Unlike most other NGOs which are born out of the enterprise of only a few individuals, Pratham was established as a Public Charitable Trust in 1994 by the Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, UNICEF and several prominent citizens of the country. Over the years, the network has been expanded to various other cities where like minded people wanted to replicate the Pratham experience. Central to this massive expansion of Pratham’s work has been a whole new way of approaching the education problem in India and a new way of implementing programs to create a national impact. We outline below the key milestones in Pratham’s journey.
The Initial Years
Pratham began it’s operations by providing pre-school education to the children in the slums of Mumbai. Contrary to the general mindset of space being limited, Pratham felt that an ideal space should not be a pre-condition to providing pre-school education. There was enough space within each community in temples, local offices, people’s houses etc. Thus volunteers were recruited from within the communities and trained in early childhood education and encouraged to take classes in any space available in the communities. They were also provided with teaching learning material. Soon, the Pratham Balwadis (Pre-school classes) multiplied and were replicated in various other locations.
Gradually we came into contact with out-of-school children and in-school children who were lagging behind academically and also were at the risk of dropping out. Many of these were first generation learners and therefore lacked the required learning support from their families. We started providing remedial education to these children through the Balsakhi program. The Bridge classes conducted in the communities targeted out-of-school children and aimed at bringing them to a minimum learning level before mainstreaming them into schools.
Between 1999 and 2001, we expanded our work to cover 19 cities with similar models. In addition we began working with child labour through our outreach program. In 2000 Pratham was awarded the Global Development Network Award, sponsored by the World Bank / Government of Japan, where Pratham was named as one of the top three "most innovative development projects”.
The Birth of the Learn to Read Technique and the shift to the Area Approach
By 2002-03, Pratham initiatives in most locations had worked out strategies on scale for direct delivery of pre-school education, school readiness programs and remedial education.
In 2002-03 two major changes occurred that had a significant impact on our programs:
The Area Approach:
We adopted the area approach for the delivery of our programs in urban areas. The “area approach” was designed to “turn communities around” so that the first step for the universalization of elementary education could be firmly taken. In this approach an entire community or basti is selected for the interventions. This is better than a scattered approach where it is difficult to track children who drop out from the programs. In the area approach the only way a child may drop out is if he or she leaves the community and migrates elsewhere. Low income slum pockets or villages of approximately 250 to 300 households are demarcated. This cluster is called a basti. Often such pockets are contiguous to each other so that targeted stretches of slums achieve goals of every child going to school and every child acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills within a time bound manner. Today, we are working in 4000 such bastis in 43 cities.
Learn to Read
: through our experience with the learning support programs, we learnt that the average period of contact available with children requiring additional help was not more than 2-3 months. This necessitated the development of an alternative model/technique where a short term contact could significantly impact the learning levels of children. There was a thought that “Isn’t there a magic wand that will help us change the learning status of a child almost overnight?”
Pratham’s Learn to Read (L2R) technique was thus born. L2R was an accelerated learning technique targeted at teaching both in-school and out-of-school children how to read in 4- 8 weeks. It was conceptualized as a non-linear method where the children were exposed to multiple stimuli to help improve their learning levels. The first innovation resulting from these efforts to develop this technique was to abandon the sequential method of learning. Instead, Pratham came up with an integrated activity as it found that if four types of class activities (“say something; do something; read something and write something”) are integrated together, learning was rapid. The technique was based on the principle that when children were engaged in a variety of activities which have implicit interconnections, they make the interconnections and these snowball into a larger skill. This was “learning by doing” in action.
Pilots demonstrated that the accelerated technique was capable of increasing the learning levels of 84% children in less than 8 weeks. Those who did not know even letters of the alphabet were reading sentences haltingly and those who could read words only with difficulty but could not read sentences fluently graduated to good reading. The magic wand demonstrated that learning can be improved in a short span of time using a low cost model which was replicable on a national scale.
The Annual Status of Education Report(ASER)
As Pratham progressed in its journey, it found it necessary to quantify the problems of education in a manner that could lead to focused action. While government surveys provided enrollment data, there were hardly any surveys providing information on the quality of education. Also the government data on enrollment was not independently verified and often not published. Pratham felt that citizens who were being levied a 2% (now 3%) cess on education since 2004 deserved to know if their money was being used effectively and efficiently. Measuring the ASER (aser
means impact in Hindi) of their money was central to the ASER effort. But the primary objective was to create awareness and inform citizens of the learning levels of their children. A massive voluntary effort was thus set up across the country to conduct a household survey which measured various basic and simple parameters of enrollment, facilities, and learning. This survey, which covers over 16,000 households and over 700,000 children between October and November each year in 95% of the rural districts of India, is reported in the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in the following January .
ASER 2005 and 2006 findings revealed that in spite of having been in school for over 2-5 years, a significant percentage of school children could not read, write or do basic arithmetic. Findings of ASER 2005, revealed for example, that only 15% of children in Std II and 25% in Std III could read a class 1 text. Likewise, only 17% children in Std II and 32% in Std III could solve subtraction problems. ASER 2006 continued to point to the gaps in the learning levels of the children. To address this problem in January 2007, Pratham launched the Read India campaign to help all of India’s children aged 6-14 years learn to read, write, and do basic arithmetic. Instead of relying on governments to ask for “people’s participation”, this movement talks of “people’s initiative and governments’ participation. The campaign is being implemented in 350 districts (600 in India) across 19 states in the country with the help of thousands of volunteers and the government school system. It has already reached 21 million children. More than 350,000 volunteers have been mobilized and 400,000 teachers and government officials have been trained. In most states where the Read India campaign has been implemented, there has been a significant improvement in the learning levels of the children.
Today the organization continues to expand both geographically and in terms of the scope of work it undertakes. Several new programs have been introduced which include the computer aided literacy program
, English program
, Pratham Council for Vulnerable children
and the Skilling Initiative