Case #2196.0

Pratham: The Challenge of Converting Schooling to Learning in India

Publication Date: November 18, 2020
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This multimedia case brings video, text, and graphics together to offer a rare, immersive experience inside one of the developing world's most pressing challenges, low levels of learning. Pratham, counted among India's largest non-profits, has been engaged in a decades-long drive to improve learning outcomes. Its flagship program, Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL), has been implemented in hundreds of thousands of schools and its Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) has become the touchstone of India’s education policy landscape. 

The case begins with how Pratham honed TaRL into a lean and effective intervention that improves reading and math levels among elementary school children in record time. The case goes on to explore Pratham’s attempts to partner with government to achieve its mission of having “every child in school and learning well.” Over the course of seven “chapters”, guided by the interviewees featured in the videos, we get an in-depth account of the tools and methods Pratham used to improve TaRL’s ability to deliver consistent results at any scale—whether in a single classroom or for all 200,000 government primary schools in the nation’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. The videos include appearances by crucial players: teachers, government officials, Pratham staff, policy experts and a Nobel Prize-winning economist, as they grapple with some of the biggest challenges confronting India’s public education system. 

The learning crisis Pratham seeks to solve is not unique to India—although the scale of the challenge, with nearly half of 5th graders unable to read a simple story, is staggering. This case helps bring to light some of the most important questions in development and policy design today. How do we define a problem? How do we use information and data to achieve our goals? How do we understand and navigate multi-stakeholder environments? And how do policymakers and civil society actors take on stubborn structural challenges? 

Teaching Objectives:

  • Provision of quality education as a critical complement to demand for education in skills formation is an example of a “complex” development problem. A challenge that has proved much tougher to solve than expanding access and attendance. Students will gain a deeper understanding of multiple forces shaping this challenge. 
  • They will also examine government service provision—for which education is an example—as a complex multi-stakeholder problem—a problem where bureaucratic behavior (incentives, culture, political embeddedness within a system etc.) is the central driver. Students critically analyze the behavior of various players interacting within a system.
  • In addition, they evaluate the potential role of civil society actors working with state and non-state actors within such a complex multi-stakeholder system.

  • Finally, students examine the role of information and evaluation processes as forms of both discovery and system influence, including the embedded role of randomized controlled trials, testing and tracking as a key part of the intervention, and survey-based measurement to engage with public debate.



Other Details

Teaching Plan:
Available with Educator Access
Anjani Datla
Video Producer/Multimedia Developer:
Patricia Garcia-Rios
Faculty Lead:
Michael Walton, Isabel Guerrero
Pages (incl. exhibits):