Skip to Content

### India’s Education Reform: Navigating Donor Influence and the Balancing Act

In a striking demonstration of the difficulties associated with providing education nationwide in India, a teacher in Jharkhand was recently observed carrying workbooks for 200 students on her head to a remote school. This incident underscores the challenges at the grassroots level in implementing the Government of India’s Foundational Literacy Numeracy (FLN) program, which aims to improve reading and writing skills among schoolchildren. Simultaneously, the story of a 14-year-old in Delhi experiencing violence and discrimination in a higher-ability classroom sheds light on the deep-rooted issues of segregation and inequality that afflict the education system.

Divergent Realities: Private Philanthropy vs. Public Investment

Affluent Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and entities such as Pratham USA and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have generously invested in Indian education, with Pratham USA raising Rs 216 crore and the Gates Foundation contributing Rs 300 crore since 2009. These donations starkly contrast with the diminishing government spending on education and the persistent problem of students attending school without effectively acquiring knowledge. The annual ASER survey by Pratham consistently underscores these learning disparities, underscoring the critical need to address foundational literacy and numeracy.

FLN and ASER: Agents of Transformation or Contention?

The FLN initiative, supported by NGOs like Pratham and mandated by the government as part of the New Education Policy 2020, seeks to address the learning crisis in India. Nevertheless, its implementation, particularly the practice of segregating students based on their abilities, has sparked discussions about its potential to worsen educational inequalities and undermine the professionalism of teachers. Critics contend that while the objectives of FLN are praiseworthy, its implementation could further marginalize already vulnerable students.

The Impact of External Funding: A Complex Issue

The injection of donor funds into India’s education sector, though substantial, raises concerns about its long-term effects on public education systems. The narrative, not only in India but also in the United States, where donor influence in education has been a topic of scrutiny, indicates that while philanthropy can bridge gaps left by insufficient public funding, it also runs the risk of prioritizing donor interests over systemic requirements. The debate persists on whether these interventions are beneficial or detrimental, with the overarching aim of ensuring that every child receives a quality education often becoming a point of contention.

As India tackles these intricate challenges, the episodes in Jharkhand and Delhi serve as poignant reminders of the realities on the ground. The journey toward educational equity is riddled with hurdles but also presents opportunities for genuine reform. The efficacy of FLN, the role of donor contributions, and the quest for a well-rounded approach to educational reform remain focal points in this ongoing discourse. Reflecting on these developments prompts a broader dialogue on how to best nurture India’s future generations, ensuring that they not only enroll in school but also thrive within its walls.