RISE in India

An international team of experts in various fields will conduct rigorous tests of large, ambitious reforms in Madhya Pradesh and Delhi, where governments have made significant policy commitments to improve their education systems. 

The £4.2 million research programme aims to lead to greater understanding about the reasons why changes intended to enhance student achievement work or fail - and to use these insights to inform policy globally. The reforms’ sheer scale - in locations that are as large as entire countries in terms of population and, in the case of Madhya Pradesh, geography – offers researchers potential insight into how policy tools can be wielded in enormous and complex public* education systems. The size issue presents a key challenge because many reforms that prove to be successful on a small scale are difficult to replicate on a larger one - even when replicated with great fidelity.

India spending diagram
India spending diagram


“Our research aims to provide scientifically rigorous evaluations of reforms at a scale relevant for policymakers,” said Karthik Muralidharan, a principal investigator of the project, associate professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego, and the co-chair of the education program for the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “This research should give us a granular understanding of day-to-day political and institutional constraints. It should give us knowledge about what feasible levers may be used to devise an education system that can deliver better learning.”

The international team of experts are led by researchers at the University of California San Diego, J-PAL South Asia in India, and University College London.  The multidisciplinary team will employ experimental methods that are widely viewed as the most rigorous ways of evaluating policy effects. Two key reforms to be analysed are:

  • Adopting a tailored, “continuous improvement” approach to school governance.  Research will analyse reforms taking place in Madhya Pradesh, a state in the geographic heart of India and with the largest population of Scheduled Tribes, groups of historically disadvantaged indigenous people. The reforms are intended to improve school governance, a key concern in India and many parts of the world. The reforms rely on comprehensive school assessments that provide customized feedback to schools in order to help them improve in achieving high-quality learning for all students. Steps include use of school report cards; technological tools to provide real-time records of student assessments and school progress; and improvement plans focused on problem-solving approaches rather than inspections with punitive consequences. The intent is to lead schools to strive to improve, and to give teachers and principals (headteachers) leeway to identify and address the issues they consider most important. The reforms were designed by the state government of Madhya Pradesh and Ark, a UK-based international education charity with financial support from the UK Department of International Development. Ark is also working on the implementation of similar programmes in sub-Saharan Africa. ​
  • Using Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) technology to provide teachers with feedback. In 2015, the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi committed to installing CCTV cameras in all of its 22,000 classrooms in public schools. The research team has been consulting with the government to utilize the technology not just for monitoring but, as importantly, for giving timely feedback on how to improve classroom instruction. The information generated by this reform, and the feedback provided to teachers, is intended to improve student achievement and may eventually inform teacher selection, probation, and promotion policies.
teacher with children
GPE/Deepa Srikantaiah

“To date, there have been limited system-wide attempts, within India or in other developing countries, to use technology to improve teacher effort and time-on-task at scale,” said Atishi Marlena, Advisor to the Minister of Education of Delhi. “The findings from our CCTV intervention having the potential to transform accountability and governance of schools, and to serve as an entry point into studying best teaching practices, and addressing teacher quality.”

Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) was launched in 2015 to conduct high-quality research to build a body of world-class evidence to inform education policy, and to raise learning outcomes for children throughout the world. Research in India, and in at least five other countries, seeks to shift emphasis away from long-standing, input-oriented goals – children’s attendance in schools - and toward output-oriented achievements - increased literacy and numeracy skills.

“The research in India will embed the use of the latest evaluation techniques to see how feedback from evaluations of ongoing programs can create an environment to improve the programs and, in turn, create greater learning,” said Lant Pritchett, RISE Research Director, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, and professor of the practice of international development at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  “One of the most promising aspects of this research is working closely with state governments to help them implement the programs in ways that lead to better outcomes.”

India is one of many nations facing a learning crisis. Enrolment in primary school is almost universal, but learning outcomes are low. For example, in 2014, 48 percent of fifth graders could read a Grade 2 text, and only 26 percent could do simple division.

“We hope our work will shed light on why the default approach to improving education quality by providing more inputs and improving teacher credentials and training has not been successful in improving learning outcomes,” said Abhijeet Singh, a principal investigator and a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the Department of Economics at University College London, and a former Quantitative Research Officer with the Young Lives study based at the University of Oxford.

The projects’ emphasise educational “ecosystems,” with an eye toward finding the political, institutional and economic constraints that must be addressed to make change.

“The promise of our research agenda is to provide evidence only on whether a reform works but how it works or is impeded by the institutional context,” said Alejandro J. Ganimian, a principal investigator and an Education Post-Doctoral Fellow at J-PAL South Asia in India.


* In the RISE lexicon, a public school refers to one operated by a government at little or no cost to students. This is distinct from the definition of public schools used in England and Wales, where the term refers to selective, and expensive, independent secondary schools.