1.Messages from ASER report (The Hindu)

2.Decoding the rings in the tress (Down to Earth)

3.Tackling development via family planning (Live Mint)


1.Messages from ASER report (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the findings of ASER report with regard to the state of education in India. (GS paper II)


  • Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) has been carried out by NGO Pratham, the findings have been released recently which finds a wide array of topics related to education and schooling such as- 86% of youth in the 14-18 age group are still in the formal education system (school or college) and 73% students had used a mobile phone within the last week, more than half of them (57%) struggle to do simple Class 2-level division.
  • The study attempts to answer this by looking at skills beyond foundational reading and arithmetic and focusing on four As i.e. activity (what they are doing), ability (level of basic skills), awareness (their access to media, traditional and new) and aspirations.

Detailed findings of ASER report

86% of youth in the 14-18 age group are still within the formal education system

·        It has been eight years since the Right to Education (RTE) Act came into force in 2010, making elementary education a fundamental right for those in the 6-14 age group. Therefore, the 14-year-olds in the 2017 ASER (Annual Status of Education Report Rural) survey are among the first to have benefitted from the Act’s provisions of no-detention and free and compulsory education.

·        As the ASER report shows, a direct consequence of the RTE has been that most tend to continue to stay within the formal education set-up, even after the Act folds up at age 14. The data shows that at age 15, 92.1% of the children surveyed continued to be in school/college.

·        However, the enrolment gap between girls and boys increases with age at 14, there is hardly any difference (94.3% enrolment for girls, 95.3% for boys), but at 18, the gap widens (71.6% for boys, 67.4% for girls).

Learning deficits carry forward as 14 to 18-year-olds go from being adolescents to young adults

·        Though their ability to read in regional languages and English seems to improve with age, the same does not apply to math. The proportion of youth who have not acquired basic math skills by age 14 is the same as that of 18-year-olds. This underlines what ASER has always been suggesting that you need to have foundational skills in place in time.

·        Here too, there is a visible gender divide: while only 47.1% boys in the 14-18 group could do simple division (dividing a 3-digit number by a single digit), at 39.5%, girls fared worse.

·        One of the tasks given was ‘adding weights’. The youth surveyed were shown a picture of weights 1 kg, 5 gm, 50 gm, 500 gm, 200 gm, 200 gm and asked how much this adds to in kilogram. Almost half of those surveyed 44% got it wrong. Even among those with basic arithmetic skills, only 76% answered right.

·        These findings are worrying because these are everyday skills that formal education has failed to equip them with.

·        Besides, many of these students are the first in their families to complete eight years of schooling. About 44% of the age group had mothers who had never been to school, 25% had fathers who had never been to school and 20% had both parents who had never been to school. So, their ability to do basic calculations and make correct decisions is important not only for themselves but for the whole family.

73% had used a mobile phone within the last week

·        What we always knew this is a generation that spends a lot of time on the phone.However, there can be a potential. You have the overall picture. How do we build on that? You know 73% have access to a mobile phone. Is that something policy makers can build upon? These are things to think about.

·        Here too, there are significant gender differences. While only 12% boys had never used a mobile phone, 22% of girls surveyed had.

Decoding certain messages from ASER report

  • There is one strong message from the findings of the Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) 2017, it is that the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act should cover the entire spectrum of 18 years, and not confine itself to those aged 6 to 14.
  • Guaranteed inclusion will empower those in the 14-18 age group who are not enrolled anywhere, and help them acquire finishing education that is so vital to their participation in the workforce. The ASER sample study estimates that 14% of this age group a total of 125 million young Indians in this category are not enrolled.
  • It is absolutely essential for all of them to get an education that equips them with the skills, especially job-oriented vocational capabilities, if the expectation of a demographic dividend is to be meaningful.

