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Evaluation database

Evaluation report

2015 India: Evaluation of Activity-Based Learning as a means of Child-Friendly Education

Author: Educational Initiatives

Executive summary

With the aim to continuously improve transparency and use of evaluation, UNICEF Evaluation Office manages the "Global Evaluation Reports Oversight System". Within this system, an external independent company reviews and rates all evaluation reports. Please ensure that you check the quality of this evaluation report, whether it is “Outstanding, Best Practice”, “Highly Satisfactory”, “Mostly Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory” before using it. You will find the link to the quality rating below, labelled as ‘Part 3’ of the report.


The top-performing school systems recognize that the only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction: learning occurs when students and teachers interact, and thus to improve learning implies improving the quality of that interaction” (Barber, 2007). The pedagogy of Activity Based Learning (ABL) has been implemented with the aim of supporting learning through improved student-teacher interactions. This pedagogy has been widely implemented in primary government schools in various states in India, including the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. These states have piloted, and many of them have scaled up their ABL programmes in the last few years, and as of 2013, many of these implementations were more than 5 years old. While there have been studies focused on individual states, there has been no national level evaluation that has attempted to understand the various models and implementations and their efficacy. All of these suggested the need for an evaluation that would help in understanding and strengthening ABL programmes in the country. Therefore, UNICEF, in consultation with MHRD, initiated an evaluation of ABL programmes in primary government schools in these 7 states of India in August 2013.


The objectives of the evaluation were:

  • To undertake a comprehensive evaluation of UNICEF-supported ABL programmes in 7 states.
  • To assess the comparative impact of ABL versus traditional teaching methods on both cognitive and non-cognitive learning outcomes of children and on the nature of classroom relationships in the light of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act in 2009 and National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005.
  • To identify areas that need further strengthening in the way that ABL is understood and implemented at various levels in different states.
  • To build capacity of state and district level government functionaries to assess and strengthen their own ABL programmes, by involving them at all stages of the evaluation process.


The evaluation was done in three stages:

  • Stage 1 (Aug-Nov 2013): collection of ABL materials including training modules and understanding the current status and history of ABL in each of the 7 states by observing classrooms and speaking with different stakeholders at state/district/sub-district levels; development and piloting of tools for Stage 2 and development of training material for field evaluators
  • Stage 2 (Dec 2013-June 2014): administration of achievement surveys, teacher surveys and basic classroom observations in a total of 857 schools in the 7 states, including both ABL and non-ABL schools; collection, cleaning and analysis of data using these tools
  • Stage 3 (September 2014-February 2015): development of tools for stage 3, sub-sampling of the highest-performing and lowest-performing ABL classrooms from Stage 2; administration of a second round of achievement survey, and conduction of an in-depth qualitative study involving several hours of classroom observations and teacher interviews
    The data from these 3 stages were seen together, and the insights integrated, to arrive at the findings and conclusions in this report.

Findings and Conclusions:


  • Less than a third of ABL classrooms meet the desired goals of ABL. Practices in 75% of classrooms are largely fear-free, though this also includes classrooms where the atmosphere is casual and not oriented towards learning. High child engagement is seen in 27% of classrooms. Children are seen to take charge of their learning in only 13% classrooms.
  • The amount of effort taken by the teacher, her/his ability to keep all children engaged and a buy-in into the ABL programme contribute to alignment to CFLC principles. Further, in classrooms where grouping with card-ladder was being followed, a greater autonomy of learners was observed. Grouping based on card-ladder and high usage of materials correlate with better alignment to CFLC principles.

Teachers in only 25 out of 110 classrooms were observed putting in the required effort. This is in contrast to only 3 teachers putting in the required effort in the remaining 80 classrooms. Further, only 23 teachers in all had a favourable opinion of ABL, and 16 of these were following grouping based on card-ladder.


  • The differences in learning outcomes and classroom parameters between ABL and Non-ABL schools in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand are not significant. These differences are significant in Gujarat. When comparisons are made between classrooms that adhere more closely to the original state models (adapted from the RIVER model) and those that do not, there are significant differences.

Classrooms, where grouping based on card-ladder is followed, are 0.5 standard deviations ahead on learning outcomes, of classrooms where whole class teaching is practiced. Similarly, classrooms where high usage of learning materials is observed are 0.3 standard deviations ahead on learning outcomes, of classrooms where usage of materials is low.

For more findings under the OECD-DAC criteria, please refer to the attached report.


UNICEF is well positioned to support national bodies and state leadership in building systemic capacity to bring about change and should consider supporting them on the recommendations laid out for them above. Specifically, it is suggested that UNICEF:

  1. Disseminate the findings of this evaluation and recommendations widely through a communication kit, and initiate a larger dialogue through conducting a national workshop including representatives from states.
  2. Organize a round table of senior state functionaries as well as national functionaries on the study findings and larger lessons related to education and bringing about systemic change.
  3. Support the building of systemic capacity in national and state institutions, especially related to creating a ‘body of knowledge’ or ‘science of learning’. This could be done by providing technical assistance and handholding.
  4. Support the improvement of pre-service teacher education programmes like B.Ed., and D.Ed. as well as in-service programmes, based on the recommendations from this evaluation.
  5. Assist states in weaving in recommended actions from this evaluation into state educational plans, by organizing consultations for this purpose.

State Leadership

  1. Articulate where ABL stands within vision, strategies and guiding principles of the state’s educational programmes. Currently there are cases where different programmes pose conflicting requirements on stakeholders.
  2. The highest levels of leadership need to spend significant time in communicating the vision and goals of ABL and requirements from different stakeholders. This was the practice in early years of ABL in many states and this needs to be continued to stress the seriousness of the state and help stakeholders change their mindsets.

For a full list of recommendations by audience, please refer to the attached report.

Lessons Learned:

The key lessons learned, which are summarized below, form the basis for recommendations:

  1. Activity Based Learning (ABL) (an adaptation of the RIVER model) is associated with positive classroom indicators and better learning outcomes.
  2. However, less than a third of classrooms in the study had a child-friendly, learning centred environment and around 11% of classrooms were implementing ABL as intended in the initial state models.
  3. Changes in ABL Design and Quality of Implementation have resulted in low adoption of ABL.
    • When changes are frequent, this leads to confusion among teachers and affects their practice. One example of this is the number of changes made in Tamil Nadu over the last few years- including the changes to the cards and the introduction of textbooks. Another example is the shift to textbooks in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, which restrict the possibilities for self-paced learning and activity-based grouping to aid teacher classroom management, which were possible in their initial models.
    • The failure of ABL programmes is also associated with lower quality of implementation (adequate training & support, material supply timelines etc.). This is particularly true for the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

4. Teacher Effort and Buy-in are critical for successful practice of ABL. This effort is related to understanding underlying principles of ABL and buy-in into the state’s ABL model. As described in point 3, these get affected due to insufficient training and support inputs or due to frequent changes in ABL design.

5. The sustainability of ABL programmes has been affected by focusing more on the procedural aspects of ABL rather than the underlying principles. A research-based systematic approach to evolving the programme to meet stakeholder needs has also been lacking.

Full report in PDF

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