The Companies Act, 2013 opened doors for corporate organizations to actively engage in with driving positive social change. The new law makes it mandatory for profitable companies of a certain minimum size to contribute towards Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Since the introduction of the CSR law, education programs and initiatives have received an increased level of funding from business organizations. A report by the social consulting firm, Samhita Social Ventures indicates that out of 100 listed companies, at least 75 companies spend their CSR on one or more programs in education. This is good news for a country that is home to the largest number of young in the world.
Indian children are, unfortunately, not receiving even the minimum levels of education. ASER 2020 reports alarming levels of illiteracy for children at the foundational stage. Over the past decade, surveys indicate almost 50% of students are unable to read textbooks of lower grades. With nearly 170 million students attending India’s 1.2 million government schools, this is a crisis of mammoth proportion.
The engagement of private enterprises towards transforming the ailing public K12 education system is timely. Private social capital can play a critical role in catalyzing massive change. Money and the ability to execute a given strategy are the need of the hour.
There are many areas that need attention. However, private-public partnerships acquire greater synergy if focused on a few vectors of effort.
School infrastructure including classrooms, furniture, and toilets are best funded from public budgets. Yes, the private sector can assist in fast-tracking specific cases e.g. toilets for females in regions where the ‘girls in schools’ metric needs improvement.
Teacher capacity building is definitely an opportunity for a private engagement. This can be in various ways including building champion-challenger programs that create benchmarks by developing best practices. There are many examples of CSR helping build centers of teacher excellence to establish standards for aspiration and emulation.
Finally, in this modern age, technology is a compulsion. Private commerce is changing the way we live with technology. We must now harness that power to change the way we learn with technology. For example, RightToRead is an initiative that aims to enable English literacy for millions of students in government schools by integrating technology with the curriculum. This program blends education and technology and is poised to reach over one lakh schools within 2020. CSR investments in RightToRead underscore the importance of the initiative and the role of technology to drive large scale benefits.
In summary, CSR has the opportunity and responsibility to play a critical role in improving the Indian education system. Avoiding the temptation of shooting in all directions and choosing a few ‘sweet spots’ that can deliver the best return for the rupee will be critical.
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