Poor progress

  • the state of rural elementary education is far from encouraging. To begin with, only 5% of the respondents in the survey, which was aided by the NGO Pratham, reported doing any kind of vocational course, and even among this small minority a third was enrolled for three months or less.
  • Moreover, learning outcomes for those who had progressed to higher levels of schooling were shockingly low: only 43% of the youth could solve an arithmetic problem involving division of a three-digit number by a single digit; among those who were no longer in school, the percentage was sharply lower.
  • The insights available from successive studies point to progress being made in raw enrolment of children in school, but miserable failures in achieving learning outcomes. Also, enrolment figures often do not mean high attendance. It is not surprising, therefore, that a significant section of secondary level students find it difficult to read standard texts meant for junior classes or locate their own State on the map.
  • There are also discrete differences among States on the number of youth who are not on the rolls in appropriate levels of schooling, with 29.4% of both boys and girls aged 17-18 not enrolled in a Chhattisgarh district, compared to 4.5% and 3.9%, respectively, in a Kerala district.
  • The ASER data point to a massive digital divide, with 61% of respondents stating they had never used the Internet, and 56% a computer, while mobile telephony was accessible to 73%. Here too, girls were worse off in terms of access to computers and the Internet.

Way ahead

  • Scaling up access to these can be achieved by bringing all children under the umbrella of a school, college or training institution. All expenditure on good education is bound to have a multiplier effect on productivity. What is needed is a vision that will translate the objectives of the RTE Act into a comprehensive guarantee, expanding its scope to cover all levels of education. This will remove the lacuna in policy that awaits remedy seven decades after Independence.

Question: ASER report indicates the gaps of education in the age group of 14-18 and the quality of education which is being imparted. What type of reforms can be made in this regard?


2.Decoding the rings in the tress (Down to Earth) 

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue as how besides understanding how climate changed in the past, tree rings can also help us in studying monthly flows of rivers. (GS paper III)


  • Tree rings are the informers of a tree’s history. They hold a wealth of information about not only a tree’s past but also that of the ecosystem in which it lives. Environmental conditions of the past can be remodeled by studying the tree rings of the species of trees growing in a particular region.

Tree rings

  • Tree rings are layers of growth that a tree acquires in one year. The colour of old wood is always darker than a comparatively newer wood which creates a contrasting pattern of rings year on year. In the years of good growth, characterised by a healthy supply of resources, the ring is thick. It is thin when the ecosystem has dearth of resources.

Studying the tree rings

  • When researchers, who study tree rings, trek to an area of interest, at first they ensure that the area has not been altered by humans through activities like grazing or felling of trees. After that, they select trees for their studies on the basis of age and location. While old trees are the best for knowing about the climate of the distant past, location is chosen on the basis of sensitivity to environmental conditions. Usually, trees far away from water sources are chosen as they would be most sensitive to the moisture in local atmosphere.
  • As a first step to studying tree rings, scientists cork the tree to its core without hurting it in anyway. They use a hollow drill bit to core the tree up to its centre which takes a considerable amount of time. Now this core is pulled out to examine patterns of rings and study them in detail under a microscope. The growth history on both living and dead trees can be known by studying these patterns closely.
  • In a recent development, it has been found that these rings can be used in studying monthly flows of rivers over the past 600 years. Their findingshave been published in the journal Journal of Hydrology on January 6, 2018.
  • “By linking tree rings and flow during the past 100 years when we have recorded observations, we can use treesas a tool for measuring flow long before there were gauges on the rivers.
  • This research can lead the way for formulation of better water management policies in the present and, what could possibly be, a water-scarce future. Based on annual data, the scientists reconstructed a monthly database of stream flow of rivers.
  • This was done for three rivers Logan, Bear and Weber. For Logan, the monthly data was reconstructed up to 1605, while for Bear and Weber rivers it was done as far as back as 1400. This monthly data informs us about the seasonal changes in the flow of rivers. This, in turn, offers an insight into the impact that rivers can have on local environment, agriculture and life in general. This data can also be projected into the future to know how these rivers would behave and what communities would have to do to use their water wisely.


  • It’s the seasonality that determines drought, how reservoirs fill, and when there are shortages. Now that we have this method, we can start looking at what major droughts over the past 600 years would mean for today’s water supply.

Question: Why India should step up the efforts to study tree rings in order to understand the patterns of past historical climatic phenomenon?


