Friday, August 1, 2008

How to get 100 million children in India reading in three years

How do you go from a rural India in 2006 in which:- close to half the children in grade 1 could not recognize numbers or letters- almost half the children in grade 2 could not read a grade 1-level text fluently or do a 2-digit subtraction problem confidently- about half the children in grade 5 could not read a grade 2-level text easily or do a simple division problem
to a situation by 2009 in which:- all grade 1 children know at least the alphabet and numbers- all grade 2 children can read at least simple words and do simple sums- all grades 3-5 children can at least read simple texts fluently and solve arithmetic problems confidently
And do it for a target population of almost a 100 million children?
To find out the answer, I recently took a trip to Meerut District in Uttar Pradesh with Ashish Sharma and Nuzhat Mallik of the education NGO, Pratham. It is a bright, hot August day. As we turn the corner between narrow rows of small, roughly built houses, we are immediately sucked into a symphony of singing and movement. Some 40 children are following the lead of a young man who is calling out the words of a Hindi song about an elephant and acting out its actions. The faces of the children are radiant; the energy is palpable. Not the sort of thing I would associate with government schools. This is Pratham’s Read India campaign at work.

Pratham has launched the campaign Nai Disha (meaning New Directions) and reached 2.1 million children between November 2006 and May 2007 in 20 UP districts. In these districts, Pratham’s random testing showed that grade 1 children who could read nothing had gone down from 59 percent to 18 percent and grade 2 children who could not recognize the numbers from 1 to 20 had gone down from 56 percent to 18 percent.
These are dramatic results, and have been replicated elsewhere, giving Pratham the confidence that they can organize the rapid, large-scale action needed to reach the goals of this initiative. The way Pratham has used outcome measurement to build public opinion on the quality of primary education also gives them confidence. In 2005 Pratham launched a nationwide, volunteer-led, participatory assessment of learning outcomes and produced the first Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER), showing that of the large numbers of rural children in primary schools, almost half were learning practically nothing. This was followed by even a bigger ASER 2006 (covering some 549 rural Indian districts from a possible 587), from which the results above are quoted. Pratham has committed to produce ASER (which means “impact” in Hindi) for 10 years. In the wake of the success since 2001 with getting more kids into school as part of India’s universal primary education program, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, ASER is widely credited along with the work on teacher absenteeism in India in 2003-04 with refocusing the national debate on learning outcomes and quality.
At the heart of Read India is, first, a commitment to work with the government, teachers, the schools, and communities to make sure that kids learn. Pratham strongly believes that creating an articulate demand for quality primary education that results in demonstrated, basic learning is important to reform the system. Second, it uses an accelerated teaching technique piloted in 2002 that can bring about visible changes in the learning levels of children in about three months.
Pratham’s training model equips each volunteer with the ability to transform the learning levels of 15-20 children in a couple of weeks. This vitalizes volunteers and communities to initiate, by themselves, a process of transformation of the education status of their communities, their states, and eventually the nation. Between November 2006 and April 2007 Pratham’s rural teams worked with Shiksha Mitras (teacher’s assistants) in government schools in 20 districts across Uttar Pradesh to improve the learning levels of grade I and II children. In a second phase during the 2007 summer, all rural teams moved to three UP districts, including Meerut, with the objective of covering every child in those districts. At least two volunteers per village were mobilized across 4500 villages in the three districts, reaching some 100,000 children every day. Besides UP, Pratham has commenced work on Read India with other states and the list is growing rapidly.
I had first met Nuzhat Mallik of Pratham in 2005 in Jaunpur in Eastern Uttar Pradesh while visiting the Pratham-MIT-World Bank research project on the role of information in mobilizing communities to demand better services. The abiding impression I have from that visit is that of a girl in the third grade turning a test card with simple sentences on it first this way and then that, confused which way the alphabet had to be read.
