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Every year, hundreds of thousands of volunteers in South Asia and East Africa walk many miles crossing rivers, mountains, deserts and farmlands to do something amazing: reach remote rural communities to assess whether children can read or do simple maths. Collectively known as Citizen-led Assessments (CLA), every year they show that most children are going to school but less than half of them can read or write at grade level. However, in spite of these universally damning reports, policy change to improve children’s learning has been painfully slow. So the NGO Pratham that started this movement is turning its army of volunteer data collectors into change agents to mobilize entire communities and raise awareness about the learning crisis across India.
Low-cost private schools are popping up rapidly in many parts of the developing world, especially India where even in rural areas 28% of students attend private schools. Should governments be supporting these schools as a cheap way to boost learning for the poor? Or is privatization reducing equity and undermining public institutions? A year ago I participated in a somewhat heated online debate on this topic, see here and here.