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Can Information Campaigns Raise Awareness and Local Participation in Primary Education?

A central plank of public policy for improving primary education services in India is the participation of village education committees, consisting of village government leaders, parents, and teachers. This paper reports the findings from a survey in a rural district in Uttar Pradesh. Rural households, parents, teachers and VEC members were surveyed on the status of education services and the extent of community participation in the public delivery of education services. Most parents do not know that a VEC exists, public participation in improving education is negligible, and large numbers of children in the villages have not acquired basic competencies of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Based on the findings of the baseline survey, this paper also describes a set of information and advocacy campaigns that have been designed to explore whether local participation can increase, and future research plans to evaluate the impact of these interventions.

Can Information Campaigns Raise Awareness and Local Participation in Primary Education?

Apractitioners believes that the participation of local communities in public services is instrumental in achiev

People’s participation at local level Local agency, e g, Village education committee Improved service delivery Improved outcomes

Widespread dissemination in the village community of Information about provisions, resources and mechanisms including VEC roles, responsibilities and capacity to take decisions at local level

People’s participation at local level Local agency: e g, VEC

Improved service delivery

Improved outcomes
Figure 3

Read Level by Age

100 90 80

Can Read

Can read

70

Story

Story

60 50

Word

Word

40 Paragraph
30 Cannot ReadCannot read
20 10 NothingNothing LetterLetter
0 7 8 9 Age 10 11 121314
Figure 4

Writing Level by Age

100

90

Can write sentence

Can write sentence 80

Can write

Can Write

70

60

50

Can write sentence Cannot write sentence

40

30

Cannot Write Cannot write

20

10

0 78 9 10 11 12 13 14 Age

Figure 5

Maths Level by Age

100

90

Can do arithmetic 80

Can Do Arithmetic

Division 70

Division

60

SubtractionSubtraction

50

Cannot Do Arithmetic

Cannot do arithmetic

40

30

Number

Number

Recognitio

Recognition

20

10

Nothing

Nothing

0 78 9 10 11 12 13 14

Age

highest level at which they perform. Table 1 describes the different levels in the assessment tool.

Figures 3, 4 and 5 show the actual learning levels of children. The reading graph clearly shows how the reading levels of children vary by age (Figure 3). For example, in Jaunpur, close to 70 per cent of children at the age of eight cannot read easy paragraphs (at standard 1 level), this number is about 50 per cent by age 10. But even at 12 years of age, there are 30 per cent of children who cannot read sentences. The story is similar for maths and writings (Figures 4 and 5).

There are significant differences in learning outcomes by the type of school especially in the lower grades. Figure 4 suggests

Per cent of Children Per cent of Children Per cent of Children

that close to 60 per cent of children in standard two and five in government schools in Jaunpur cannot read paragraphs or stories. The corresponding figure in the private schools is much lower at 30 per cent. Differences between private school and government school basic learning outcomes continue in higher grades, but the gap is narrower for children in standards six to eight.

The visible differences in learning outcomes in government schools and private schools are generated by a set of interlinked factors that are more difficult to observe. Children who attend private schools are likely to be systematically different from those that are in government schools, both in terms of income and family education background.

Two important points need to be emphasised here: first, children in private primary schools perform much better than children in government primary schools. But the level of learning even in private schools is also low. For example, in private schools, only 50 per cent of children in standard two to five are able to read a story at standard two level of difficulty. This low performance is despite parents who are motivated and schools which do not have teachers who do non-teaching work. Second, the even poorer performance of government school children is a cause for serious concern. Ninety three per cent of children, even in a district like Jaunpur are enrolled in school. Now the real challenge is to enable them to learn and to ensure that the school system can guarantee learning. Perceived levels of learning: The survey asked parents, teachers and VEC members, in their opinion, what proportion of children in the village are able to read, write, and do simple arithmetic. For example, different people (villagers, headmaster, VEC members) were shown the subtraction problem and asked “out of 10 children in your village how many children can do this?” Figure 7 illustrates the differences between adults’ perceptions and actual performance of children. Surveyed villagers and the

Table 1: Different Levels in the Assessment Tool

Level Level Title Level Description

Reading levels

4 Story Can read one page story (at standard two
level of difficulty)
3 Easy Can read a set of four simple sentences
paragraph (at standard one level)
But cannot fluently read one page story
2 Words Can read simple words
But cannot read paragraph easily
1 Letters Can recognise letters
But cannot read words
0 Nothing Cannot even recognise letters
Writing levels
1 Can write Can correctly write a simple dictated sentence
(four to five words in the sentence).
0 Cannot write Cannot correctly write a dictated sentence
Maths levels
3 Division Can do division numerical problem
(three digit by one digit)
2 Subtraction Can do subtraction numerical problem
(two digits with borrowing), but cannot correctly
do simple division problems (like those
described above)
1 Number recognition Can recognise numbers (1-100) but cannot do
subtraction problems (like that described above)
0 Nothing Cannot recognise numbers (1-100)

