The Impact of Maternal Literacy and Participation Programs
Evidence from a randomized evaluation in India
Using a randomized field experiment in India, we evaluate the effectiveness of adult literacy and parental involvement interventions in improving children's learning. Households were assigned to receive either adult literacy (language and math) classes for mothers, training for mothers on how to enhance their children's learning at home, or a combination of the two programs.
We conducted a randomized evaluation of three interventions in rural India designed to improve maternal literacy—defined to include reading, writing, and basic mathematics—and mothers' involvement in children's education. Villages were randomly assigned to one of four groups. In the first group, mothers in the village were offered the Maternal Literacy (ML) program, consisting of daily language and math classes. In the second, mothers were given the Child Home Activities and Materials Packet (CHAMP) program: materials, activities, and training were provided each week to promote enhanced involvement in their children's education at home. In the third, mothers were offered both the literacy and home-learning programs (ML-CHAMP). The fourth group served as a control with no intervention. The evaluation was carried out in 480 villages in the states of Bihar and Rajasthan.All three interventions had significant but modest impacts on children's math scores. The interventions also increased mothers' test scores in both language and math, as well as a range of other outcomes reflecting greater involvement of mothers in their children's education.
- The programs also influenced several intermediate outcomes related to decisions of mothers and the home learning environment that could in turn have affected children's learning: all three had impacts on mothers' learning levels, interest in participation in child education, reported levels of participation, and the presence of educational materials at home.
- By contrast, we find no significant impacts on time spent directly helping children with homework. This suggests that child outcomes could have been influenced by the quality of time spent, or frequency or type of interactions, even if there was no increase in time spent helping with homework.
- We also find that the maternal literacy and combined programs increased children's attendance in formal schooling.
From a standpoint of policy, we note that the magnitudes of the effects we find on children's learning are small, and basic cost-benefit calculations suggest that other interventions that target children directly are more cost effective. Thus, the interventions as implemented may not be the most effective policies to improve children's learning.
- In the case of ML, we observe relatively low participation and argue that evaluation of innovations to increase participation and sustain learner interest would be a useful area for future research.
- In addition, while the magnitudes of the impacts may not justify the programs on the basis of children's learning alone, the effects we find on mothers' learning suggest that these programs could be promising tools for policy makers interested in influencing adult literacy as well as children's learning.