India has one of the largest education systems catering to almost 25 crore children. Despite the scope and expanse of interventions, the issue of low learning levels persists. Only 21% of children from grade 3 can read grade 2 text and 26% of children from grade 3 can do basic subtraction.
As learners progress, they carry this lack further which is evident from the data of learners from grade 5. These trends in Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) levels have been fairly similar over the past decade. The occurrence of COVID-19 further impacted the trajectory leading to a learning crisis where India’s learning poverty shot from 54% to 70%. The World Bank defines ‘learning poverty’ as the inability of children to attain minimum reading proficiency, and correlates this with the proportion of children who are out of school.
Several factors inside and outside the classroom have led to this situation. Factors inside classrooms are related to students or teachers and include aspects like an already existing learning deficit, multi-level/multi-grade classrooms, and the teachers’ capacity to deal with these challenges. Factors outside the classroom entail governance by the administrative infrastructure and low parent participation in the child’s learning.
Across the research conducted so far, it is observed that considerable efforts and investments have been made in dealing with student factors or teacher-related issues through classroom interventions. Additionally, governance has also been a key focus area of work owing to multiple studies on monitoring and accountability. One aspect, however, that needs special attention is parent engagement in a child’s education.
Studies conducted globally and nationally indicate that focused interventions on parent and community engagement have the potential to influence student learning outcomes. Various studies have proven the role of parents in students’ life on aspects like high levels of school readiness, higher grades, and hence, a continuation of schooling. In the context of early literacy, significant research by the Harvard Family Research project indicates that parent involvement in schools had a positive impact on the early literacy scores of children.
In the Indian context, a randomised field experiment by the American Economic Association highlighted the impact of training mothers in early maths and literacy modules on high maths scores in children.
Along with research, the narratives from National Education Policy (NEP) and Nipun Bharat directives have highlighted parent engagement as one of the key factors for the achievement of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) outcomes. Parent engagement entails the roles that parents play across various spheres of the child’s life such as classroom, school, community, and home, hence involvement across these areas is critical.
While the significance of parent and community engagement is well-established, certain individual challenges related to the parents’ background and other challenges rooted in systemic dysfunctions impede them from participating. These challenges include low confidence levels in parents, lack of resources, low literacy levels, lack of infrastructure support, paucity of data, and low levels of funding.
In order to deal with these challenges and pave the way forward to ensure parent involvement in schools and community interventions, current successful scalable solutions are focusing on three kinds of outcomes: instilling confidence in parents by creating safe and respectful spaces for sharing and learning, increasing awareness about the issue at hand and helping them impact change by actually participating in at-home activities.
This report details some scalable solutions across these three categories. For example, Pratham Education Foundation’s work with Mothers’ groups across fourteen states, Saajha’s initiative for creating parental networks reaching out to one lakh parents, and Key Education Foundation’s Children Learning, Assisted by Parents (CLAP) project. A detailed analysis of these is mentioned in the subsequent sections.
Further investments in these trends by providing patient capital would help actualise the universal accomplishment of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy.
Authors: Sukhada Ghosalkar and Sreelakshmi S