Over 95% of Indian children in the age group 6 to 14 are enrolled in school. Although these children have been in school for several years, many have not acquired the foundational skills that are essential for moving ahead. The challenge is how to enable such children to acquire basic reading and arithmetic, quickly and durably so they get a real chance to complete the elementary stage in a meaningful way.
Over the years, Pratham’s initiatives have spanned the entire age range from Grade I to Grade VIII. However, much of the work in the last two decades has been with children of primary school age and largely focused on ensuring that children learn to read fluently and to do arithmetic confidently. Across all programs, Pratham believes that every child must have the opportunity to learn. To learn, it is essential to be motivated and engaged. To grow well and thrive, a child needs support not only from the school, but also from the family and the community.
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Pratham’s education interventions have two major components – the actual teaching-learning approach and the implementation models – i.e. how the teaching-learning innovation reaches children.
Overall, Pratham’s teaching-learning approach is called CAMaL which stands for Combined Activities for Maximized Learning. We believe that a combination of activities helps children engage and learn. For example, reading aloud, participating in discussions on what they have read or heard, activities with phonetic charts, playing variety of word games, expressing their own views orally and on paper – are all part of the process of learning to read. We also do activities with children in large groups, small groups and individually. The overall approach is such that it can go on scale. Many Pratham instructors are from the local community. Materials used are of low cost and teaching-learning methods including assessment are easy to do so that they can be used widely. In addition to instructional activities in school, there are also activities that parents or families can do with their children at home.
In the primary school age-range, Pratham is best known for large scale initiatives that help children in Grades III to V “catch up”. This intervention which is now called “Teaching at the Right Level” enables children to acquire reading and arithmetic skills in a short period of time and at a relatively low cost. At the start of the program learning goals are clearly articulated so that teachers and parents know what is to be achieved. Second, simple assessment is used for grouping children for instruction. Later in the program, similar assessments are used to track children’s progress and for making course corrections. Third, even though children may be enrolled in Grades III, IV or V, children are grouped by level rather than by grade. As children make progress, they move into more advanced groups. Fourth, Pratham’s method relies on a set of daily activities to maximize learning. Fifth, appropriate but low-cost teaching-learning materials are developed for the program; each group has materials to support their activities. This instructional strategy can be used anywhere – in schools or in the community. However, most of the time, Pratham activities are carried out in schools (government schools) during school time.
From the inception of Pratham almost twenty-five years ago, measurement has played a major role in decision-making and in our program evolution. Pratham has an internal Measurement, Monitoring and Evaluation (MME) unit that works with program teams to develop measurement frameworks (metrics, methods, mechanisms) and implement them. Across all programs, learning outcomes are measured in a simple easy-to-do and easy to understand way. Data is shared and discussed with teams at all levels. Data is used to improve programs, to do course corrections and to guide the development of future course of the work.
Pratham has also had a tradition of encouraging researchers to study, assess and evaluate our programs. Abdul Jameel Poverty Action Lab (JPAL) – a research and evaluation organization based in MIT in the US has been one of Pratham’s main research partners. Randomized control trials of different and evolving Pratham models carried out by JPAL over the last 20 years shows the effectiveness and impact of this work on children’s learning.
For elementary years, Pratham’s presence was in 20 states in 2017-18 through its direct programs reaching 400,000 children through instructional activities and more than 650,000 children reached through community-based out-reach programs. In 2018-19, Pratham started its flagship program – Hamara Gaon – in 14 states to shift from 30 days of intensive work in schools to 3 years of presence and participation in ~3000 villages. In 2018-19, Pratham reached more than 430,000 children through its instructional programs across 18 states in India.
Government Partnership Programs:
In 2017-18, Pratham had partnerships in 15 states and reached 6.7 million children. In 2018-19, Pratham continued to work in 15 states, however, the reach more than doubled to 15.6 million children. (This was largely in part due to a state-wide partnership covering all government primary (Std. I-V) schools in India’s largest state (by population) – Uttar Pradesh.)
Most of the states which had partnerships with Pratham in 2018-19 are likely to continue in 2019-20. Preparatory work was done in 2018-19 in three other states which are scheduled for scaling up in 2019-20. Additionally, states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab will enter into the second year of their partnership in pre-primary sections of government schools and with the ICDS system in Delhi.