India’s children deserve a solid foundation


Vikram Jain and Sana Kazi


India has made remarkable progress towards universalizing primary education, but learning outcomes are poor. Current efforts to address poor learning outcomes focus on improving primary education but ignore the preschool years. But, the preschool years are one of the most powerful levers to address this challenge.

The ages from 3-5 are particularly important as this is when a child learns critical pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills that are essential for a child’s readiness to enter primary school. The impact of good early education is disproportionately high for children from low-income households. Their parents are likely to be less educated and therefore less able to provide a home environment that is conducive to holistic early childhood development.

86% of children from low-income families – who constitute 70% of urban India – attend affordable private schools (APSs). These families invest ~6% of their income per child on private preschools despite the availability of free public options because they believe them to be of better quality.

Unfortunately APSs use a rote based approach and learning outcomes are as poor as in Government schools (e.g. in Class 1, 78% cannot read 3 simple 3-letter words) but little effort is invested in improving APSs.

The preference for private preschool is unlikely to change but, very few are focusing on improving the quality in private schools. CSR funding and philanthropy are helping government schools and those run by NGOs, while private schools (and the millions of low-income children in them) are neglected.

FSG’s Program to Improve Private Early Education aims to improve learning outcomes
FSG Inclusive Markets creates and delivers sustainable, large-scale and lasting social change. FSG’s Program to Improve Private Early Education (PIPE) has over 2 years developed a model to sustainably serve high quality early education to children. FSG has interviewed 4407 low-income parents in 8 cities to understand their aspirations and challenges related to early education, 40 APS owners to understand their motivations and 186 education solution providers with solutions that can be adapted to the APS market.

AVPN pulls resources through collaborative social investment – in partnership with FSG PIPE Program
PIPE aims to leverage the motivations of the actors to ensure sustainability of the solution. PIPE has partnered with 7 high quality solution providers (partners) to help them serve the APS market at scale. FSG has already piloted such solutions in 35 APSs to understand how they can be translated successfully into APSs.

Through its partners, PIPE works with APS owners and teachers to transform the learning experience in the classroom- teachers are trained to deliver these solutions and classrooms are equipped with appropriate materials. Parents are educated on how they can assess their child’s conceptual learning e.g. asking their child to pick out 12 sticks from a stack of 20, rather than just reciting up to 20.

AVPN, the only pan-Asian network, brings together the full spectrum of social investors from foundations to corporations, impact funds to incubators. It recognises that there is an opportunity to create greater impact through multi-stakeholder collaboration. Thus, AVPN is leveraging its convening strength to set up Collectives of a diverse group of funders and resource providers to facilitate collaborative social investments and attention to under-represented causes with high-impact potential.

During the AVPN India Summit 2017, AVPN launched a report, titled, “Funding Education with Impact – A Guide for Social Investment in India”, which has identified early learning for urban low-income children as a high-priority issue to scale up.

To address this gap, AVPN has kick-started the Early Learning Collective (ELC) and has identified FSG as an implementation partner, given the latter’s extensive work through PIPE. The ELC aims to improve the quality of early education in APSs by bringing together philanthropic foundations and CSR funding in a targeted, impactful, and sustainable manner.

These pooled resources will be able to deliver an improved learning environment for thousands of low-income children by introducing activity based learning products; equipping hundreds of classrooms with appropriate and adequate teaching learning materials; training hundreds of teachers to deliver high quality activity based solutions in classrooms; and informing thousands parents on the benefits of activity based learning.

To join the Collective or learn more, email: or

Vikram Jain, is Director, and Sana Kazi is Program Manager at consulting firm FSG.

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