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Using Behavioral Insights to Increase Parental Engagement on FLN (Part 1)

By Centre for Social and Behaviour Change (CSBC) and CSF

Jan 28, 2023

This blog is the first part of a two-part series on behavioral interventions to improve parental engagement on FLN. This article describes the findings from CSF and CSBC's diagnostic research and one of the two interventions designed to address key barriers inhibiting engagement.

Solving the foundational learning (FLN) crisis in India cannot be achieved by school systems without support from parents and communities. Studies show that involving parents in their children’s learning can positively affect their child’s academic performance and socio-emotional development1. Children spend 80% of their time at home and parents play a critical role in influencing outcomes such as student attendance and time spent on learning outside of school. The involvement of parents can provide extended academic support to school systems. Yet, few initiatives have been successful in improving parental engagement on early learning.

Central Square Foundation and the Centre for Social and Behaviour Change (CSBC) at Ashoka University collaborated to develop behavioral interventions to increase parental engagement on FLN. We were also supported by NITI Aayog, the Department of Basic Education in Uttar Pradesh, Piramal Foundation and Rocket Learning to implement the project.

The project kicked off with an exploratory study conducted in three aspirational districts in Uttar Pradesh to identify the behavioral barriers impacting FLN outcomes. Interviews with parents, teachers and academic resource persons (ARPs) revealed that parents face motivational and capacity barriers that inhibit their engagement such as –

  • Parents believe that education is important for their child’s future success, but learning in younger classes (1-3) is not valued 
  • Parents lack an understanding of what learning in early classes should look like and how they could support it which led to limited engagement 
  • Low income and low literacy parents feel under-confident to contribute towards their children’s learning which affects their motivation to support any FLN activities
  • Parents find it cognitively challenging and have limited time to engage with learning activities at home.

Based on the learnings from the diagnostic study, the team designed interventions using the below behavioral principles –

(i) Providing role clarity 
While parents may not have the knowledge or resources to be ‘teachers’, they can be good ‘coaches’. Unlike teaching, being coaches did not require them to have strong technical knowledge. Being good coaches involves engaging with their children’s education, tracking their progress, motivating them to learn and getting them the support they need. Parents were reassured that they could help facilitate their child’s learning through this role regardless of their own education levels.

(ii) Making the task easy
The interventions were designed to make the task of engaging on FLN easy for parents by providing them with simple tools and resources, thereby reducing their cognitive load. They were also provided easy to use heuristics to assess and monitor their child’s progress on FLN skills.

(iii) Generating confidence
Parents from weak economic backgrounds with low literacy levels had limited belief in their ability to engage with their children on FLN. Motivational messages designed using behavioral principles were combined with easy to use tools to build parents’ confidence to engage and support their child.

An 8-week intervention program was designed for parents to increase their engagement which included onboarding parents on the role they can play, building their confidence and providing them with simple tools to engage. The diagram below is a summary of various components of the intervention. In this article we detail out the onboarding videos and parent workbook designed using behavioral principles.

1. Onboarding Videos

To orient parents on the role they can play, a set of 4 animated videos were co-developed with Imperium Edutech. These videos provided information about –

  • the importance of foundational learning
  • learning goals for children in class 1-3
  • parent’s role in their child’s FLN progress as coaches 
  • examples of activities they can use to monitor their child’s progress on FLN 

The videos used relatable characters- Mr. and Mrs. Kumar who are parents to young children and have low literacy levels because they did not complete their schooling – to give the information through an engaging narrative. The characters served as role models as they were from a similar background as parents in our context and through the series the audience viewed them facing similar obstacles (e.g low confidence to engage) and successfully overcoming them. The characters demonstrated how consistent engagement by parents conducting simple and fun activities with their children for 15-20 minutes everyday could help support learning at home. The videos also depicted how acquiring FLN skills in early years helps children in higher grades and sets them up for future success as adults. 

Figure 1: Onboarding videos highlighted the role parents can play as coaches
Image: Video Demonstration Session
Photo credits: Neel Karnik

2. Parent Workbook

Parents without access to smartphones were given a workbook comprising simple DIY-style FLN activities that they could do with their children to engage with them and assess their FLN skills. The workbook, co-designed with Commonplace, primarily had visual elements and illustrations with a toll- free number that low-literate parents could use to listen to the instructions written in the book. Parents could call and enter the relevant page number to listen to audio instructions for the activity of their choice. Motivational reminder messages through pre-recorded IVRS calls were disseminated to a subset of parents. All the workbook content was aligned to competencies being taught in schools during that quarter and were developed using state textbooks and teaching-learning material.

Figure 2: Workbooks with easy FLN activities for parents to try at home with their children

The workbook was designed using behavioral principles such as commitment devices, progress trackers and motivational messages to build confidence. At the beginning of every week, parents were asked to write down how many hours they would spend on FLN activities with their children. At the end of every week, the workbook had a progress and attendance tracker where parents could fill their child’s attendance in school and the number of hours spent on FLN. 

Figure 3: Activity Tracker and Commitment Device

Figure 4: Weekly tracker to simplify tracking the child’s engagement in school and FLN activities with motivational reminders to build their confidence

The intervention was evaluated through a randomized controlled trial with 1340 parents in Bahraich and Chitrakoot districts in UP over a period of 2 months2. Baseline and endline surveys were conducted with eligible parents in both treatment and control groups. Parent engagement on FLN was measured through variables such as willingness to pay for FLN, narrative vignettes and confidence bias. Parents in the workbook treatment were trained on how to use the workbook and toll free number by Academic Resource Persons (ARPs) in selected blocks.

Figure 5: Difficulties reported by parents in using the workbook intervention  

The results revealed that the interventions positively impacted parents’ engagement on FLN – for example, parents in the workbook treatment group were willing to pay Rs 192.61 for 30 minutes of time spent on learning FLN activities vs parents in the control group who were willing to pay Rs 180.69. This difference was statistically significant and attributable to the intervention.

Our experience with the study shows that when parents are given clarity on the role they can play and given simple tools to support their children, their engagement levels improve. This model demonstrates a path for large scale reform initiatives on FLN to leverage parental support in a more meaningful way.

1 Qiuyun Lin (2003), ‘Parental Involvement and Early Literacy’, Harvard Family Research Project

2 862 parents were in the treatment group and 478 were in the control group. 612 of the 862 parents in the treatment group received the workbook intervention. A total of 1017 parents participated in both baseline and endline surveys.


Foundational Learning

Authored by

Centre for Social and Behaviour Change (CSBC)

Ashoka University


Central Square Foundation

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