Popularizing Remedial Education in India

Since the turn of the century, primary school attendance has increased worldwide. UNICEF reports that the number of children who are primary-school age not attending school declined globally by 40 percent between 2000 and 2013. Despite impressive progress, many of these students are unable to demonstrate the expected skills required at their grade level. UNICEF finds that 20 percent of students reaching fourth grade fail to achieve basic counting skills.

In rural India, of all children enrolled in fifth grade, about half cannot read or perform basic subtraction at a second-grade level. Banerjee and colleagues, in conjunction with Pratham, an Indian NGO, conducted a randomized control trial in 280 villages in Uttar Pradesh to evaluate whether remedial education can help students learn basic reading skills. The remedial education program was held every day outside of school for two to three months by local volunteers trained by Pratham. Instead of grouping the students based on their grade, the remedial education program grouped students by learning level. The evaluation showed that children who could not read at all at the beginning of the program were 60 percentage points more likely to read letters after attending the program compared to children in control villages.

Although this remedial education program was impactful, only eight percent of children in the sample initially participated in the program. To increase enrollment for this program, one idea the authors propose is to incorporate the program into the Indian education system allowing more students to participate. To develop a program model that works effectively within the system, Banerjee and colleagues tested four different models that target children in grades three to five who struggle in reading and math.

The first two models were teacher-led programs, run during the school year in Bihar and Uttarakhand. The teachers received training and materials from Pratham and additional support from volunteers. The third model in Haryana was fully implemented by the state government and performed by school teachers during a dedicated extra school hour. Pratham provided training to state government officials who then trained, monitored, and provided on-site support to those school teachers. Meanwhile, the fourth model in Uttar Pradesh included two 20-day learning camps at a designated time during school hours with an additional 10-day camp in the summer, implemented by volunteers and supervised by Pratham.

To measure the program’s impact, the authors normalized student test scores by subtracting the test scores from the average score in the control group and dividing them by the standard deviation. The authors observed that having the state government implement the program provided the largest impact, increasing student language test scores by 0.15 standard deviations. The two 20-day learning camps and 10-day summer camp were also shown to be effective by raising language and math test scores by 0.7 standard deviations. The teacher-led program in Bihar improved language and math test scores by 0.13 and 0.11 standard deviations, respectively, but the impact was significantly driven by the volunteers. No impact was observed for the teacher-led program in Uttarakhand, since the remedial education program tended to get absorbed in regular teaching activities instead. From the four models, Banerjee and colleagues found there to be minimal rates of attrition among the students in the remedial education program, implying that including the program as a part of the education system has the potential to successfully increase the program’s enrollment.

Educational stagnation requires an increased effort, beyond getting more children into school, to ensure children achieve proficiency and growth. The research from Banerjee et al. provides promising evidence that remedial education programs help students who are behind grade level to improve their reading and math skills. To increase program attendance, it is crucial to absorb these remedial education programs into the Indian education system and to conduct them during school hours. Although this program achieved reasonable success, efforts to prevent educational stagnation should be implemented earlier to ensure a successful academic upbringing for every child.

Article source: Banerjee, Abhijit, Rukmini Banerji, James Berry, Esther Duflo, Harini Kannan, Shobhini Mukherji, Marc Shotland, and Michael Walton. “Mainstreaming an Effective Intervention: Evidence from Randomized Evaluations of ‘Teaching at the Right Level’ in India.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Papers Series: No. 22746 (2016).

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Nurzanty Khadijah

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