The Meerut visit has restored my faith that much can be done, and done quickly, even as the challenge remains monumental. India still accounts for one-quarter of the world’s 104 million out-of-school children, in addition to those in school who are not learning (Additional resources here on education in India). India’s 86th Constitutional Amendment (2002) makes elementary education a fundamental right of every child. Pratham is helping make that a reality. There is similar news from other parts of the world. This week I chaired a lunch-time seminar in Washington DC organized by the Bank’s Human Development Network on the RECURSO program in Peru, with a similar emphasis on using measurement and community involvement to build demand and the accountability for service delivery and outcomes.(

Food crises, Children and MDGoals

 At any given moment, one third of the population in South Asia lives under the $1 per person per day poverty line (SOWC 2008). This is roughly 475 million people. Far more are affected – at the $2 per day criterion, almost 80% of South Asia’s population live under the poverty line (World Bank); and all of these households close to the poverty lines move in and out of extreme poverty continuously, as their livelihoods are precarious and any shock – such as an accident or health incident requiring medical attention, or a sharp increase in food prices – can push them below the poverty line. Extreme vulnerability characterises their situation.  Children are the majority in these households. Overall, South Asia houses 613 million children, of whom 175 million are under 5 years. More than half (54%) of these children are estimated to be living in absolute poverty as measured by +2 deprivations of basic needs, and 4 in 5 children experience continuous deprivation of at least one basis need (health, education, water and sanitation etc.).  All children, but especially those under 5, are fragile. If their development needs are not met, the negative impact is irreversible. In South Asia, malnutrition (defined as underweight moderate and severe) in under-fives averages 42% and is as high as 48% in Bangladesh (SOWC 2007). As a result of the recent food prices inflation, malnutrition levels have been increasing. To cite one example, over the course one year, due to price increases, 72% of children in the village of Guraval are malnourished, compared to 60% last year. South Asian paradoxes  At the regional level, macroeconomic positions appear sound: o Many of the economies are doing well, if measured in GDP per capita growth rates, trade diversification and performance, or balance of payments situations. o But problems lie directly beneath the surface:  In all countries in South Asia, income inequality is increasing drastically;  In the world’s 5th largest economy, India, 90% of the population subsists in the informal sector, without decent work or predictable incomes.  In terms of food security: o As a region, South Asia appears to be food self-sufficient, with Pakistan and India as large food grain exporters. o However, the region’s LDCs - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan - are dependent on food imports, and within the large food exporting countries, states or districts are food insecure; this is all the more so in low income countries – the mid- western districts of Nepal, for example, are highly food insecure (Unicef Nepal). The World Bank has identified a number of high risk countries; in South Asia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh have had rapid Country Needs Assessments (jointly by WB, WFP and FAO), and the same are expected shortly for Pakistan and Sri Lanka. These results are not yet available. However, a previous rapid assessment mission by WFP in early 2008 in urban Afghanistan reveals a number of new trends:  Accessibility of food is low because of the growing disparity between food prices and income (e.g. the average daily wage for casual labour – one important source of income, and which is in higher supply now and met with decreasing demand - had reduced by 6% in nominal and 22% in real terms due to the recent inflation) .  29% of households are deemed to be facing severe problems (spending more than 80% of their household income on food). Since December 200, the share of 11.  There has also been a notable shift in the food consumption score since December 2006, with an increase of 16 percentage points in the category of households with poor food consumption.  Politically, o Across South Asia, there are strong currents for change – with Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Maldives reviewing their constitutions and/or holding general elections and announcing a move towards more democratic political systems. o At the same time, there is a risk of discontent as economic disparities increase in general, and are exacerbated by growing food insecurity and the food price inflation specifically. Food price hikes and the impact on the region’s families  Globally, agricultural commodity prices increased by 24% 2007 over 2006; and 57% January -March 2008 over the same period 2007. In South Asia, food prices have risen between 14 and 25 % in sample countries – India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In Afghanistan, it is reported that for wheat in some districts is as much as 150% above the five year average (Unicef Afghanistan, April 2008).  In South Asia, increases in food prices are also indicative of the emergency profile of the region. In some countries, food crop harvests have decreased and prices increased because of natural disasters – examples in 2008 include the 2007 cyclone in Bangladesh, drought in Afghanistan, and in floods in Pakistan and Sri Lanka (Unicef ROSA emergency section). In the Mid and Far Western regions in Nepal – the poorest in the country - food prices have caused distress migration over the past few months (Unicef Nepal, April 2008; nepalnews 13 May 2008). In Nepal, the post-conflict reintegration of demobilised combatants and IDPs may become more costly, and it may be more difficult for them to establish initial livelihoods (Unicef Nepal).  