The Impact of a Computer-based Adult Literacy Program on Literacy and Numeracy: Evidence from India

Elsevier, World Development, Volume 96, 1 August 2017
Deshpande A., Desrochers A., Ksoll C., Shonchoy A.S.
With over 700 million illiterate adults worldwide, governments in many developing countries have implemented adult literacy programs. Typically these programs have low rates of success partly because the quality of teaching is heterogeneous. Standardization of teaching provided by computer-aided instruction might be a solution. However, there is little rigorous evidence of the effectiveness of computer-based adult literacy programs in delivering high-quality literacy and numeracy in the developing world. To fill this void in the literature, we study the impact of a computer-based adult literacy program, Tara Akshar Plus, on the literacy and numeracy skills of previously illiterate adult women in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Through a randomized control trial, we measure learning outcomes with individual-level literacy and numeracy tests and find statistically significant positive impacts of this computer-aided program on literacy and numeracy outcomes of women who undergo the TARA Akshar Plus program—relative to the control group. The effects are statistically significant but small in magnitude for women who were entirely illiterate prior to the program. The learning impacts are substantially larger for learners who knew at least a handful of letters at the beginning of the program. We compare the improvement in learning to that of another adult literacy and numeracy program. We conclude that TARA Akshar Plus is the more effective of the two, but the literacy and numeracy level achieved are not large enough to make many entirely illiterate learners become functionally literate.