that NAS is a representative data set, due to its pan-India presence – however it only represents those students in government or private recognised schools who show up on the day of testing. However, it was also conceded that data collection is an evolving process – when NAS began, it was a test of 42 districts in 7 states, and is now a pan-India test. Initially, it only looked at government recognised schools, where now it covers both government and private recognised schools and is beginning to talk about unrecognised schools as well.

Education data collection, analysis and usage is evolving, just as education policy itself is evolving. What we need is to put all of the available data to better use, to use it to feed into current policy and practice in education.

You can find the complete audio of her talk here.

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The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.