In a region where most poor households continue to miss access to safe drinking water and decent sanitation, food intake is often jeopardised (e.g. diarrhea due to poor sanitary conditions reduces food intake or actual intake of nutritious elements), suggesting that behaviour change as well as accelerated investment in water and sanitation would need to be an element in the rapid response.  At the community level, existing patterns of social exclusion which limit access, among other things, to drinking water and to other public resources, may play out also in access to public food provisioning. Women-headed households may face particular obstacles in claiming their food entitlements. It will be important to monitor such processes in an inclusive and participatory manner, to ensure that public schemes to give access to food or food security measures reach socially excluded groups equitably. Often monitoring of outcomes (actual food intake, malnutrition levels, etc.) rather than inputs (food rationing by public authorities and actual recipients of food rations) would help better understand how the food is distributed within the community and households and who is marginalised and why.  Within households, poverty affects each member differently. Women and children are subjected to systemic intra-household inequality: in many communities, women and girl children eat last, and often even less (or even less nutritious food) than the male family members.  In crises (or shifts) in food prices as the current one, it is imperative to look at the differential impact on net food buying and net food selling households. o According to anecdotal evidence, 80 – 85% households are net food buyers (FAO op cit p 33). And with the general pattern that low income households spend up to 80% of their income on food, the food price increase will quickly squeeze out other expenditures – for clothing, schooling costs, health, water. o 20% of households in Pakistan and 15% in Bangladesh may stand to benefit from the higher prices. o For net food buying and net food selling households alike, there is a risk of increased malnutrition of the Under-Fives, because income poverty as well as income opportunities increase time poverty - so that the care and time needed for feeding young children come under additional pressure. Even in households engaged in farming which stand to gain from the price increase might be using child labour as a way to reduce expenses on casual labour required to protect crops, work in the field etc. in order to keep the high profit margin arising from the increasing food prices. o In net food buying households, there are also likely to be displacement effects from more nutritious to less nutritious foods; and eventual effects of pulling children out of school, sending them to work as child labourers, and neglecting the health and nutrition needs of women including mothers of young children and women who are pregnant. In Nepal, for example, child labour is estimated at 31% of 5-14 years and this could increase as a “coping strategy” in times of crisis. Child-sensitive policy responses The current situation calls for urgent and responsive public action. A first set of interventions are needed immediately as the food prices hit the lowest-income families and risk unraveling any gains made in poverty alleviation in recent years. A second set of interventions are of a systemic nature and would ideally be phased in through processes of consultation among informed technocrats and policy specialists on the one hand, and the general public, and notably among the groups most affected, on the other. The general responses draw on menus of well-established policy responses; what needs to change however is to evaluate these responses for their appropriateness for and sensitivity to the impact on children as the most food-vulnerable group in society. I.) Short term “Immediate” social protection interventions Using and enhancing existing instruments of social protection to address the impact of food price increases for the especially vulnerable - rural poor and landless; urban poor; migrants; children who are malnourished; pregnant women and mothers of young children including breastfeeding women; female-headed households who are generally more impoverished than male-headed households; the elderly. Examples of policies and instruments which build on existing interventions in South Asia include: • Targeted subsidies on food commodities used by the poor – such as on certain kinds of rice (but with care not to stigmatise the users and not to disincentivise the producers of such commodities) • Food distribution (as in Bangladesh) (ideally with food purchased from local producers to stimulate local production) • Cash transfers – top-ups in existing cash transfer schemes (may be preferable to subsidies as it helps to keep the price up which can be a boost to agriculture but cushions the cost impact on the food buyers) • Increased minimum wage levels, indexed to the rate of inflation • Improved school feeding programmes – nutrition-wise and coverage wise, ensuring that school feeding reaches all children and expanding it to pre-school children and mothers of young children • Release of national and regional foodgrain stocks; ideally, these stocks would be replenished from local producers so as to provide them with an incentive to increase production. • Introduce or enhance employment schemes – for instance in the form of “top ups” in existing food-for-work and cash-for- work schemes to compensate for higher food costs • Introduction of special programmes for informal sector migrants as they are likely to be the hardest hit by the current price increases, as they in general possess no assets and do not, in general, have recourse to any “safety nets” (such as food ration cards (India); food distribution systems) . In the case of migrants driven by socio-economic distress – crop failures, health incidents, debt default, children tend to be the worst-affected. • Participatory assessment of the food supply situation of persons living with HIV/AIDS, to ensure that their food and nutrition intake ARV treatment can continue effectively • Introduce and provide for monitoring systems to ensure that groups and localities exposed to social exclusion are aware of, able to claim and receive their entitlements to subsidised foods or cash transfers, as the case may be. Immediate measures to monitor and address acute malnutrition in children The most pressing interventions are those around young child nutrition, and a variety of measures are needed:  Strengthen/establish a system for monitoring the nutritional situation in order to promptly detect changes/trends and identify the groups the most vulnerable. Data from the nutrition surveillance system have to be analysed in a multi sectoral forum and in conjunction with data coming from agricultural production, market prices, changes in consumption patterns, changes in care practices, and other impact resulting from the food price crisis.  