Dr Rukmini Banerji

CEO, Pratham Education Foundation

Prize

Yidan Prize for Education Development

Year

2021

Expertise

Equality in education; Literacy for all; Policy and research; Education and society; Monitoring, evaluation and assessment; Building partnerships

Focus by region

Africa, Asia

“Every child in school and learning well”

Dr Rukmini Banerji has dedicated her professional life to understanding gaps in education and working to close them. Trained as an economist in India, UK, and USA, she joined Indian NGO Pratham Education Foundation in 1996, supporting Pratham’s education programs and large-scale partnerships with governments. In 2015, after a decade of leading the organization’s research and assessment work, she became Pratham’s CEO.

In 2005, Dr Banerji and her team pioneered the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) effort. ASER is an annual household-based, citizen-led survey of unprecedented scale, assessing 600,000 children in practically all rural districts in India over 100 days. The report’s findings show that despite spending several years in school, a significant proportion of children are still struggling to read or do basic arithmetic. Since ASER results were published in 2005, 15 countries in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America including Kenya, Mexico, and Pakistan have launched similar assessments by citizen groups.

In terms of solutions to the learning crisis, over the year, Dr Banerji’s organization—Pratham—has partnered with more than half of India’s state governments to roll out the ‘Teaching at the Right Level’ (TaRL) program. Using the TaRL approach, teachers assess and group children by learning level, not grade, and use activities and materials to help children progress from their current level, to fluency and reading with understanding. Similar foundational goals are also set in maths. While individual schools or communities can adopt TaRL, Dr Banerji emphasizes that large-scale government partnerships hold the potential to bring about large-scale change in learning levels. TaRL is now spreading beyond India, with schools and systems across South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa all adapting and adopting the program.

Pratham also works in the early childhood education areas, with interventions specifically designed to help children aged 3 to 6 develop essential skills and prepare for school.

In 2008, the Government of Bihar, India, awarded Dr Banerji the inaugural Maulana Abul Kalam Shiksha Puraskar. She was the first recipient of this award which recognizes outstanding contributions to education in the state.

 

"Dr Rukmini Banerji and the Pratham team have a clear mission: ‘Every child in school and learning well’. A reminder that we need to focus on education quality and not just school enrolments. The solutions that they have deployed towards this goal have proven to be cost-effective and scalable with a demonstrated potential to impact globally—disruptive education innovation with transformative results.”
Citation

Ms Dorothy K. Gordon

Head, Judging Panel, Yidan Prize for Education Development

Disruptive Education Innovation

Congratulations, Dr Rukmini Banerji and the entire team at Pratham Education Foundation.

Dr Rukmini Banerji, is the 2021 Yidan Prize for Education Development Laureate. She leads a team at Pratham Education Foundation in India, with a clear mission: “Every child in school and learning well”. A reminder that we need to focus on education quality as well as school enrolments. The solutions that Pratham has developed and deployed towards this goal have proven to be cost-effective and scalable with a demonstrated potential to impact globally—disruptive education innovation with transformative results.

There is evidence that well over 50 percent of school age children, do not have the basic literacy and math skills that would allow them to benefit from additional years of schooling. Employment also becomes more difficult. This structural inefficiency is one of the most challenging problems in education. It undermines children’s confidence in their potential with long term impacts on their lives. Numbers are higher for children in low-resourced and rural contexts, and the pandemic is expected to widen the gaps. The Global Alliance to Monitor Learning uses the term ‘Learning Poverty’—the inability of a child to read and understand a text by the time they are 10 years old. They use this to assess the extent of the problem. Current estimates are that hundreds of millions more children could suffer from pandemic related learning poverty if remedial action is not taken. Unfortunately, there are major data gaps. For example, there is no learning data for more than half of school age children in sub-Saharan Africa.

Since 2005, Pratham has developed inclusive community-centric techniques to collect reliable and actionable evidence relating to enrolment and basic learning outcomes of children in rural India. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is a learning assessment for elementary schools that now takes place every two years. Conducted as a household survey, it is a massive undertaking involving a network of district-level organizations and tens of thousands of volunteers. It is designed to generate district, state, and national level estimates of children’s schooling status for all children between ages 3-16. The involvement of parents in this exercise revises notions of whose voices count when collecting and analyzing evidence. People who may be illiterate themselves have the opportunity to give feedback on how their children are educated.

The early findings from ASER gave the team at Pratham a better idea of the nature of the problem in India. They then engaged in a deliberate research and testing process to find a solution. The result is ‘Teaching at the Right Level’ (TaRL), which directly addresses the structures that make it difficult for some children to acquire foundational skills. As the team at Pratham explains, the approach works by dividing children (generally in Grade 3 to 5) into groups based on learning needs rather than age or grade; dedicating time to basic skills rather than focusing solely on the curriculum; and regularly assessing student performance, rather than relying only on end-of-year examinations. Application of TaRL in the classroom is an iterative process that incorporates continuous improvements. Deliberate randomized trials also help monitor the actual impact of the tool on teaching and learning. The evidence shows that TaRL consistently improves learning outcomes.

As the adoption of ASER and TaRL spreads globally, credit must go to Dr Banerji’s exceptional managerial and academic research skills. Her conviction and creativity, and that of her team demonstrate the value of constructive questioning and evidence-based decision making. Important lessons and approaches that we must take into account as we reimagine our education systems in a way that will address both old and new challenges.