Principal investigator: Ricardo Sabates. Lead Organisation: University of Cambridge
Co-investigators: Pauline Margaret Rose; Rukmini Banerji; Benjamin Matthew Alcott; Suman Bhattacharjea; Wilima Wadhwa
Our project explores the potential of community based accountability relationships to raise children's foundational learning outcomes, with a focus on the most disadvantaged primary-school learners: namely those who are from poorer households and, within these, girls. We ask both whether and how changes occur when school actors are supported to view their accountability as being primarily to their local community and their goal as being to raise all children's learning. To do this, we evaluate a grassroots intervention that supports school actors to work directly with their communities to develop a shared understanding of children's learning levels, collaborate in planning how to raise them, and facilitate action both inside and outside the classroom. In addition to analysing changes in children's learning, we will examine the intervention's capacity to create changes in school-community relations, and teachers' attitudes perceptions, and actions in the classroom.
The intervention builds on two of Pratham's grassroots literacy campaigns to incorporate school-community accountability relationships. Lakhon mein Ek (LME) was primarily an information campaign, supporting communities to undertake and discuss their own independent assessments of children's learning outcomes. Reading Week (RW) provided community volunteers with packages of simple materials with which to work with children to improve their foundational literacy and numeracy skills. The proposed intervention, which we call LME+, seeks to enhance the impact of these previous interventions by working directly with school actors to help them engage and work with their local communities.
Our theory of change holds that participation of school actors in LME+ will facilitate their understanding of the problem of inadequate foundational learning and therefore their willingness to use LME+ methods, materials and approaches - or their equivalent - in their own practice. Further, it posits that school actors' engagement with the problem will also lead them to successfully negotiate permission to implement new methods, materials and/or teaching activities aimed at improving children's foundational learning. By altering the nature of school actors' engagement with communities and practice within schools, we theorise that LME+ has the potential to rebalance systems of accountability at the local level towards a greater focus on learning outcomes.
In order to investigate the impact of the intervention, we propose to undertake an experimental approach based on mixed research methods. We will first select a state with moderate to high amenability towards new learning initiative, and within this state we will then sample a random selection of 400 villages with 2 or more government schools in each village. The selection of relative large villages is necessary to increase the sample size and maintain low costs. The focus on government schools is important because these are the institutions where the most marginalized children are enrolled. 150 villages (300 schools) will be selected for the LME+ intervention; 125 villages (250 schools) for the original LME & RW intervention and 125 villages (250 schools) as controls. Using varied data collection tools, such as foundational learning assessments, background information, perceptions and attitudes of school actors, classroom observations, interviews with key stakeholders, and monitoring of participation, the aim is to construct reliable counterfactuals that enable us to identify the overall impact of the intervention on learning outcomes and on school actors' attitudes and perceptions, and also to assess whether these impacts are conditional on changes within the school. We also investigate the processes underlying such changes and the potential of this approach to realign the objectives of government educational institutions, schools and communities towards raising learning outcomes using 6 villages as case studies.
Our research programme will generate unique, high-quality evidence that will impact on academics, policymakers, practitioners, and community-based organisations in addition to the general public. It will do this by improving our understanding of:
1. The potential for community-led accountability initiatives to engage with and influence the formal education sector in a coherent way
2. The potential to build sustainable, grass-roots partnerships between communities and local school actors (teachers, head teachers, administrators and others)
3. The impact of such engagements on shared accountability, cooperation, and learning outcomes for children, with a particular focus on those from disadvantaged backgrounds associated with poverty and gender.
With respect to policymakers, we will use Pratham's ongoing partnerships with ten state governments as a vehicle to disseminate findings from this research. We will do this via a range of formal and informal discussions, dissemination of materials such as policy briefs and recommendations for new strategies and directions emerging from the findings of this research. In the UK and internationally, we will use established contacts of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre as well as the lead of Professor Pauline Rose to disseminate results within DfID, UN organisations and other international agencies engaged in education.
With respect to practitioners, we will use Pratham's existing partnerships with District Institutes of Education and Training, which provide preservice and in-service training to government school teachers, to build the capacity of current and future primary school teachers to measure, understand, and act upon observed gaps between policy objectives and ground realities in local schools. The focus of all of these capacity building initiatives is to improve students' understanding of and accountability to local needs, particularly with respect to learning outcomes. Findings from the proposed study will feed into the design of additional modules for these capacity building initiatives.
With respect to NGOs, we will disseminate the project's innovative framing of accountability with NGOs working in other developing countries. Cambridge team members have a range of working partnerships that would help to facilitate this. Both Dr Sabates and Professor Rose hold key advisory roles within FHI360's Education Equity Research Initiative, while the REAL Centre is a leading partner in The Impact Initiative for International Development Research. Both initiatives provide opportunities to disseminate successful practices across a range of NGO projects. In addition, the REAL Centre's partnership with Camfed, as part of the Girls' Education Challenge, offers another opportunity for direct impact on a large-scale project, as Camfed works to improve community-school relations in order to promote educational among marginalized girls in Sub-Saharan Africa. Within India, we will use Pratham's research and assessment arm, (ASER Centre) which is a member of the People's Action for Learning (PAL) network, comprising 13 countries spread across 3 continents to disseminate results. Dr Bhattacharjea is currently Chair of the network.