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Ending Illiteracy in India Starts Here

January 26, 2019

36 percent of the world's illiterate population is in India. If current trends persist, that rate could rise to 50 percent by 2020. Together, Room to Read and its partners aim to change that.

In 2015, Room to Read and USAID embarked on a four year project known as SERI, Scaling-up Early Reading Intervention, to improve foundational literacy of children at a large scale and ensure that all children by the end of grade two are able to read with fluency and comprehension. Today, the project has scaled across four states in India-Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, reaching more than 300,000 children in more than 2,600 primary schools.

A third-party evaluation showed that children in SERI project schools are reading an average 36.7 words per minutes - two times faster with increased comprehension than those in comparable non-intervention schools.” Ryan Hebert Associate Director, RM&E

SERI by the Numbers:

  • A five-year program from 2015-2020

  • Scaling across Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh

  • 2,662 School Reached

  • 300,000 Children Benefited

  • 10,103 Teachers Trained

  • 1,093,000 Books Distributed
Scaling Early Grade Literacy in India


How to Scale Literacy Country-Wide

The SERI project is a prime example of how Room to Read's educational methodologies can be shared widely to spark systemic change. Like other Room to Read Accelerator efforts, the project consisted of three phases: the first phase is I DO or “Demonstration” – where Room to Read demonstrates and implements its proven model in select schools. The second phase is WE DO or the “Collaboration” phase where, in partnership with the government, the model is scaled up in a larger number of schools. In the final stage, YOU DO or “Expansion”, the government is expected to take the trainings and SERI principles and scale it across the state with their own resources.

“ A third-party evaluation showed that children in SERI project schools are reading an average 36.7 words per minutes - two times faster with increased comprehension than those in comparable non-intervention schools.” Ryan Hebert Associate Director, RM&E

The program's success simply would't have been possible without working closely to the government at all stages of planning and implementation. Thanks to this consistent engagement, teams were able to form Early Grade Literacy Resource Groups in each of the four states that provided insight and materials based on international research. These teams also contextualized the model to each state's needs, enhancing their effectiveness.

Government school teachers also played a pivotal role in the SERI project. To help train teachers on the new pedagogy, Room to Read hosted an intensive workshop for a pool of master-trainers who later trained other teachers in their respective states. 

Soaring Above Expectations

The joint effort has already exceeded its scaling up targets, going from just 180 demonstration schools in two states to 2,662 schools in four states. A third-party evaluation also showed exciting results illuminating that children are reading an average 36.7 words per minutes - two times faster with increased comprehension than those in comparable non-intervention schools!

The insight gained from SERI is now being used in all government schools of new district in Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgrah with support of UNICEF. This incredible joint effort is a testament of the effectiveness of Room to Read Accelerator.

Inside the SERI Conference

Room to Read India also hosted an insightful two day conference where education practitioners form all across India gathered to hear to share knowledge. Panel discussions featured Room to Read's Chief Program Officer, Heather Simpson with Dr. Luis Crouch. Room to Read's Literacy Program Directors from Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal also shared their experiences, inviting guests to learn about educational challenges and solutions being implemented around the world.

Support Systemic Change

Scaling Beyond our Literacy Program

Our Literacy Program isn't the only educational effort scaling across India. In 2018, Room to Read launched a three-year project in partnership with the IKEA Foundation to empower adolescent girls at scale across the Indian states of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. The project will empower more than 68,000 girls, aged 11- to 13-years-old, through a life-skills based intervention.

The goal of the intervention is to improve girls’ learning and life outcomes, allowing them to progress through secondary school with the ability to think critically and rely on themselves to meet day-to-day challenges. This scaffolded approach will enable the local governments to replicate and expand and reach all adolescent girls in each state, helping more girls like Kamla reach their full potential. 

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