Is TaRL right for my context?

Illustration: a girl holds up a card with a question mark printed on it.

Are children lacking foundational reading and mathematics skills?

Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) has been proven to work best for children who have not mastered the basics of reading and mathematics. Pratham’s experience has shown that TaRL can be particularly impactful for children in Grades 3 to 5. By this stage, the focus of the curriculum has shifted away from basic skills, which means creating time and space to help children who have fallen behind to master these skills is very relevant. In addition, Grade 3 to 5 children have been through a few years of schooling already and are thus better positioned for accelerated learning.

If many children are unable to read, recognise numbers, or carry out basic sums, TaRL might be an appropriate intervention to increase learning in that context. This is especially true if there are few opportunities for children to learn basic skills after Grade 2. To determine the status of learning levels for children in Grades 3 to 5, a simple testing tool can be created to test a sample of learners in the area.

Illustration: four children sit on the floor with reading and mathematics materials (a book, phonetics cards, sticks, and a bundle of sticks) in front of them. Two of the children are smiling with hands raised. The other two look confused and upset, with speech bubbles showing question marks.

Are classes fairly heterogeneous?

Are children who aren’t able to recognise letters learning alongside children who read fluently in Grades 3, 4, and 5? In schools, are children grouped for the entire day by age or grade, rather than learning level? Do teachers struggle to teach large classes of learners with varying needs using only one set of grade-specific curricula and materials? Since curricula and materials tend to for the benefit of the top performing learners, regrouping children to form homogenous classes by learning levels helps teachers to improve learning for all children rather than only those at the top of the class.1

Illustration: shaking hands

Does the government prioritise learning and basic skills?

Aligning with government strategies and priorities is useful. Is the government open to learning about new approaches and carving out time for basic reading and mathematics skills in Grades 3 to 5? Is basic skill acquisition highlighted in government documents? Are reading and foundational mathematics identified as areas that require improvement?

Illustration: two children sit at their desks writing a test. One child is smiling and has a lightbulb near his head, while the other looks confused and has question marks.

Do current education systems mainly serve top performing learners?

Do children take a high-stakes examination at the end of primary school with few basic competencies being tested? Do teachers struggle to get through dense and ambitious curricula? Are children automatically progressed to the next grade without ensuring that they have basic skills? An unintended consequence of over-ambitious curricula, materials, and testing is education systems which tend to serve top performing learners, often resulting in children being left behind. TaRL programmes can be effective in these education systems as the approach reorganises the classroom to ensure that all children (not just those at the top) are being supported. TaRL helps teachers to refocus class time on the needs of the learners – by grouping learners according to levels and by providing training and ongoing support to teachers to help them sustain the new approach.

Illustration: three cogs fit together -- a fourth smaller cog next to them

Could existing systems be leveraged to grow and build the TaRL approach?

TaRL is an approach with many different elements – including adopting a new methodology to accelerate learning, teacher/instructor capacity building and mentoring, introducing measurement approaches and interactive learning materials, and changing classroom organisation by regrouping students by learning levels. Research by J-PAL affiliated professors has shown that implementing these components independently does not achieve impact.2

When adopting TaRL, organisations, governments, and individuals need to be open to the whole approach in order to ensure improvements in learning outcomes. The TaRL approach could be implemented during a dedicated hour in the school day, after school, or in intensive camps for a short period of the school year or holidays.

Can the necessary systems of support be activated or built?

Can the education system build or activate strong training, mentoring, monitoring and leadership systems? TaRL evidence shows that when the approach is successfully implemented, learning gains follow. The evidence also shows that without the necessary pillars of support, such as ongoing mentoring of teachers, implementation can break down and undermine learning.

If you are considering a government led programme

Is there potential for a strong mentoring and monitoring system? Does a cadre of monitors exist within the government that could be utilized for regular mentoring and monitoring? Are they adequately resourced to regularly visit schools? Could the existing mentoring and monitoring system be leveraged to support TaRL? Does it need to be strengthened? Teacher-led TaRL programmes require strong mentoring and monitoring to maintain effectiveness 2. Think through how this could be achieved through government systems.

If you are considering direct implementation

Does your organisation have time to dedicate to TaRL training and field practice? Trainers, mentors, and monitors should have a deep understanding of the TaRL approach in order to help implementation by instructors. They should be able to successfully train, mentor, and monitor TaRL instructors in the classroom. Is your organisation flexible enough to adjust the approach, methodology, materials and classroom practices?

Need more support to decide whether TaRL is right for your context? Sign up for a meeting with a member of the TaRL Africa Team.

1. Glewwe, Paul, Michael Kremer, and Sylvie Moulin. 2009. “Many Children Left Behind? Textbooks and Test Scores in Kenya.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 1(1): 112-35.

2. Banerjee, Abhijit, Rukmini Banerji, James Berry, Esther Duflo, Harini Kannan, Shobhini Mukherji, Marc Shotland, and Michael Walton. “Mainstreaming an effective intervention: Evidence from randomized evaluations of “Teaching at the Right Level” in India.” No. w22746. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2016.