Do “Child Friendly” Practices affect Learning? Evidence from Rural India

This paper examines the effects of “child-friendly” practices on learning in rural India. These are a set of pedagogical practices intended to improve education outcomes by increasing children’s inclusion in their learning environment. They are widely promoted in international development circles, and are an increasingly important plank of Indian education policy. This paper offers the first quantitative evidence of their impact. Data is drawn from a survey of 12,576 primary school pupils in government schools in rural India. Incidence levels of six pedagogical practices, each representing a different aspect of child-friendliness described in Indian policy documents, are drawn from classroom observations. Estimates of their impact on low-stakes reading and maths test-scores are then generated using a school fixed effects value-added model.

The main finding is that child-friendly practices, while well-intentioned, generally have insignificant effects on test-scores. Even in circumstances where the practices show some effects, they do not always have the positive impact which would be expected based on their popularity in policy discourse. Further, no strong evidence emerges that the practices differentially affect the test-scores of high and low ability pupil groups. These findings highlight substantial flaws in the content of the publically available evidence base which underlies important elements of Indian education policy, and the gains which could be made from more rigorous analysis at the policy formulation stage.

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