There is a ‘learning crisis’ in low-income countries. More children than ever are enrolling and attending school, but for too many children turning up at school does not translate to meaningful learning. In rural India, for instance, primary enrolment rates exceed 95 percent but more than half of grade-five children are unable to read at the second-grade level. Students who are not at their grade level often fall behind the class and are perpetually catching up to what is taught in class. As a response to this, ‘Teaching at the Right Level’ (TaRL) can help each student learn at their own level of understanding. However, TaRL led by humans has limits when it comes to higher grades when simultaneously the content gets tougher and the variation in the class gets larger. TaRL is also highly dependent on the quality of the human teacher and their ability to diagnose each child and cater to their learning. Hence, a computer-based version of this method known as Personalized Adaptive Learning, or PAL, can be used to customize instruction to the needs and pace of each student across the entire set of grades 1-10. It has been an open question as to whether PAL can be cost-effectively implemented for low-income students in a public school setting at scale.
Educational Initiatives’ innovation is a PAL software called Mindspark, which draws on a database of more than 45,000 test questions that have been answered by more than 500,000 unique children to finely benchmark the learning level of each student and dynamically customize the material being delivered to match the level and rate of progress made by each individual student. The software is widely used by private school students and its intervention for after-school instruction program was rigorously tested and showed  a two-fold increase in learning in Math and 2.5 times increase in Hindi (language) when compared to the control group learning levels. The program was also equally effective for students at all levels of the achievement distribution. However, the relative impact of the program was much greater for low-achieving students, who were making no progress in school.
Use of GIF funds
In August 2017, GIF made a $2.3 million grant to Educational Initiatives to explore how Mindspark can be used effectively in government schools during the school time-table with the school teachers. GIF funding is enabling the roll-out of Mindspark in 40 government schools in the northern Indian province of Rajasthan with the goal of improving the learning outcomes of 6,500 children directly studying in grades 1-8.
The grant also supports the company’s development of public goods intended to accelerate the diffusion of the PAL innovation, including through adoption by other PAL software providers. A Science of Learning Library, or SLL, is under development and will include materials on foundational concepts in key subjects, the common misconceptions learners make, assessment tools to diagnose them, and remedial plans which teachers can use to help children to understand foundation concepts and correct their misconceptions. Educational Initiatives is also producing a playbook on how to implement technology programmes in government schools of India based on the Rajasthan experience. Over time, the SLL will expand further as a source of information on foundational concepts and skills that enable student learning, the most common procedural and conceptual errors made by children, the incidence of errors among different groups of children, and the most effective remediation content.
Impact to Date
Educational Initiatives has reached over 100 schools in Rajasthan and over 200 schools in 8 other states reaching a total of over 60,000 children across India. GIF has contributed to policy changes facilitating competition in, and government procurement of EdTech PAL software. With support from Central Square Foundation, and at the behest of the Government of India, GIF led the engagement with Dalberg to prepare a Blueprint for the implementation of PAL solutions and guidelines for the procurement of PAL-type education technology solutions. This was followed by a high-level meeting with the Department of Education and state governments to issue the Blueprint and guidelines in May 2018. These documents are generic in nature and applicable to any country context for implementing PAL solutions.
This has resulted in take up of EdTech PAL procurement in an additional 1,000 schools reaching over 200,000 children across Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. The research team is now conducting an evaluation to rigorously test the impact of Mindspark’s innovation in government schools in Rajasthan. Preliminary results consistently show significant impacts for student learning. We are awaiting final impact results (for 3 years of intervention) and publication of the research. On the SLL front, EI signed an MoU with the Government of Gujarat to establish a Gujarat Science of Learning Institute which would be funded, and personnel deployed by the state government. The Institute would be responsible for the integration of the SLL with the system and its use by teachers across the state.
 Muralidharan, K., Singh, A., & Ganimian, A. J. (2019). Disrupting education? Experimental evidence on technology-aided instruction in India. American Economic Review, 109(4), 1426-60.