King Essentials

Pratham

Evidence and efficiency help drive an early childhood learning program

The Challenge

In India, more than 98% of primary-age children are enrolled in school—yet half of them reach fifth grade without gaining the ability read or write. Leading factors in their struggle to receive a meaningful education are a lack of effective classroom instruction and a failure to align educational practices with measurable outcomes.

The Approach

Pratham implements programs that build reading, writing, and math skills among primary-school children. Its model focuses both on improving the quality of classroom instruction and on regularly assessing education outcomes. Educators can implement its programs at a very low cost and replicate them in a wide variety of settings.

Why We Invest

Pratham has built a model that currently helps shape the education of more than 60 million Indian schoolchildren. Rigorous evaluation of its programs has long been a central part of that model. Since 2005, Pratham has partnered with the global research center J-PAL to create a large body of evidence on the efficacy of various education programs. Along the way, the organization has developed the ability to test new features, adjust program design, and improve outcomes.

Equally important to Pratham’s success is its disciplined approach to managing costs. To implement its programs, Pratham relies on a large network of volunteers: It recruits university students to help conduct an annual survey on the state of education in India; it enlists young adults to teach remedial programs; and it engages with mothers to introduce early childhood programming for their children. This army of volunteers may number thirty thousand (or more) over the course of a year, and Pratham relies on a relatively small paid staff to coordinate their efforts. (The Pratham team adapts its training work to meet the needs of volunteers with vastly different levels of education; it has even found a way to collaborate effectively with mothers who may be illiterate.) By leveraging a massive volunteer base, Pratham not only keeps program costs low but also maximizes engagement among community members.

Together, these two aspects of Pratham’s work—rigorous evidence that demonstrates improved learning outcomes, and a low-cost delivery method—provide a strong basis for effective advocacy. Persuading governments to adopt its programs is the key to achieving large-scale impact, and Pratham has a proven ability to influence public policy both in India and elsewhere. As a testament to its efforts on that front, a growing number of countries in Africa (including Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, and Zambia) are now replicating the Pratham model.

Photo: Skoll Foundation/Gabriel Diamond

How We Partner

With King Philanthropies’ support, Pratham is working to improve its early childhood programming, which serves children in pre-school and in first and second grades. In particular, Pratham is testing a new approach that involves working closely with mothers to ensure that their children build foundational skills and sustain learning gains over time.

In partnership with J-PAL South Asia (another King Philanthropies grantee), Pratham is also investing in efforts to evaluate the impact and the cost-effectiveness of its early childhood programming.

Find Out More

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