Pratham - 2010 review

We have published a more recent review of this organization. See our most recent report on Pratham.

Published: 2010

What do they do?

Pratham is a large, India-based organization that runs a wide variety of programs aiming to improve education for children in India, including:

  • Reading skills programs1
  • Pre-school classes2
  • Supplemental education for school-age children3
  • Libraries4
  • Tutoring for merit scholarship exams5

For more on this cause, see our overview of developing-world education programs.


Pratham is a standout for its commitment to transparency and rigorous monitoring and evaluation, which appear particularly rare within the area of developing-world education. Pratham has partnered with the Poverty Action Lab at MIT (J-PAL) to evaluate several of its programs. These include its:

  • Balsakhi remedial tutoring in Vadodara and Mumbai, India:6 The evaluation found statistically significant improvements in tests scores among children in schools that received tutors, and found that most of this improvement was due to gains by students who received the tutoring (as opposed to gains students who remained in the classroom due to smaller class sizes, for example).7 Improvements did not persist for schools that had received tutors in the year or two following the program. Gains for the worst-performing students were still statistically significant one year after the program, though at a considerably lower level than they were immediately following the program.8
  • Computer-assisted learning:9 The evaluation found statistically significant improvements in test scores for math (which was taught by the program). The evaluation did not find effects on test scores for language (which was not taught by the program).10 In year or two following the program, gains for all but the worst-performing students faded out entirely, while gains to the bottom third faded considerably but remained statistically significant.11
  • Preschool iron and vitamin A supplementation and deworming program:12 The evaluation found that absenteeism decreased by a fifth in schools receiving the intervention, and that this change was statistically significant.13 The evaluation also found statistically significant increases in weight-for-height and weight-for age.14 It did not find significant changes in hemoglobin levels or worm infection rates.15
  • Raising awareness and local participation in education:16 The evaluation found no effect on local participation in education or learning among children, with the exception of an intervention the trained volunteers to hold reading camps.17 The reading camp intervention resulted in statistically significant gains in reading levels.18

In addition, J-PAL is currently evaluating Pratham's Read India program.19

Dr. Madhav Chavan, Pratham co-founder and Director of Programs, told us (in a phone conversation) that a significant portion of Pratham's programming is devoted to programs that have not been rigorously evaluated (or are modified versions of evaluated programs.)20

Therefore, despite the commendable and relatively large number of impact evaluations Pratham has conducted, we are not confident in Pratham's overall impact. Nevertheless, for donors interested in the cause of developing-world education, we have found no organization stronger than Pratham.


  • 1

    Pratham, "Read India."

  • 2

    Pratham, "Balwadi - Providing Pre-school Education."

  • 3

    Pratham, "Learning Support Classes."

  • 4

    Pratham, "Library."

  • 5

    Pratham, "Scholarship Program."

  • 6

    Poverty Action Lab, "Balsakhi Remedial Tutoring in Vadodara and Mumbai, India."

  • 7

    "Evaluations conducted in two cities over two years suggest that both are effective programs: the test scores of children whose schools benefited from the remedial education program improved by 0.14 standard deviations in the first year, and 0.28 in the second year. We also estimate that children who were directly affected by this program improved their test scores by 0.6 standard deviations in the second year, while children remaining in the regular classroom did not benefit." Banerjee et al. 2007, Pg 19. See Pg 31, Table III for details.

  • 8

    "The size of the effects falls substantially and indeed, for the balsakhi program, the average effect becomes insignificant. However, the effect for the bottom third of the children, who were most likely to have spent time with the balsakhi and for whom the effect was initially the largest, remains significant, and is around 0.10 standard deviations both for math and language....It is not quite clear how these results should be interpreted. On the one hand, the fact that, one year after both programs, those who benefited the most from them are still 0.10 standard deviations ahead of those who did not, is encouraging. They may have learnt something that has a lasting impact on their knowledge. On the other hand, the rate of decay over these two years is rapid: if the decay continued at this rate, the intervention would very soon have had no lasting impact." Banerjee et al. 2007, Pg 14. See Pg 33, Table V for details.

