Pratham’s very first ASER survey was implemented fifteen years ago this year. Since 2005, the ASER report has been released like clockwork in January each year (except 2015), and the ASER approach to measurement has resonated with people in many countries across the Global South. Key features of this approach include the importance of conducting household-based rather than school-based assessments; a focus on oral, one-on-one assessment of foundational reading and arithmetic; a simple design that facilitates ease of administration as well as understanding of the results; and clear links between assessment results and action on the ground to improve them.
In these fifteen years, the ASER approach has been adopted and adapted by organizations in many countries. Today, ASER-like assessments are conducted by organisations in Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Mozambique, Botswana); America (Mexico and Nicaragua); and Asia (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal). In 2015, these organizations came together to establish the People’s Action for Learning (PAL) Network in order to advance our common agenda on ensuring that all children acquire at least basic reading and arithmetic skills. Indicator SDG 4.1.1 (a) of the Sustainable Development Goal for education (SDG 4) shows how this agenda has found an echo not just in these countries but across the world, and reflects what is today a global goal.
The formulation of the SDGs underlined the importance of developing common methods and metrics to track progress towards these goals, and highlighted the fact that none of the existing large scale assessment models like TIMSS and PISA are able to generate comparable evidence on children’s foundational skills in early grades. In 2018, PAL Network members took on the challenge of developing such a model.
Inspired and informed by these fifteen years of Pratham’s work, this tool – the International Common Assessment of Learning, or ICAN, was released this month. ICAN is an open-source, robust and easy-to-use tool that assesses foundational numeracy and is available in 11 languages.
In 2005, the difference between schooling and learning was neither commonly accepted nor well understood, and Pratham’s consistent emphasis on foundational skills and the importance of simple, robust tools to measure them have been instrumental in changing this landscape, not only in India but across the world. The ICAN tool and ICAN report are evidence of this trajectory. The ICAN report e-launch event which featured speakers from across the world, can be viewed here.
ICAN can be used in a variety of settings: schools, households, or even locations such as refugee camps (where ASER-like tools have been used in a number of countries). Easily scalable tools like these are critical if we are to identify and support those who have been most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the consequences for children’s physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being are not yet fully understood, these will undoubtedly include ‘learning loss’ as children’s access to learning opportunities were interrupted with worldwide school closures. As schools reopen and the ‘new normal’ begins to take shape, tools like ICAN can help ensure that every child has access to schooling and learning.