Let's Unfold with Pratham

The fashion industry is broken and needs to change. Meet step one of our road to change, Pratham. Part of our mission to make shopping for clothes better is to make sure each time someone shops with us, we have a positive impact on another person's life.

The impact? Supporting children's education in India, where our partner factories are based. In a country where half of the children who reach fifth grade are unable to read a second grade text, we knew we wanted to give back to the community. So, for every Edit we sell, we are committed to giving back. You ordered enough Unfolded Edits from Collection 01 to support around 500 children in education for an entire year, amazing right?! We are ready to reach even more children and provide a whole lot more support, all with the help of you choosing to shop with us.

We thought we would Unfold with Pratham this week to give you more insight into the invaluable work they carry out across India, and to find out more about how your Unfolded Edit will be supporting children's education.

Welcome to the blog, Pratham! Thanks for chatting to us. Can you give us a bit of a rundown as to what your overall mission is?

"Pratham's mission is "Every Child in School and Learning Well." Pratham aims to develop low cost, scalable and replicable interventions to help address gaps across the education system.  Our teaching-learning approach, Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) aims to improve foundational numeracy and literacy among children. Under this methodology, children are grouped according to learning level rather than grade. Within these groups, children are given appropriate inputs in the form of activities and materials. 

Given our strong data-driven approaches, we are able to closely track the progress of our interventions. For 20 years, we have worked with 2019 Nobel Economics Laureates Esther Duflo & Abhijit Banerjee of MIT & J-PAL who have evaluated our programs and helped us to test modifications to make it as effective as possible. Approaches that are proven useful in our direct programs are then scaled in partnership with the government.

While Pratham initially focused on primary grades, our programs have also expanded to include early childhood education, women and girls education, upper primary grades and vocational skilling for youth. In recent years, we have also developed innovative digital and technological solutions for addressing learning needs. Our vocational training programs have supported 100,000 young people into the formal economy in 10 years."

 

We know that more than half of India's fifth graders can't read a second grade text. What are they key causes of such low literacy rates in India?

"In India, for a long time, the focus of the education sector was on improving enrolment of children in schools for elementary grades (as Right to Education has been for children of Age 6-14 i.e. Grade 1-8 has been enshrined in the Constitution as a fundamental right). While this helped in improving access to education, it did not ensure quality education focused on foundational skills. Teacher training, teacher attendance, teaching-learning practices, parent-school interactions etc continued to remain limited and focused on completing the prescribed curriculum.

In 2005-06, when we published the first ASER report we helped shift the conversation in the education sector to what was happening inside the classroom. Every other year, through our arms-length ASER Centre, we continue to run one of the world's largest education surveys, the ASER survey. Our experiences in ASER surveys and Pratham programs have helped us identify reasons for low literacy. Lack of quality early childhood education places children at an early disadvantage. Further, the primary grades curriculum is often designed for an average child, thus leaving behind many children who cannot cope with the grade-appropriate curriculum. As children with weak foundational skills graduate to higher grades, they are unable to meet the academic demands of higher grades thus tend to drop out. Hence, Pratham’s TaRL aims to teach children according to level rather than grade along with focusing on foundational numeracy and literacy before children begin transacting the grade-level curriculum."

Would you say the collaborative approach Pratham takes in working with the likes of governments, communities, parents, teachers & volunteers, is a major key aspect in successfully changing the lives of children in India?

"Sustainability is an important part of any Pratham intervention. It is important to engage a variety of stakeholders to ensure that the impact of an intervention lasts beyond the period of the intervention.

Pratham programs have always been focused in the communities, enabling village youth to support foundational learning initiatives, parents to participate in their children’s learning and village leaders to endorse essential learning activities. We have consciously pivoted our scale to not only work in schools but also communities as visible in our flagship intervention Hamara Gaon.

This community-driven approach has helped us reach around 500,000 children each year in India through our direct education programs. Further, when the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading we were able to leverage our community connections to help children continue learning in 20 of India’s 29 states.

