Pratham’s Read India: Taking Small Steps in Learning at Scale

Case Study in brief: This case study explores how Pratham’s Read India program can help students achieve higher learning levels. Read India is based on remedial education for children who are lagging behind in basic skills such as reading and arithmetic. Through Read India, Pratham, a nongovernmental organization based in India, has demonstrated that focusing on learning outcomes and designing teaching and delivery methods to achieve higher learning outcomes can result in improved literacy and numeracy among children who attend school. This case study illustrates how Read India’s genesis and success partially lie in programmatic design components such as learning camps and Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) but also in the program’s delivery, enabling environment, and financing. That is, Pratham’s educational experimentation and commitment to an evidence-based approach; its focus on small, incremental change and on scaling ideas rather than expanding the organization; its engagement with local champions of Read India; and its relationship with long-term donors have enabled the organization to scale learning across the nation. 

Development challenge: Low level of learning outcomes among primary school going children

Delivery challenges: Policy design, lack of evaluation data, rule-driven culture of the bureaucracy, and lack of teacher accountability

Lessons learned:

  • Pratham was willing to experiment with and rigorously test new teaching-learning models. This effort provided state- and district-level partners with an evidence-based menu of program options, which enabled flexible, context-specific decision making by partners to maximize impact in the presence of competing needs and scarce resources.
  • Mirroring Pratham’s experiential approach to pedagogy, Pratham’s philosophy of “learning by doing” among staff members and volunteers helped maintain the organization’s focus on keeping Read India’s learning methodologies, activities, materials, and assessment tools simple so that people with a wide range of learning levels and governments with a wide range of resources could take on the program.
  • Pratham’s commitment to an evidence-based approach ensured purposeful integration of monitoring and evaluation into the organization’s operations and decision making. This commitment enabled Pratham to learn regularly from the process of implementation and from evaluation data, to have an honest awareness of achievements made and challenges remaining, and to plan for necessary course corrections. Such course corrections included scaling down at one point to strengthen the implementation model toward scaling impact.
  • Pratham’s leaders recognized how change happens locally. Using this knowledge, they strategically institutionalized interventions by leveraging existing government infrastructure, resources, and policy opportunities when possible. Working this way was important for capturing government support because change was less threatening to the status quo, more cost-efficient, and more easily replicated.
  • Making small, incremental change visible at a large scale was necessary to show stakeholders that change is possible.
  • Identification of and partnerships with local champions of Read India within government—and the use of evidence from learning camps to ignite champions’ excitement—were critical to garner the political will and support at the top to create the conditions needed to scale ground-level action and impact from below. However, relying on government partnerships can be tenuous and unsustainable; time and resources spent educating officials and cultivating relationships can be wasted with each change in government.
  • Partnering with flexible, long-term-focused donors allowed for the building of trust, which gave Pratham the organizational autonomy, space, and independence needed to experiment, take risks, and innovate.

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