By Jasmine Shakya , Programme Officer (The South Asian Assessment Alliance: Communicating and Collaborating for Change project) – ASER Nepal hosted by Galli Galli
I was introduced to CLA during the year zero of the South Asian Assessment Alliance: Communicating and Collaborating for change project, when I worked as a research intern at Street Child of Nepal to conduct a landscape analysis of learning assessments in Nepal. Not having worked in the education sector but having been the product of the education system of Nepal, understanding the problems faced in the education sector was quite comprehensible but being unaware of the solutions, I was attracted to this project since the project aimed to provide solutions for quality learning. This was when I learned about the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Citizen-led Assessment (CLA) in Nepal and globally as well.
The ASER’s hands-on experience was exciting, daunting yet inspiring. I got involved in all the assessment processes and activities both directly and indirectly. I feel fortunate enough to be engaged in this ASER 2022 cycle from the very beginning till the end. My involvement in CLA started with numerous literature reviews on citizen-led assessments and ASER reports from different countries. Then slowly I started exploring the current school curriculum, and textbook analysis of different grades 1, 2, and 3 particularly Math, English, and Nepali.
I underwent many question-and-answer sessions with my Program Manager to understand the process and to understand why we were doing what we were doing. There were training sessions organized by ASER Center (India), a pioneer in the ASER process, which further helped me to clarify some of my questions. The different training and learning modules were key to the ASER process and the materials and explanations provided by the trainer were informative and useful to implement in the context of Nepal.
We then developed the Testing Tools which were tested and retested in the field through pre-pilot and pilot assessments. I had not realized that developing testing tools was a repetitive test, and several rounds of revisions. But in the end, it was all well worth it since, in the final testing tool, we knew what the things we would be including and what we would be excluding.
When the testing tools were developed, I thought that the hardest part was over but it was not. Organizing training for volunteers in the community and collecting data in the rural areas of Nepal were one of the hardest parts of the ASER process. It was hardest because one needs to be wary of the local context. One of my major learnings is the importance of coordination with local education institutions and government, especially universities, to gather volunteers required for the ASER. Recruiting, training, and mobilizing youths from the local level for assessment and survey also gives them hands-on experience to work in research and data collection. In addition to that, familiarity with the locality also supports them in data collection. The assessment experience in their community also provides them the knowledge of the situation of foundational learning in their locality.
After the data collection, we entered data in the system that needed to be checked, rechecked, and verified. The training provided by the ASER Center (India) came in handy to verify our data where needed. Later, we discussed back and forth, brainstorming on the required information that would be interesting and relevant to analysis and data presentation. After data analysis, we started working on report writing. For this, we also had several rounds of consultations with experts, brainstorming topics, and tables to be included and excluded in the report. We had the plan to disseminate the report in the rural municipality. We needed to present and write the report in simple language with a simple design for local people to understand.
After the report was completed, we thought dissemination in rural municipalities would be easier, but it was otherwise. Some of the leaders of the rural municipalities had difficulty accepting the results since they had not expected that the learning level would be so low. Plus, we also learned that engaging local authorities from the beginning of the ASER process would make report dissemination and the process easier. In our case in one of the rural municipalities, a change of leadership took place so the new leader was not aware of our process and so, when we went for report dissemination, the leader along with other local authorities asked us many questions about ASER and its process and finally agreed to give us time to talk about the report. Therefore, local authorities must be engaged in some way in the ASER process so that these authorities feel ownership of the evidence that is generated. The evidence on foundational learning status can also act as a basis for policy formulation for quality learning at the local level, hence their ownership of ASER is critical.
Through these various processes of ASER, I feel that I have become more skillful in conducting ASER in the future. I understand ASER fully, and engaging in various processes has further developed my analytical, reporting, research, and coordination skills. I am glad to be part of the assessment process as part of this project. The process has not only built the capacity of local volunteers and master trainers on CLA but has also developed my capacities in doing background work for ASER which is equally rigorous yet gratifying.