Economic and Political Weekly April 14, 2007

100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Govt Private

1037 1965 560 949 1217 1037
455 293 692 1346 109109

Standards two to five

100 90 80 70 60 50

40

30

20

10

0

42 58

Type of School

37 63

222 143 427 1482
Story

  • 1476
    Paragraph
  • Word
  • 128 86 297
    Letter
  • Nothing 39 18

    Govt Private Standards six to eight

    39 61
    62 38

    100

    90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0

    27 34 19 20 27
    4 15 31 51 4
    6 25 69
    87

    11
    2

    1

    0

    1.5 1.1 5.0 7.692.492.4
    Economic and Political WeeklyApril 14, 20071370of primary schooling at the village level? Will knowing moreabout the VECs and their role in helping schools improve, helpin increasing local participation and decision-making?To what extent should we focus on a slightly different angle,namely, making villagers more aware of the inadequacy of whatthe schools are doing? While the average villager and teacheris broadly aware of the low levels of learning in the schools,as noted above, this is less true of parents of low-performingchildren. If these parents had a better sense of their children’scurrent status would they become more active in seeking solutionsfor improvement?Overall, can information and advocacy make a difference ina setting where there is nominal decentralisation of decision-making but where schools are functioning poorly.Looking for AnswersIn this section we describe an ongoing study that seeks toaddress these questions using a randomised experimental designapproach. Through an extensive field experimentation during theearly months of 2005, Pratham has identified three kinds ofcampaigns, in ascending order of intensity: each campaign hasdifferent components of information dissemination and advocacyembedded in it. Three sets of villages were randomly selectedto be “treatment villages” for implementation of these interven-tions. In a fourth set of villages, nothing was done; these villagesserved as the “control” group. The three interventions wererandomly assigned to 280 villages spread across the four ruralblocks are presented in Figure 10.Relatively speaking, the first campaign or intervention is themost basic one. It seeks to create a platform in the village forinformation sharing, dissemination and discussions around schooleducation. The actual sources of information are key people ofthe village community (such as the school teacher, headmasteror the pradhan). Between these key people, they should have allthe information that is needed to inform the village communityabout primary education or, at least, have an access to peoplein the district who have that information. The platform (or theinformation dissemination mechanism) is created via a numberof small group meetings held in the different neighbourhoods,followed by one village level meeting organised and facilitatedby Pratham members, where all key people and members of thevillage community are present. In these meetings, villagers askand receive basic information about provisions, resources,decision-making mechanisms and the role of the VECs infacilitating decisions.We can describe this first intervention as addressing the actualknowledge gap in the village about primary education. The gapis not only knowledge about provisions, resources and decision-making at the local level, but also about how to share the existinginformation that is already available.Through experimentation in the field, Pratham found that thecommunication of even this simple information requires carefulthought and design, if there is to be any reasonable hope of suchinformation actually being retained and used by people whendeciding what actions to be taken. Accumulated experiences fromthe villages during the pilot phase demonstrated that it was quitedifficult to get people to agree to participate in the villagemeetings around education without an adequate preparation. Toensure reasonable attendance in a village level meeting, smallermeetings and discussions in small groups had to be carried outhamlet-by-hamlet prior to the big village level meeting. Althoughwe considered a simpler approach to information dissemination– simply putting-up posters in the village – we rejected this ideabecause we found during field tests that few paid attention totheseposters. Often, the posters had disappeared within a couple ofdays. High illiteracy also meant that many people were unabletoread what was written. We also discarded any model of “out-siders” coming and giving speeches to “inform” the villagers,because it appeared that few would likely retain this informationfor any reasonable period of time, or actually use it to changetheir actions. In fact, if agents from outside the village too tookanactive role in the village meetings, the tone of the meetingsinvariably moved to urging outside engagement in the villageandexpressions of reliance on outside agents to “improve the village”.Faced with this situation, Pratham teams worked only to befacilitators of internal village discussion. In this spirit, the in-tervention teams approached individuals in the village by raisingquestions, rather than providing facts – do you know about thestatus of education in your village? Do you think children arelearning? What issues about education concern you the most?Will you come to a village-wide meeting to get more informationabout the status of education in your village from other peopleinyour village? Every effort was made to have the gram pradhanandschool headteacher attend the village meeting. At the meeting,theintervention teams tried to facilitate discussion in such a waythatit was the local key actors of the village (the gram pradhan andschool teachers) that provided both general information abouttheprovisions and resources available at the village level as wellasvillage-specific information on the existence of VECs, its member-ship, what resources it receives, and the different roles it canplay.This field experience underscores the conclusions ofnewresearch on the psychological underpinnings of socialcommunication,which indicates that getting information to havethe desired impact on actual outcomes is a particularly difficultmechanism design problem.2Table 5: Are VEC Members Aware of the Institutions of Education?Per Cent of VEC Members WhoKnow They Are Members of VECAre Aware of the Existence of the SSA*Are Aware of SSA Funds Provided to the Schools*KnowDon’t KnowAwareNot AwareAwareNot AwareHeadmasters95.84.299.50.595.84.2Other VEC members77.322.732.467.626.473.6* Of those who are aware of their position on the VEC.Figure 10: InterventionsIntervention 1:Intervention 2:Intervention 3:Intervention 4:Creating aNo Actionplatform forinformationdissemination[1] + creatingvillagereport cardson children’slearning withlocalparticipation[2] + villagevolunteerbased actionon improvingreading
