India is failing to train adolescents (14 to 18) in rural schools, with most not able to retain skills learnt in earlier classes, reveals the 2017 edition of the Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER), brought out by education advocacy Pratham.

One in every 10 and every four rural Indians aged 14-18 years could not read a standard I and standard II (meant for children aged 5-7 years) text in their own language, said the ASER report, released on January 16, 2018.

Only 64% of rural adolescents could name India’s capital, with some unable to grasp the question, identifying the capital as “Pakistan” or “China”.

Female adolescents in rural Indian schools are better at recognising numbers up to 99, but lag men in many parameters, including financial knowledge, using an ATM or telling the time.

Only 43% of adolescents in rural schools were able to divide a three-digit number by a one-digit number, a primary level skill. Only 23% were able to subtract and only 66% could not recognise numbers below 99. Women were better than men.

The share of 125 million Indians aged 18 enrolled in an educational programme had risen to 70% in ASER 2017 from 44% in 2011, the report said. The ASER survey interviewed 28,323 adolescents in 23,868 households in 26 rural districts across 24 states during October to December 2017 and collected information on: Activity (calculation and daily tasks), ability (reading and numeracy skills), awareness and aspirations.

Overall, 86% of adolescents aged 14 to 18 were enrolled in the formal education system. While 54% of youth in this age group were enrolled in Standard X or below (54%), 25% were either in Standard XI or XII, and 6% in undergraduate or other degree courses. Only 14% were not enrolled in any form of formal education.

Enrolment In An Educational Institution Among 14- To 18-Year-Olds In Rural India

Source: Annual Status of Education Report 2017

More women drop out as age increases

The enrolment gap between men and women increased with age. At age 14 the difference between the male and female non-enrolment is 1 percentage point, with 4.7% males not enrolled against 5.7% females; it rises to 4 percentage points by age 18, with 32% females not enrolled against 28% males.

One in every five adolescents had not completed eight years of schooling. The rate was about the same for men and women.

Only 43% were able to divide a three-digit number by a one-digit number. At 39.5%, fewer women were able to divide than men (47%). Only 23% of adolescent students were able to subtract, and there was no difference in the performance of men and women. Only 34% recognised numbers below 99, though more women (38%) could than men (30%).

While 86% could solve an easy problem measuring length (men: 90%, women: 83%), only 40% could solve a harder problem (men: 48%, women: 32.5%). Only half of the sample could apply the unitary method (men: 59%, women: 43%)--finding the value of one unit from the given value of a multiple to find the value of another multiple (finding the cost of one napkin from the cost of 10 napkins to finally find the cost 13 napkins)--and 39% could tell time (men: 43.6%, women: 34%).

Source: Annual Status of Education Report 2017

While 58% of adolescents in the sample could read an English sentence (explain at least two of the four sentences given in the ASER test in their local language), more men (61%) could do so than women (55.5%).

While three in four adolescents could count money, far more men (82%) could do so than women (70%). Yet, more women (76%) had a bank account than men (72%).

However, men were ahead of women on all other measures of financial participation: depositing or withdrawing money (men: 54%, women: 48%), using an ATM (men: 22%, women: 10%) and using internet banking (men: 7%, women: 2%).

Men were also better at financial tasks, such as managing a budget (men: 67%, women: 60%) or making a purchase (men: 67%, women: 61%).

Source: Annual Status of Education Report 2017

Men want to be soldiers or engineers, women, teachers or nurses

The ASER survey found that 17.6% of adolescent males said they wanted to join the army or the police and 11.6% wanted to become engineers; while 25% of females wanted to teach and 18% wanted to become doctors or nurses.

No more than 13% of adolescent males and 9% of women sought a government job. Only 1% of all adolescents in the sample wanted to work in agriculture.

Almost 40% reported having no role models for the occupation they aspired to join.

While 60% wanted to study beyond school, 8% didn’t know till what level and 4% did not “want to study any further”.

Source: Annual Status of Education Report 2017

Of the 5% of the youth enrolled in vocational training, 59% were in courses of less than six months, 24% in year-long courses, 12% in two-year courses and 6% in courses more than two years long.

Among those studying, 38.5% were working and 60% of those not studying were working. Most helped in their family’s agriculture work: 76% of those studying and 56% of those not studying.

Working Youth Among 14- To 18-Year-Olds In Rural India
Category Worked 15 or more days last month Did not work 15 or more days last month
Total Family agriculture Other's farm Family business Other's business
In school or college 38.5% 75.8% 4.9% 15.6% 3.7% 61.5%
Not studying 60.2% 56.1% 15.7% 12.6% 15.6% 39.8%
All youth 41.6% 71.7% 7.1% 15.0% 6.2% 58.4%

Source: Annual Status of Education Report 2017

India’s capital: Pakistan, China or Delhi?

While 86% in the sample could recognise India’s map (men: 89%, women: 83%), only 64% could name India’s capital (men: 69%, women: 60%). Some even thought Pakistan or China were India’s capital, Manju, one of ASER’s surveyors in Rajasthan, said during the launch of the report.

Only 42% could identify their own state on a map (men: 49%, women: 36%).

Source: Annual Status of Education Report 2017

More women could not answer questions than men

For every one of the 24 assessment tasks administered in the survey, more women than men did not even attempt a response.

Asked to identify their state on the map, 21% of adolescent males did not attempt an answer, against 32% of females.

Asked to calculate the amount to be repaid on a bank loan after a year, 21% of men did not answer against 29% of women.

Asked to calculate the total weight from a picture with a set of six weights (the kind used to weigh vegetables in the market), 4.8% of men did not attempt an answer against 13.5% of women.

To a question that asked them to total the amounts in a picture of four currency notes, 2.5% of men did not attempt an answer against 5% of women.

(Vivek is an analyst with IndiaSpend.)

We welcome feedback. Please write to We reserve the right to edit responses for language and grammar.