3.Tackling development via family planning (Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light on how empowering women to make reproductive choices is the best way to address fertility, and its associated health challenges in India. (GS paper II)


  • Poverty and population has been a persistent challenge for Indian development. However, family planning programmes have done well in tackling India’s fertility challenge. The recently released report on the fourth round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), carried out in 2015-16, shows where it has succeeded and where shortcomings remain.

Key take away from fertility status

  • The total fertility rate has declined to 2.2, marginally above the replacement rate of 2.1. This is substantial progress from 2005-2006 when NFHS-3 pegged the rate at 2.7. There are a number of takeaways from slicing the numbers in different ways. The first is the geographic variance. The fertility rate in 23 states and Union territories including all the southern states is below the replacement rate.
  • It is substantially higher in a number of states in central, east and north-east India. Bihar, for instance, has the highest rate at 3.41, followed by Meghalaya at 3.04 and Uttar Pradesh and Nagaland at 2.74. Plainly, the nature and scope of the fertility-related public health challenge facing state governments varies widely. So must the response. The most effective way of enabling this is a greater role for local bodies in both urban and rural areas an item on the incomplete devolution agenda.
  • Second, breaking up the fertility rate by the background characteristics of female respondents produces the central takeaway. Education is a clear differentiator. Women with 12 years or more of schooling have a fertility rate of 1.7, while women with no schooling have an average rate of 3.1. Birth order backs this up. Thirty-one per cent of births to women with no schooling were of birth order four or higher. The corresponding rate for women with 12 years or more of schooling was 2%.

Relations between fertility and development

  • Education levels are strongly correlated with another important aspect of the fertility rate. Higher levels of schooling mean lower levels of teenage pregnancy. In the 15-19 cohort, as many as one-fifth of the women with no schooling have begun childbearing, while only one in 25 women in the same cohort who have had 12 years or more of schooling have done so. Teenage childbearing, in turn, results in greater health risks. The median birth interval in the 15-19 group is 22.6 months. Birth intervals smaller than 24 months “are associated with increased health risks for both mothers and new-borns.
  • The implication is clear. Lack of education robs women of reproductive control, feeding into India’s maternal and child health problem. Combined with younger pregnancies and higher childbearing rates, it also constrains women’s economic choices. This, in turn, reinforces a lack of reproductive control 44% of women who are unemployed use modern contraceptives while 60% of women who are employed for cash do so perpetuating a vicious cycle.
  • The skewed pattern of contraceptive usage is the third takeaway. Knowledge of contraceptive methods is now almost universal in India; the government has done well here. Despite this, men have not taken up the responsibility of managing fertility. The most popular contraceptive method by far, at 36%, is female sterilization. Male sterilization a less invasive and easier method with a much lower chance of medical complications accounts for a mere 0.3%. Male condom usage is low as well, at 5.6%.
  • The public healthcare system, which accounts for almost 70% of modern contraceptive usage, doesn’t do enough to address this problem caused by societal attitudes. Only 54% of women were informed of other available contraceptive methods while 47% of women were informed of the possible side effects of their chosen method.
  • The initial decades of India’s family planning efforts were shaped by foreign funds and agencies that were driven by Malthusian economics. That particular logic has long since been debunked. Now, the Centre and state governments must catch up. The National Population Policy (NPP) of 2000 explicitly rejected the numbers game the targeted approach that had dominated fertility management until then. But the hangover remains with the National Health Policy 2017 again setting a fertility rate target. And it took the Supreme Court, in its 2016 verdict in Devika Biswas vs Union of India & Others, to call for an end to sterilization camps. These corral poorly informed women, largely in rural areas, in order to hit bureaucratic targets, often violating reproductive rights in the process.

Way ahead

  • Almost a century ago, Karve (social reformer of pre-independent India) took the then radical view that women could best confront the fertility challenge via emancipation and gender equality. That continues to hold true today. Successive governments have done well over the decades; NFHS-4 shows improvement in almost all metrics from the 2005-06 NFHS-3. Now, they must focus on enabling educational and economic opportunities for women.

Question: Has India made sufficient progress in addressing the fertility health challenge? 

What can be done in this regard?