Have you ever wondered if testing students based on their academic concepts is insufficient? Do you think that their environment, access to quality education, and the perception of the community impact their performance as well? It is important to explore some ideas around the impact of a student’s socioeconomic background on their academic performance. Data from large-scale assessments undertaken by Educational Initiatives can help analyse the impact of externalities on academic performance.

The socioeconomic status of a student determines their location in a neighbourhood, and not only actively impacts their social location and opportunities, but also their success in school. This means that the physical location, the resources for education, the community, and people’s perception of formal education significantly impact a student’s interest in studies, and eventually their academic performance.

Prateek has been in and out of juvenile correctional facilities in Gujarat and has had irregular access to schools. In an interview with The Bastion, the Samaj Suraksha Adhikari of the same observation home talks about how students that come from marginalised communities often have minimal access to quality formal education and eventually drop out of school. Compare Prateek to a student in a decent private school in Delhi, with highly-qualified teachers and a home that is conducive to their learning.

Over the last eighty years, various reports from the Mudaliar Commission and the Kothari Commission have laid great emphasis on the need for assessments through examinations to bring quality education. The New Education Policy 2020 prioritised competency-based assessments that test higher-order skills in students. It focuses on analytical, conceptual, and critical thinking.

Analysing large-scale assessments in India and abroad has granted insight into the various facets that are considered while designing assessment tools.

A tool that helps s understand the points depicted in the image (left) is called a background questionnaire.

Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a highly-regarded large-scale assessment that uses questions that reflect real-life problems to test students’ understanding. It measures the reading, arithmetic, and science ability of 15-year-olds worldwide. Their 2018 Assessment and Analytical Framework outlines how computer-based test instruments utilise Multiple-Choice Questions and Free Response Questions. PISA Assessments also use background questionnaires that are filled by students and school principals.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is a large-scale citizen-led assessment that is a home-based survey and collects details regarding school enrolment, the kinds of schools that the students are going to, and basic household indicators like availability of reading materials, educational qualification of parents, and the status of students’ private tuition. Additionally, ASER also collects data on basic school infrastructure and facilities.

Findings of ASER 2021 state a decline in family support for the student’s studies at home.

Percentage of enrolled children who receive help from family members while studying at home, by grade and school type. 2020 and 2021. Source: ASER 2021.

What Factors Impact a Childs’s Education? 

Imagine this, Noor, a third-grade student is to be assessed on her learning outcomes. In addition to academic and conceptual understanding, there are other factors that directly and indirectly affect their performance in the assessment. These factors go beyond just the home environment of the student and include various external circumstances. 

In 2022, Educational Initiatives conducted a state-wide sample-based assessment in Andhra Pradesh and included background questionnaires for students, teachers, and school headteachers. It was based on three major themes that partly overlap with the ASER and PISA questionnaires.

The first important theme is understanding the perception of the stakeholders involved in the teaching-learning journey of a student. In their paper ‘Women and Teaching Profession’, Fatimah Kelleher talks about how empirical evidence from their study depicted how gender influences teaching choices or the public sphere, with one gender dominating the teaching field more than the others. This argument can be extended to explain the teaching domain in India. For many, teaching might not be their first choice but a result of various socio-cultural factors at play. It is imperative to understand how this would affect a teacher’s classroom presence, preparation, pedagogical practices, and motivation to teach among many other factors.

Other factors like the students’ perception of schooling and how it helps them with their career motivation, or the parent’s perception of their children’s lives and how would schooling impact the well-being of their child also impact educational outcomes. 

In a large-scale assessment conducted in Andhra Pradesh, out of over 8400 teachers, a staggering 58% believed that getting ‘good marks’ is important for a child to excel in life. Further, 71% of them agreed when asked if students should aspire to be high-scorers in examinations.

In their paper ‘Education Equity and Digital Divide’, Paul Gorski talks about the ways in which we can make education equitable and lessen the digital divide, which is the second theme of relevance for background questionnaires.  One of the seven recommendations they give is easy and equal access to people across socio-economic demographics; they should have access to technological devices and the internet, and along with accessibility, how these technologies are used to their benefit should also be considered equally important. Therefore, it is important to understand the accessibility students have to their school infrastructure, learning materials, a conducive environment and digital access to learning.

For language, the presence of books, functional computers, and blackboards would contribute towards obtaining better scores. For maths, blackboards are the most important facility to improve student learning.

-Student Learning Study (2009)

ASER 2019 report mentions how the educational qualifications of parents (especially the mother) affect the access to quality and early education for their children. Additionally, the EI study tried to explore the support students get from their peers, teachers, school administration, and people at home and in the community.

Lack of support can significantly impact a child’s involvement in school education and eventually reflect in their performance in assessments.

Therefore, it is important to understand the support ecosystem that children have around them. This could be determined by understanding how much time parents spend at home understanding their child’s academics and supporting with their homework. It’s also important to see how teachers support the students in the classroom in understanding difficult concepts or getting work done.

Over ninety-five per cent of the 8400 teachers that were surveyed in Andhra Pradesh mentioned that they feel safe putting their points forth to the school administration. They believe in the presence of a mutually respectful environment among their peers. A strong support system for both teachers and students is important for better teaching-learning.

As a country that puts most of its focus on performing better at assessments, we must also look at the reason why there are systemic inequities. India, home to diverse social groups, must also identify the factors that affect our students’ performance and help them overcome challenges through better policy and remedial interventions.

Looking forward, the data from existing background questionnaires and large-scale studies can be used for educational interventions. Changes at the classroom and community level can have a significant impact on student’s academic performance and learning. Every child deserves to access quality education that is equitable and not dependent on their social location.

Featured image of students in a government school taking a test, courtesy of Krishna Kumar Singh

Tanisha currently leads communications for the Assessments Team at Shiksha, a branch of Educational Initiatives that specialises in systemic capacity-building projects, impact assessment studies, and research that aims to bring learning outcome-oriented reform in education.


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