Givology Staff's Blog

Improving Learning Outcomes Through Teaching at the Right Level

[b]"Improving Learning Outcomes Through 'Teaching at the Right Level' Programs: The Indian Context"[/b][b]
By Brent Harlow
[b]From Increasing Student Participation to Improving Learning Outcomes[/b]
This series of posts-- which looks at the best research to date on what actually works to improve education outcomes in developing countries-- began with a look at interventions shown to be effective at increasing student enrollment and attendance in countries where rates have historically fallen short of the benchmarks for student participation set by the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. In particular, the last two posts looked at research showing that large-scale government campaigns to build primary schools and train teachers are, by themselves, inadequate, and need to be accompanied by programs designed to remove both health-based barriers (e.g. intestinal worms, anemia) and financial obstacles to student enrollment and attendance.
In this post, I move from the problem of how to increase student participation to a discussion of research on how to ensure that, once children are in school, they are actually learning.
[b]The Indian Context[/b]
India is one of many developing countries to have implemented large-scale programs designed to expand access to primary education in recent decades. As in most other countries, these efforts by the Indian government have been largely successful at getting more children into the classroom, with a special focus on the most marginalized, underprivileged, and under-served groups (rural populations, the very poor, girls, and others).
However, researchers have found that while many new students have been brought into the classroom, it is not clear that they are actually learning the skills and acquiring the knowledge needed to perform up to the expectations set for their grade level. A 2005 survey (referenced [url=]here[/url]) found that 44% of Indian children age 7 to 12 cannot read a basic paragraph, and 50% cannot do simple subtraction.
In response to this and other studies indicating that learning outcomes remain low, the Indian education NGO Pratham has enacted programs aimed at improving learning outcomes for those students who score lowest on standardized tests designed to assess proficiency in basic literacy and numeracy skills. These programs are built around the "Teaching at the Right Level" or "TaRL" concept, which moves away from a rigid, one size fits all curriculum and instead embraces an approach in which students are evaluated to determine their current level of proficiency in basic skills, are given instruction at that level, and are then retested to measure growth toward their specific learning goals.
[b]The Effectiveness of "TaRL" programs in India[/b]
Researchers affiliated with the Poverty Action Lab have worked with Pratham to evaluate the impact of "TaRL" programs in India. From 2001 to 2004, Abhijit Banerjee, Shawn Cole, Esther Duflo, and Leigh Linden evaluated Pratham's "Balsakhi" program in public primary schools in Vadodana and Mumbai (to view this study, click [url=]here[/url]).
The intervention targeted children in grades 2 through 4 who were identified, on the basis of standardized test scores, as having fallen behind their peers. The students were then provided with two hours of instruction per day, during normal school hours, in classrooms of fifteen to twenty students who functioned at the same proficiency level in core numeracy and literacy skills. The students' progress was then measured by another test, taken at the end of the academic year.
Researchers found that the program had a positive effect on end of the year test scores, with the greatest improvements made by those initially identified as most behind their peers. In addition to positively impacting learning outcomes, the program is cost-effective, relying on local tutors ([i]Balsakhi[/i]) who can be trained more cheaply and more quickly (in just two weeks) to provide remedial instruction in relatively small classes.
Pratham's first TaRL program has since been adapted, scaled up, and implemented in schools across India. This has given rise to Pratham's "Read India" program, which Abhijit Banerjee, Rukmini Banerji, Esther Duflo, and Michael Walton of the Poverty Action Lab have also evaluated (to access their study, click [url=]here[/url]). Preliminary analysis of the results confirms earlier findings, and suggests the program has had a positive impact on student test scores. Evaluations of other, similar programs-- programs using locally-hired tutors to provide supplementary instruction in basic skills--- have turned up similar, positive results. (See, for instance, the following studies published at the Poverty Action Lab website: "[url=]Can Informational Campaigns Raise Awareness and Local Participation in Primary Education in India?[/url]" and "[url=]Extra Contract Teachers in Adhra Pradesh, India."[/url])
[b]Givology Partner Aid India and the "Eureka Superkidz" Program [/b]
Givology has partnered with AID India in support of its Eureka Superkidz program in primary schools in the province of Tamilnadu. Six-hundred underprivileged kids from twenty villages are provided with after-school instruction in classes led by local tutors who use fun and attractive learning materials to teach each child at his or her level and develop his or her proficiency in basic math, English, and Tamil skills, as measured by regular testing focused on these areas.
More information about the curriculum used by Aid India (Eureka), as well as their performance, can be found at [url=]their website[/url]. For more information about Givology's partnership with this program, follow[url=] this link[/url].

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