    Economic and Political WeeklyApril 14, 20071371The second intervention had an additional component focusedon children’s learning outcomes. The baseline survey clearlyindicated that a large percentage of children currently enrolledin school were unable to read simple text or do basic arithmeticoperations. The poor levels of learning implied that children could“graduate” from the primary school virtually illiterate. Theawareness of the depth and scale of this “learning crisis” variedacross different constituents of the village community and localcollective action to improve the situation was lacking.The second intervention was developed in response to two ofthe important findings of the baseline survey and in reaction toobservations of people’s discussions in village meetings in thepilot phase:(1)The baseline survey indicated that parents of children whowere poor academic performers were less aware of their ownchildren’s level of learning.(2)During field experimentation we found that people rarelyfocused on the issue of children’s learning. The most frequentlyraised issue and the issue around which there was the mostanimated discussion was scholarships. The Uttar Pradesh gov-ernment has a scholarship programme intended to provide cashassistance to students from “backward” castes. Parents com-plained that they were not getting these scholarships, whilstteachers responded that many were not getting it because theywere not satisfying other eligibility criteria of having a child ofschool age regularly attending school. Teachers complained thatparents inappropriately enrol under-age children, who cannot anddo not attend school, just to lay claim to the scholarships. Thesecond issue that attracted attention was the new government mid-day meal programme. Actual learning levels attracted the leastattention, and the facilitators had a difficult time steering theconversation away from scholarships and school meals to thebroader issue of learning.In the second intervention, hamlet-by-hamlet, the interventionteam invited local inhabitants to participate in collecting infor-mation on the enrolment and learning status of children in theirhamlet. The simple assessment tasks were demonstrated by theintervention team to people in each hamlet and people wereencouraged to try their hand at testing their own children as wellas other children in their neighbourhood. Local participants ineach hamlet who helped create their portion of the “village reportcard” were encouraged to speak at the village meetings andpresent their findings and experiences. We actively explored thequestion of whether actual one-on-one interactions through taskswith children that you know, can help to mobilise communitiesto take action for improving these learning outcomes. Will thelocal participation in gathering information actually lead to action?Our experiences in the villages during the pilot phase suggestedthat introducing assessment tools in the community generateda healthy level of curiosity among villagers. Typically this is whathappened: the intervention team initiated a general discussionon education with people in a hamlet. As the discussion pro-gressed, a few of the team members stepped aside and beganasking children who had collected around the meeting to read.Quickly, the attention of the adults shifted to the children andto their attempts to read. Mothers would begin to push forwardtheir children to see if they could read; when children couldn’tread, a palpable sense of collective agitation and concern wouldgrow, and questions would begin to surface. At this point, theintervention team would invite literate and interested adults toparticipate in interacting with children to see for themselves whocould read or do arithmetic and where children were getting stuck.Immediately, debates about other general issues like scholarshipsor midday meals evaporated and a more focused discussionaround learning outcomes ensued. It was almost as if specificand meaningful activity was needed at the time of the discussionto focus attention on issues that were important but had not cometo fore earlier.Our experiments in designing interventions 1 and 2 all facedthe issue of people turning around and asking the “outsiders”what they should do to improve education outcomes. In its ownprogrammes elsewhere, Pratham has been using an acceleratedreading technique, which is simple to learn and implement. Usingthis technique, literate adults can be trained to facilitate childrento read. In a period of two-three months, working an hour ortwo a day, children can begin to read simple text fluently.The third, and the most intensive intervention, therefore in-cludes the introduction of this technique to the village, andTable 6: Summary of Intervention DesignIntervention 1:Intervention 2:Intervention 3:Creating a platform for information[1] + creating village report cards on[2] + village volunteer based action ondisseminationchildren’s learning with local participationimproving readingInformationPlatform for discussion and informationSame as [1] + generation of localSame as [2] + demonstration and trainingrelated issuessharing of available general and villageinformation with local participationto village volunteers who want to take action tospecific information on education provisions,improve reading outcomesresources and VECsMode ofFacilitation of hamlet-level small group meetingsSame as [1] + interaction of local peopleSame as [2] + demonstrations by interventioninformationand one village-level large group meeting towith children to assess their reading,team of how accelerated learning can taketransmissiondiscuss education issues and where localwriting and arithmetic levels andplace via “demo classes”, training sessionsagents can share information with the villagediscussion of these findings in smalland on-going monitoring of volunteer basedgroup and big group meetingsclasses. Encouragement of villagecommunity to see progress of children inthese classesAdvocacyCampaign urging people to come together as a village to discuss problems in education and explore what they can do about itelementsUse of the assessment exercise “village report cards” on learning to involve people, mobilisepeople; encouraging focus on learning outcomesInvitation to volunteers to make their villagea “reading village”ImmediateLocal participation in education servicesDirect improvement in learning outcomesgoal
    m

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