Pratham was founded in 1994 and has grown to be the largest non-governmental provider of quality education for India’s poorest children.
In 2012-13, over three million primary school age children accessed Pratham’s literacy programmes, funded by donations of just $15 million a year.
Pratham’s first programme, Balwadi, provides pre-school education for three to five year olds from low-income families living in urban areas. Pratham scaled the programme by making Balwadis very simple to implement and by keeping costs very low.
No rent is paid for classroom spaces - classes are run in locations such as temples, outside spaces or teachers’ homes. Balwadi doesn’t rely on certified teachers, but instead recruits and trains people from the community to run the classes.
Teachers are mainly young women, who have a good level of education but would not otherwise be working outside the home. They are attracted to run the Balwadis because they can do so locally and on a part-time basis. Pratham provides training and teaching materials, and monitors the Balwadis’ progress. Teachers charge a small fee for the classes and keep the proceeds as an income.
Pratham has used the Balwadi network as a platform to launch further interventions, such as schemes to support out-of-school children and primary-age children who are falling behind academically.
Evidence has helped Pratham move from pure service delivery to advocacy. In 2005, Pratham launched a nationwide survey of children’s learning levels, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER).
The survey assesses the reading and maths skills of some 600,000 children each year, with the help of about 16,000 unpaid volunteers all over India.
Pratham has used the findings to advocate for change in educational policies and as a springboard to target new and underserved regions - the ASER approach is being adopted and adapted by several other countries in Asia and Africa.
Photo: GPE/Deepa Srikantaiah via Flickr CC