Active Stocks
Fri Sep 22 2023 15:58:38
  1. Tata Steel share price
  2. 126.7 -0.86%
  1. HDFC Bank share price
  2. 1,529.2 -1.57%
  1. State Bank Of India share price
  2. 598.1 1.67%
  1. Power Grid Corporation Of India share price
  2. 199.1 -1.34%
  1. Tata Motors share price
  2. 621.1 -0.93%
Business News/ Opinion / Views/  Nationwide summer campaigns can plug school education gaps

While India has a very high school-enrolment rate—more than 98% in 2022, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER,—the basic learning levels of children have remained worryingly low for over a decade. These levels have slipped further due to pandemic school closures.

The year 2022-23 has been the first after the pandemic when schools in India were able to stay open continuously. No doubt, some learning recovery has taken place in this period. In addition, during the last school year, in state after state, governmental efforts to translate the New Education Policy 2020 into practice have been visible, particularly for children in Grades 1, 2 and 3. But as Viral Acharya, one of the two authors of this piece, suggested while writing ( in this newspaper two months ago: “[T]he large primary education gaps created in children’s learning during the pandemic need to be decisively addressed. One option is to deliver a grade-by-grade national curriculum for a 30-day remedial summer programme and another enriched 30-day start-of-the-year boot camp for reinforcement. ASER-style surveys could be conducted at pre-summer, end-of-summer and exit-of-boot-camp stages to assess success and identify remaining gaps to help plan further remedial action."

Graphic: Mint
View Full Image
Graphic: Mint

Can such suggestions be actually implemented? And if so, what can be learnt from that experience? A recent endeavour of Pratham Education Foundation provides some important insights and signs of significant promise.

Although Pratham works in many states, a special “catch up" effort was mounted in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh during this year’s summer holidays. The focus was on helping close learning gaps for children transitioning from primary to middle school. All India figures from the latest ASER 2022 ( report show that only 43% of children in Grade 5 could read simple text fluently and about 50% were still struggling with simple two-digit subtraction with borrowing.

A call for help was put out for youth volunteers in schools and colleges to give an hour or two daily for a month to help Grade 5 children acquire basic reading and math skills as they moved into Grade 6. This campaign, called “CAMaL ka Camp" (, CAMaL being an acronym for Combined Activities for Maximized Learning that translates to ‘amazing’ in Hindi), used Pratham’s well-known, low-cost and high-impact “teaching-at-the-right-level" (TaRL) approach.

This teaching-learning methodology developed in India for Indian conditions is now globally recognized as an effective way to deal with such a learning crisis. TaRL has been evaluated rigorously and has received the highest ratings in a report, Smart Buys: Cost Effective Ways to Improve Global Learning ( recently released by the World Bank, Unicef and others.

From the outset, it was clear that time devoted by CAMaL ka CAMP volunteers would not be compensated with payment. Instead, they would receive “education for education"—an opportunity to learn new things. To participate, volunteers had to practise basic digital skills (uploading data, downloading content, attending zoom calls for training, sending audio or video clips), and learn a simple WhatsApp-based first-aid course.

The response was overwhelming. Across the three states, more than 300,000 youth volunteers joined the campaign. For example, in Bihar not only have these volunteers come from high schools and colleges, but also from the rural livelihoods mission (Jeevika) and from various other youth programmes (like the Bihar Skill Development Mission and Kushal Yuva scheme). State governments and district administrations, including education and skilling departments, also provided valuable support.

A major feature of the summer camp was the ‘Kahani train’, a series of audio stories. An audio story was sent by WhatsApp daily to the volunteer conducting the camp. Children listened to the story and discussed it. There were fun vocabulary exercises (such as ‘Make your own dictionary’) and word games. For strengthening arithmetic skills, there was a math problem to solve each day.

With June coming to an end, schools are beginning to open. While it is clear that over 3 million school children reached in these three states in over 137,500 villages or communities have benefitted, data will give an indication of the actual impact of such a community campaign on reading and arithmetic skills. Children were tested at the inception of the programme, but data from the end-line assessment of children is still coming in.

What is equally interesting is why such a large number of young people joined the campaign. Conversations with volunteers in different districts have common elements. As alumni of the local school, volunteers were happy to “give back" when requested to help current younger students. But more often than not, youth saw this as an opportunity to build skills, gain confidence and receive recognition from their community. Most of the volunteers were young women; often this was an activity that they were doing outside their homes.

Summer vacations offer ample opportunity to achieve this on a repeated basis. Indian youth have free time and children need learning support. Pratham’s experience holds out the promise that youth potential can be leveraged for productive purposes, both for individual growth and social impact. Delivered at only 8 per child, the programme could be scaled up to the national level.

This is a salient example of how we can deploy India’s demographic advantage to pay more attention to our children and youth, and realize the demographic dividend fully over time. More broadly, we are confident the education-services sector can play an important role in responding to three major macro demographic trends that India needs to reverse: low learning levels of children, lack of productive pathways for youth, and low female labour force participation.

Viral v. Acharya & Rukmini Banerji are, respectively, professor of finance at New York University Stern School of Business and former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India; and chief executive officer of Pratham Education Foundation.

"Exciting news! Mint is now on WhatsApp Channels 🚀 Subscribe today by clicking the link and stay updated with the latest financial insights!" Click here!

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
More Less
Updated: 26 Jun 2023, 11:55 PM IST
Next Story
Recommended For You
Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App