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Making Schools Work: Lessons from an Information Campaign in India

Harry A. Patrinos's picture

My last two blogs, Lessons on School-Based Management from a Randomized Experiment and Empowering Parents to Improve Schooling: Powerful Evidence from Rural Mexico, have focused on empowering parents to help increase accountability in schools. However, too often, decentralization programs are designed without adequately conveying the messages about their purpose to the intended audiences; or, it is done in such a way that the program is rendered useless. 

As argued in Making Schools Work, parents should be aware of their role and the purpose of the decentralization program. In a large randomized trial in three Indian states, Priyanka Pandey, Sangeeta Goyal and Venkatesh Sundararaman, designed and evaluated a community-based campaign that provided information to parents on their oversight roles in school governance and informed them about the education services to which they are entitled. 

The idea was that school outcomes would improve through enhanced monitoring if communities were empowered with such information. The key feature of the campaign was community-wide public meetings that parents, teachers and the school committee were invited to attend. But these meetings were not enough to convey the messages.  According to Pandey, a consultant in the World Bank’s South Asia Human Development Department, strategies are needed for effective information delivery. In fact, the intervention included a campaign which consisted of 14 meetings in every village over a two and half year period. 
The project produced impacts that were significant.

First, schools located in villages that benefited from the information campaign noted higher rates of teacher attendance and engagement in teaching – a  very positive outcome given that initial levels of teacher absenteeism were very high. Second, there were positive learning gains, especially in mathematics achievement. Third, school committees became more active after the information campaign. Focus groups indicated that information helped strengthen community involvement in education—communities discussed the information widely and took-up issues of teaching and learning with schools and committees. However, the impact differed across states; bigger gains were noted in the two lagging states, which had low school outcomes to begin with, while gains were smaller in the third state, which had a much higher starting point.

This project provides important lessons for the Bank – and, indeed, the wider development community. 

First, the evaluation of important and innovative education interventions is possible. Second, as is the case for most schooling interventions—but more so for school-based programs—time is critical to see real impacts on learning. Currently, most impact evaluations provide about a three year period; however, learning gains often need more time to materialize. Therefore, future evaluations should allocate a sufficient period of time to see learning gains. The third and final lesson is that design matters. The provision of information to communities has to be structured, focused, clear and repeated often. In this project, Pandey and her colleagues designed the information campaign with a professional marketing company, thus ensuring a high quality package.

Click here to learn more about this project and about Impact Evaluations in the Education Sector.


Submitted by Nachiket Mor on
Dear Dr. Patrinos, This is exciting news indeed. I am hoping that this news receives wide coverage because the apparent unwillingness of communities to demand more from their schools and teachers on behalf of their children and of politicians seemed to be an intractable problem. I had a few questions for you: 1. I am Chair of CARE India ( and I wonder if you think that this suggests perhaps a new role that Civil Society Organizations like us can play in helping children get the education that they need? 2. I also notice that standardized annual exams do not feature much in the discussion -- don't you see that as a complimentary tool designed to empower parents with precise knowledge about what is happening in their local schools? 3. While the public health sector is severely under-funded relative to the education sector and that, among other things, is an additional impediment it faces, it appears to have many similarities with the public education sector as well. Do you think any of the lessons from this work could carry over to the health sector? My congratulations to you and you colleagues for arriving at this very important result. I am hoping to hear much more about it over the next few months. Sincerely, Nachiket Mor

Dear Nachiket Mor, Thank you very much for your comment. I appreciate you taking the time to read it and comment. On your specific points, I do believe that organizations such as yours have an important role to play in helping empower parents to demand more of public services. In Mexico, I work with a group of businesses and foundations helping to train and empower parents to use public funds to improve their children's school. I would like to hear more about what you do with schools. While cognitive assessments were not mentioned in this blog, I am certainly interested in promoting the use of information for accountability. Without accurate information on how children's learning is progressing, it is difficult for parents or others to know or take action. While it may be true that health could learn from education, I also think that education can learn from health. We are already learning from the health sector in the areas of impact evaluation, observing practice, and the purchaser-provider split. Nevertheless, not enough information sharing between the two sectors takes place, and we could stand to learn more from each other. Your ideas on this area of collaboration are also encouraged. Thank you and pleased stay tuned for more to come. Best regards, Harry Patrinos

Submitted by Kapil Khunt on

Dear Dr. Harry Patrinos, I am really glad to know about this interesting finding which can help improve education in India. As you and Nachiket both are correct in saying that education and health should learn from each other. As a public policy student and having interest on education I see a dire need of such research to be utilized in policy formulation. During my field work of primary schools in rural India, I saw that School Management Committee(SMC) has been formed and meeting as per their schedule but issue of teacher absenteeism, quality of education and learning environment remains open as SMC rarely looks into this matter. The fact of matter is that the members of SMC are not empowered with information. I also do lead an NGO which works in education sector. I am very curious to know if there is any toolkit available which other stakeholders can use and see the impact on community. I would like to conduct a research on this and see how it can be implemented and confined as a policy instruments. I have to read full paper yet. The reading of article may provoke more ideas and discussion. I congratulate you and your team for bringing this finding into public discourse.

Kapil Khunt

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