COVID-19 and learning loss: TN makes significant recovery with Illam Thedi Kalvi, says study

At present, nearly 34 lakh children attend after-school programs at 2 lakh Illam Thedi Kalvi centers across the State.

At present, nearly 34 lakh children attend after-school programs at 2 lakh Illam Thedi Kalvi centers across the state

A study carried out on the impact of COVID-19 on learning in Tamil Nadu has indicated a recovery of two-thirds of the learning loss caused by the pandemic, with the State government’s Illam Thedi Kalvi scheme having a significant role to play in the same.

These findings were documented in a working paper titled ‘COVID-19 Learning Loss and Recovery: Panel Data Evidence from India’ ( by Abhijeet Singh, Associate Professor of Economics at the Stockholm School of Economics, Mauricio Romero, Assistant Professor of Economics at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) and Karthik Muralidharan, Tata Chancellor’s Professor of Economics, University of California, San Diego. The working paper was published by the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) program, an international research program that focuses on how education systems in developing countries can overcome learning crisis.

The study was based on a household census conducted in 2019 in 220 villages which involved a cognitive test for over 19,000 children aged between 2 to 7 years. These tests were administered to around 77% of the original sample, using comparable assessments from December 2021, soon after schools reopened and in April-May 2022.

Mr. Muralidharan said that the availability of baseline data from the pre-pandemic years, which was originally meant for another study examining pre-school learning, had made these findings a unique one. “In December 2021, the data available indicated that learning loss had been massive — roughly 1 to 2 years equivalent to learning in schools. This was after 18 months of school closures,” he said.

Data indicated that a developmental lag of 23 months was seen in 9-year-old children, and a lag of 11 to 15 months for children between the ages of 5 to 7 years when they were administered tests in Mathematics. For Tamil, similarly, a developmental lag of 22 months was seen in 9-year-old children.

In May 2022, after in-person classes had resumed earlier that year for young students, the study indicated that two-thirds of learning loss had recovered. Both Mathematics and English scores improved.

Mr. Muralidharan says that while 50% of the learning loss would have recovered with schools reopening, the Illam Thedi Kalvi scheme has had a significant impact as a remediation program and in contributing to this recovery.

According to the study, 91.3% of respondents had heard of the program and 57% of parents reported that their children attend the sessions. There was also high attendance recorded, with 92% of the children attending sessions at the ITK centers near their homes at least 4 days a week. The study sheds light on how students who are from disadvantaged sections are the ones significantly more likely to attend Illam Thedi Kalvi sessions.

Roughly, 24% of the total recovery from learning loss can be attributed to these Illam Thedi Kalvi sessions. What is more important here, is that while the learning loss has been higher among more disadvantaged groups, the recovery has been progressive where disadvantaged groups have caught up faster. It is not often that we find evidence of a publicly-run, scaled-up intervention to address learning gaps for the marginalized and underprivileged,” he explained.

K. Elambahavath, Special Project Officer, Illam Thedi Kalvisaid that the study has given them valuable insights into how learning loss has been bridged after schools reopened, and with Illam Thedi Kalvi as well. “It is especially important to see how Illam Thedi Kalvi has benefited disadvantaged students, and the study sheds light on students with mothers who have lesser educational qualifications and how support has been beneficial,” he added.

At present, nearly 34 lakh children attend after-school programs at 2 lakh Illam Thedi Kalvi centers across the state. The School Education Department is now gearing up to conduct a third-party assessment of the scheme as well, and its impact on bridging learning gaps.

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