  • 9

    Poverty Action Lab, "Computer-Assisted Learning Project with Pratham in India."

  • 10

    "The CAL program has a strong effect on math scores (0.35 standard deviations in the first year (year 2), and 0.47 standard deviations in the second year (year 3). It has no discernible impact on language scores (the point estimates are always very close to zero). This is not surprising, since the software targeted exclusively math skills, although some spillover effects on language skills could have occurred." Banerjee et al. 2007, Pg 12. See Pg 32, Table IV for details.

  • 11

    "For the CAL program, the effect on math also falls (to about 0.09 standard deviation for the whole sample), but is still significant, on average and for the bottom third." Banerjee et al. 2007, Pgs 14-15. See Pg 33, Table V for details.

  • 12

    Poverty Action Lab, "Balwadi Deworming in India."

  • 13

    "The program is associated with a large and statistically significant improvement in pre-school participation during year one, at 5.8% percentage points (Table 6, regression 1). Given average school participation rates of approximately 70 percent, this constitutes a reduction in pre-school absenteeism of roughly one-fifth." Bobonis, Miguel, and Sharma 2004, Pg 19.

  • 14

    "The program led to large gains in child nutritional status in the first five months of the intervention. THere are improvements in child weight-for-height and weight-for-age Z-scores of 0.52 and 0.31, respectively (Table 4, regressions 1 and 2), and both effects are statistically significant. These increases are equivalent to an average weight gain of 0.5 kg, or 1.1 lbs (regression 3), and to a substantional increase in body mass index (regression 4). There are no average gains in child height-for-age (regression 5), but this pattern makes sense from a clinical standpoint." Bobonis, Miguel, and Sharma 2004, Pg 17.

  • 15

    "The hemoglobin results are weaker than the anthropometric findings: although treatment (Group 1) pupils show somewhat higher hemoglobin levels than comparison pupils in the October 2002 survey - a gain of roughly 0.1 g/dL - the difference is not statistically significant (Table 4, column 6)...Time lags may also in part account for the lack of statistically significant reductions in helminth infection rates by October 2002 (deworming had taken plan in March 2002 - results not shown)." Bobonis, Miguel, and Sharma 2004, Pg 18.

  • 16

    Poverty Action Lab, "Can Informational Campaigns Raise Awareness and Local Participation in Primary Education in India?"

  • 17

    "The results from the study show sharply divergent results. Participation in all forms of large group control, both direct and indirect, did not change under any of the interventions. The first two interventions also had no effect on any form of small group control including any form of volunteering by villagers. As one may have expected, in these two groups, there was no impact on learning. In contrast, in treatment 3 villages there was quite remarkable community participation in response to the offer of being trained in a teaching tool, something that gave the volunteers (presumably with the support of some parents) a large measure of direct control over educational outcomes for a group of village children. More than 400 community members volunteered to take up the tool, and held reading camps in which almost 7,500 children enrolled. These camps were remarkably effective in teaching illiterate children to begin to read." Banerjee et al. 2009, Pg 22.

  • 18

    "In contrast, the third intervention (which had the reading camps) had a very large impact. Column 5 in panel A of Table 6 displays the learning results of intervention 3. Overall, children in the villages that received intervention 3 are 1.7 percent more likely to read at least letters (significant at the 5 percent level). They are 1.8 percent more likely to read words or paragraphs (significant at the 5 percent level), and 1.7 percent more likely to read stories (significant at the 10 percent level)." Banerjee et al. 2009, Pg 20.

  • 19

    Poverty Action Lab, "Read India: Helping Primary School Students in India Acquire Basic Reading and Math Skills."

  • 20

    Madhav Chavan, phone conversation with GiveWell, May 8, 2009.