Millions of children in the world are in primary school but have not achieved the minimum benchmarks for learning (basic reading and mathematics). In the aftermath of success in getting more children to attend school, countries have failed to adapt the pedagogy and the curriculum to take into account the influx of children and their characteristics: many of these children are first generation learners whose parents are not in a position to react if their child falls behind. How much a child learns is strongly influenced by family wealth which means that children in public schools and low-cost private schools are learning the least.
With the Balsakhi Program, Pratham, an education NGO in India - rated as a standout charity by GiveWell in 2012 - has demonstrated that specific inputs targeted towards weaker children and addressing unmet needs in schools can be highly effective in improving numeracy and literacy skills.
An instructor (balsakhi or “the child’s friend”), usually a young woman recruited from the local community, worked with children in primary grades who were identified by their teachers as falling behind their peers. The impact of Balsakhi program on overall scores of these children was 0.14 standard deviations overall in the first year, and 0.28 standard deviations in the second year, both very significant. Moreover, the weakest students, who were the primary target of the program, gained the most. Researchers estimate that the entire effect of the program was due to a very large (0.6 standard deviations) improvement in average test scores among the children who were sent for remedial education. This improvement was brought about in an efficient manner at a cost of approximately US$2.25 per child per year. Since 2001, Pratham has scaled the program with the help of the Indian government.