Along with communities, Pratham also strongly believes in working with the government to introduce effective teaching and learning practices within the government systems. For this reason, Pratham interventions are low-cost and replicable so that they can be easily scaled in partnership with the government. Partnerships with state governments in India help us reach ~5,000,000 more children on average each year."

 

Like for many children across the world, lockdowns have meant long-term school closures. Has the challenges of COVID-19 meant there has been a change of focus in the support Pratham has provided to children throughout the pandemic?

"Pratham programs have always focused on strong on-the-ground implementation. However, as the pandemic began spreading our teams lost physical access to the communities. Community connections that were built over the years proved to be extremely useful to help continue teaching and learning activities during COVID-19.

In the immediate aftermath of COVID-19, we mapped children’s access to the internet and non-internet phones so that content could be sent accordingly. We then launched a campaign “Karona: Thodi Masti, Thodi Padhai”, which can be translated as “Do It: a little fun, a little learning.” Under this campaign, a message containing learning activities was sent daily to children, which they conducted with the help of their family members.

A few months into the lockdown, we also began conducting activities in the neighbourhood and village level. Some activities were initiated at the village level such as broadcasting learning activities over a loudspeaker. All these activities were implemented with the help of volunteers who were trained remotely by Pratham teams.

During the pandemic, Pratham’s support to governments also evolved. The remote learning messages and other digital resources were shared with many state governments. Pratham created content for radio and television programs in 2 states each. We also organised training for government officials on remote learning activities. Through these partnerships, we reached children in 14 states.

Most of India's primary schools have not reopened, so these learning activities are now reaching children over 1,000.000 children in 20+ states each week in 11 different regional languages."

Despite your amazing efforts to adapt to the challenges that COVID-19 brought around, will there be a big focus on bringing the children who haven't been able to keep up with their education, back up to speed?

"Yes, particularly as schools have been closed for a whole year. There are groups we are particularly concerned about. We fear that some, particularly older girls might not return and some of the youngest children will go into grade 2 without ever having been in grade 1, and those going into grade 1 will not have been to preschool. School isn't only about language and maths. Social, behavioural, and emotional skills are critical. What we do with young children this year will set the foundations of the future. We are encouraging schools to pay attention to building these skills. We will also have a big push on getting children to re-enrol. We are fortunate that TaRL is the perfect intervention for children who have been out of school, many who had learned the basic skills will have regressed without practice. In 30-50 days we will be able to reestablish these skills, the World Bank has highlighted how important an approach TaRL will be after the pandemic."

 

Can you tell us a little bit about how each This is Unfolded Edit sold is supporting children's education and what age groups our support is focussing on?

"Sure! The This is Unfolded Edits are made in a surrounding area to Delhi, so the first community we will work with is in East Delhi. Much like in villages across India, we are thinking about individual children but also the wider community. As schools in Delhi remain closed we are currently reaching children through remote learning activities. Activities are also being planned and conducted at the neighbourhood and community level. As schools re-open, the focus will be placed on ensuring re-enrolment, minimising drop-outs and improving school readiness. Activities will be conducted using Pratham’s TaRL approach to help children in primary grades improve foundational skills of language and maths. While Pratham teams will begin working within the school as they re-open, activities will continue to be implemented at the community level through the year, and probably beyond that too. Every Edit will fund the work with a child for four months, in what we expect to be a critical year for their education."

 

What will This is Unfolded's support mean for children in India?

"Learning levels for many children in India were already weak before the pandemic and the fall in learning opportunities will have weakened them even further.

Pratham has always stressed the importance of foundational skills. India’s 2020 National Education Policy has recognised them and also lots of other approaches that Pratham has always focused on, like community-based learning and involvement of volunteers to increase community participation in foundational learning initiatives. It is amazing that everyone is now united in our approach to education and so your support only helps push this on further and given the challenges to education in the last year This is Unfolded could not have come at a better time because even if we know what we want to do the only way we can reach more children is to find more supporters."

You can read more about the invaluable work Pratham carry out here and if you would like to donate to support education in India, you can find out more here.