Feb 06, 2015

J-PAL Leaders Discuss Their Research with Social Sector Programs in India

Indian Express by Harish Damodaran

Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, directors of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) research center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recently spoke at the Idea Exchange about J-PAL’s experiments with social sector projects in India.

Banerjee and Duflo are known for using randomized controlled trials to evaluate the success or failure of government intervention programs. J-PAL, a global research network, has undertaken several such “field experiments” to see how social welfare programs have worked on the ground. Since 2007, J-PAL has conducted a series of programs with Pratham to see if India’s dismal learning outcomes can be improved by teaching children on the basis of their current ability rather than age.

Duflo notes, “Learning is not about enrollment, teacher-student ratio, having latrines in school; it’s about if we are serious about learning. But for the first time, we have a plus side to this. We have been working with Pratham to evaluate programs that can be scaled up, and we are finally confident about two programs.”

Pratham’s learning methods organize kids by their level of learning and can be implemented in two ways: the teacher model (integrating the learning methods into the current school system) and the camp model (using volunteers to teach at learning camps outside of school). Both models have shown progress and are scalable—an important aspect of success in the eyes of J-PAL.

The directors spoke negatively about India’s Right to Education Act, which enacts a complicated form of student evaluation in place of testing and assessment.

Banerjee states, “I think the key role of assessment is in empowering the community. What is not there in the system—and which now becomes impossible to put under the Right to Education—is knowing where the class stands, and you need to know whether or not this teacher is doing their job.”

Read more about the discussion at The Indian Express.