The performance of primary schools in developing countries is weak, especially for the poor. This can be partly attributed to initial differences, which are later magnified by the school system (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011). The massive expansion in school attendance in developing countries has not been matched by increases in school achievement for the poor. In India, 26% of children in grade five can perform simple division and 52% cannot read a grade-two level paragraph (ASER: Pratham, 2016). Because poor children have especially weak preparation for school but strong non-symbolic numerical and geometrical abilities (Spelke, 2011), preschool is a promising time to intervene, with little established curricula. Yet, there is little evidence on effective school-readiness curricula for poor children. Another window of opportunity is the early grades of primary school where laboratory experiments show synergistic effects between school math learning and activities that exercise early numerical abilities (Hyde et al., 2014). There is tremendous interest in the government of India to engage with that level.
In 2013, we developed and evaluated (with a RCT run in over 200 preschools in the slums of New Delhi) game-based preschool curriculum designed to enhance children's core numerical and geometric abilities (Does non-symbolic math practice in young children improve symbolic mathematics ability later in life? COUHES 1212005420) The short run impact of the curriculum was extremely encouraging: A summary measure of mathematical ability increased by 0.23 standard deviations. Therefore, we see that it is possible to significantly enhance preschool non-symbolic math skills in realistic field conditions through games inspired by research in psychology. We also detected improvements in spatial and numerical language. In contrast, children showed no gains in symbolic arithmetic abilities in the short run, perhaps because their formal education had not yet begun.
Further, in 2015, we modified this curriculum, linking the non-symbolic games to the symbol systems of elementary school mathematics (Every child counts! Towards a scalable curriculum for early mathematics, COUHES 1503006959). The preliminary results indicate the children exposed to this curriculum exhibit large gains across both symbolic and non-symbolic domains. This suggests that scaling up games that combines intuitive and formal mathematics could have durable impacts on the learning of mathematics in India and other resource-poor settings.The objective of the current project is to scale up the project in government schools in KG and grade 1. Many state governments in India are establishing formal Kindergarten classes in their schools, without any set curriculum. Meanwhile, there is increasing recognition in India that the core concepts of numeracy need to be introduced in a more effective way in first grade. We have piloted new games adapted to this setting, and found gains even larger than in the previous RCT. In the current project, we will introduce the games in 70 kindergarten and 70 first grades classes, randomly selected out of 140, and evaluate their effects, with the final aim to scale them up if successful.