Strengthen and expand existing programs providing a minimum package of basic health and nutrition services, such as promotion and protection of exclusive breast-feeding, promotion of adequate supplementary feeding, micro nutrient supplementation, immunisation, etc. which have proved to be effective in reducing child mortality.  Preparedness to rapidly implement/scale up programmes for the case management of severe acute malnutrition using a combination of facility-based and community-based approaches with particular attention to younger children and pregnant and breastfeeding women. II.) Longer term – systemic Systems of social protection – a minimum social floor, universal and tax based.  The current crisis (exacerbated by the fuel crisis as well as by climate change) shows that a system of universal social protection would help to address vulnerability, a chronic condition of the poor. Social protection is a right, and it also can have a positive development effect by creating multiplier effects – creating demand and thereby stimulating production. In South Asia, high macroeconomic growth rates coupled with rising inequality have created an opportunity to advocate for a social compact in the form of a universal social floor. It is affordable because tax revenues are rising. It is advisable also because such a “social compact” - social protection in the form of income support to low-income groups funded from general taxation - can address political tensions.  An additional argument for social protection schemes comes from the current food price crisis: generalised social protection transfers, as compared to targeted programmes, could generate “beneficial impacts on the overall diet and nutritional status, an outcome which would not arise with input subsidies aimed at a single staple food crop.” (FAO, op cit p 44)  Building blocks towards a universal social protection system will be country- and culture-specific but in South Asia might include: o Universal child grants o Universal social pensions for old age and disability - as in place, albeit at a very low level, in Nepal, and about to be introduced in a means-tested from for all below-the-poverty line informal sector workers in India; o Maternity grants, to be introduced, for example, in India as part of the social security for the informal sector act.  Because of resource constraints and for political and technical reasons, social protection will probably need to be introduced gradually and progressively. One innovative approach could be to begin with geographical selection – for example introducing universal social protection within food insecure districts, triggered by the current food price crisis.  Systems of primary healthcare – the food price crisis calls for a strengthening of free, inclusive primary healthcare services and free medication etc.. The high food prices may result in increased expenditures on food and/or may a further increase in under-nutrition levels in the household and in particular among children if lesser quality foods are purchased. Enhanced free primary healthcare could help resist “crowding out” of health-related expenditures. . III.) Policy areas which impact on child situations indirectly Beyond direct and immediate interventions, there is an emerging case to look into broader policy areas which, too, impact on food availability and prices, and thereby affect the situation of children and their right to food. Policies towards the rural economy  Agriculture and rural development are a key area of human development – and in South Asia, the majority of children either live in rural areas or originally come from rural areas and have become migrants to urban areas, with their parents or in the most-distressed cases, on their own.  There is a therefore a need to resuscitate agricultural and rural development if the MDGs are to be met, and if families are to be in a position of economic security that allows them to provide well for their children. The current attention to food prices has renewed interest in development and raised awareness for the fact that “… commitments to accelerate progress towards the eradication of hunger (especially through agricultural and human development) have not been met.” (FAO op cit p 43). Thus, the food price crisis is emerging as a “fundamental incentive …. for stimulating agriculture” for the first time in 25 years (interview, A Diouf, FAO) and to “re-launch agriculture” (FAO op cit, p 46). It can function as a much-needed opportunity to shift the terms of trade to the rural economy and to the developing countries which have been systemically neglected (marginalised) for decades.  Therefore the call for an “agricultural new deal” (World Bank) or a “twin track approach” (FAO, IFAD and WFP), with the latter including measures to o Protect the poor – emergency assistance to the poor – (see social protection above) and o at same time boost agricultural production.  