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HP Foundation grants $1.22 mn to Poverty Action Lab in Chennai

The foundation grants $1.22 mn to the J-PAL South Asia for its efforts in evaluating the effectiveness of a large-scale reading programme in some districts of Bihar and Maharashtra, reports Shalini Kathuria Narang.

india Updated: Jan 08, 2008 16:04 IST
Shalini Kathuria Narang
Shalini Kathuria Narang

The Hewlard Packard Foundation granted $1.22 million to the Poverty Action Lab known as Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action lab (J-PAL) South Asia, an academic centre in Chennai for its efforts in evaluating the effectiveness of a large-scale reading programme in some districts of Bihar and Maharashtra. The project involves assessment of alternative approaches to scale up NGO Pratham's Read India initiative. Previous work by J-PAL and Pratham had proved the effectiveness of the pedagogical methods used in the Read India initiative.

The Read India initiative, led by Pratham in collaboration with the state governments of India, is a phased programs that focuses on four major components introducing "learning to read" activities in all schools, creating and supplying reading and learning materials to teachers, involving mothers in their children's learning, and mobilizing youth groups in helping teachers, children, and parents. The aim of the program is to help ensure that children between the ages of 6 and 14 achieve basic mastery in these skills by the end of 2009.

Earlier in the year while granting Pratham 9 million dollars for its Read India program, the foundation had also decided to fund a rigorous evaluation of the program. "We are very excited about the recent grant from the Hewlett Foundation to evaluate Pratham's Read India program. The grant from the HP Foundation is specifically for this project," said J-PAL Director Abhijit Banerjee.

The project involves evaluation of causal impacts of alternative ways of delivering Pratham's two reading programs, Learning to Read (L2R) and Reading to Learn (R2L) that will be integrated into the rollout of the Read India initiative. The evaluation planned around the second and third school years of the Read India program in 2008/09 and 2009/10 will be aligned with the school year, including time to prepare and assessment of interim results. The remainder of the 2007/08 school year is for preparation and piloting. The work will provide a rigorous evaluation influencing the evolving strategy of Pratham and potentially other actors in the education sector.

In the first year, the center will assess two districts in the states of Bihar and Maharashtra and in the second year, the program will expand to two additional districts in two additional states. The two methods being assessed are volunteer run programs or teacher run initiatives and secondly for the teaching option, to find out the impact of providing the learning to read materials, compared with combining provision of materials with tailored teacher training and monitoring. The project also aims to evaluate usefulness of the volunteer program complementing the school-based program; either as a form of remedial education for kids attending school, or to reach out-of-school kids and do outcomes depends on the capacity of the State government and pre-existing schooling and socio-economic conditions.

The Poverty Action lab in South Asia is a field office of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Based J-PAL that serves as a focal point for development and poverty research based on randomized trials, long the gold standard in scientific testing. The objective of the center is to improve the effectiveness of poverty programs by providing policy makers with clear scientific results that help shape successful policies to combat poverty. The organization working on diverse issues such as boosting girls' attendance at schools, improving the output of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, racial bias in employment in the US, and the role of women political leaders in India was started in June 2003 by Professors Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Sendhil Mullainathan. It was renamed in honor of alumni Abdul Latif Jameel in October 2005. J-PAL works with NGOs, international organizations, and others to evaluate programs and disseminate the results of high quality research.

J-PAL South Asia's mission is to translate research into policy action through dissemination and dialogue with local partners. Based at the Institute for Financial Management and Research, in Chennai, J-PAL South Asia established in July this year due to the growth of J-PAL partnerships throughout South Asia.

"India is at a time of great historical importance, where the future of the country depends on its ability to succeed in bringing the poor along with the rich as its economy continues to grow at astounding rates. India was a natural choice for our first field office as it has encouraged researchers to critically assess what is effective in reducing poverty and how to ensure that all Indians benefit from economic growth," said J-PAL Director Abhijit Banerjee.