The current rise in prices for agricultural commodities – which follows the trend of increasing commodity price increases in other areas (minerals and fuels) – needs to be captured by small farmers and landless so as to improve their livelihoods and hence the situation of their families and children o Polices to “enable smallholders to respond quickly to market opportunities created by higher prices” (FAO op cit p 44) such as seed and fertilizer distribution or vouchers o need for price information, marketing systems, access to trading channels and inclusive access to credit o measures to enhance per person and per land agricultural productivity Another area of concern is that of competition policy, to ensure transparent and equitable trading. “… food stocks are sufficient to feed everyone right now, but the food is not necessarily in the right place” (IMF, Interview Strauss-Kahn, May 2008). This suggests a policy need to address the food situation as a price issue – not a food deficit issue per se – and to look at policy responses to equity issues. Interestingly, the World Bank has proposed Fiscal policy In light of the current dual pressure of food and fuel prices increases, and the need for social protection in different forms, government budgets will be strained, if governments are subsidising fuel prices and considering safety net or social protection in response to the food price crisis. There is then a need to create fiscal space to cover the additional budget costs (IMF, Srauss-Kahn interview, May 2008). Policy considerations include”  Any tariff reductions introduced to even out price increases need to be accompanied by tax reform (FAO, op cit p 45 f) so as to not undermine social protection transfers;  Regional instruments or IMF facilities can address the balance of payment impact of rising food & fuel prices (e.g. PRGF augmentations; IMF’s new Exogenous Shocks Facility (ESF) to be adopted June 2008 but already available and applicable for food import shocks; Compensatory Financing Facility). The fiscal reform needs to be accompanied by changes in financing for development arrangements. Increased donor assistance through direct budget support – to support increased investments into healthcare, social protection etc systems, - as well as greater debt relief needs to be promoted to help governments cope with the crisis over the short term and help build their capacity for long-term preventative measures.. Trade policy One area that is not conventionally looked at through a “child lens” is the WTO Doha Round. However, the discussions on agriculture and on trade in services will impact directly on livelihoods in developing countries, and notably in their rural economies. Among many examples, a child-sensitive reading of trade policy might look into:  Make a child-rights based case for abolishing the agricultural subsidies in the Triad (EU, US, Japan)  In the current Doha development round, there is a provision for “special products” which relate to for food security, rural development, livelihood. These are to be exempted from market-opening (WTO) – which could be of direct relevance to food and livelihood situations in low-income countries.  Need to examine intellectual property rights issues around food grains and indigenous pharmaceuticals etc which again influence livelihoods of families  Look at mode 4 in the trade in services discussion: the movement of “natural persons” concerns migrants, their work conditions and their CRC-based right to move with family members and needs attention from a child-rights perspective, given the large and growing number of unskilled migrants working often in informal-sector type working conditions since there are no agreements in place on the rights of cross-border work migrants.  In terms of improving national and regional food security, an interesting proposal has been floated by the World Bank, urging the G8 to establish “global goods stocks” which would “act as insurance for the poorest people, offering affordable food.” This could be in the form of global or regional commodity buffer stocks, and if it succeeded in enhancing regional and country-level food security as well as incomes from agricultural commodity production, could have direct beneficial outcomes for children. Financing for development  This is an opportunity to re-launch the campaign for more ODA. Official development assistance has not increased in real terms despite various pledges; and remains at only 0.3% of GNP of the OECD countries as an average. It is highly concentrated among select among recipient countries – in other words, does not reach LDCs and other countries commensurate to their ODA requirements.(UNCTAD) .  Some donors – at the forefront the World Bank and the FAO – are now arguing for increased ODA to food-insecure countries – as an immediate measure and to support agricultural production and measures for their food security. This is of great interest, and if such aid materializes, it can impact on livelihoods of low-income families and hence the situation of children in a major way, if economic infrastructure and agricultural development, which have been left to market dynamics for almost a decade, get the resources they need and are acknowledged as public goods. At the FAO Food Summit (Rome 3-6 June), the World Bank announced a $1.2 billion Global Food Crisis Response Facility to address immediate needs arising from the food crisis, including $200 million of grants for especially vulnerable countries. This type of attention needs to be brought forward to the Financing for Development Summit scheduled in Doha for November/December 2008, and again, its implications for the situation of children in South Asia need to be articulated. In addition to the above, there is a need to revive attention, and reconfirm commitments, to international agreements and conventions on the right to food and food security, and better understand the role of various international funds, committees etc. in helping solve the current food crisis E.g. the international Grains Agreement, Grain Trade Convention, Food Aid Convention, the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) (see UNCTAD resolution 93 (iv) on the integrated programme of commodities, and the Agreement on Establishing the CFC), International Grains Council, etc. Outlook The current food price crisis needs heightened attention on two planes:  Ensuring that it does not further worsen the massive malnutrition in South Asia by avoiding knock-on effects from the food prices rises and the ensuing reduced real incomes and increased poverty – this requires reinforced attention to MDG Goal 1.  Using the new awareness to examine broader policy domains though a child lens and thereby propelling the international development agenda forward – an opportunity to unleash action on MDG Goal 8.