On May 6 2013, Ashish Dhawan, CEO and Founder of Central Square Foundation, participated in a panel discussion on “Improving Education and Learning Outcomes in India,” organized by the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. The Center looks at education across low and middle income countries around the world, and has recently focused a lot of its work on India. The discussion served as a platform to generate ideas for advancing education in India.
One of the main challenges highlighted by many of the panelists was the fundamental learning gap in our education system, demonstrated by declining learning levels. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) survey in India shows that more than half of children are three years -behind reading level. Additionaly, India ranked second to last globally on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test.
In the panel discussion, Ashish pointed out that India’s education policy has remained largely focused on access and equity. But excellence, the crucial third leg of the stool, has been largely ignored. He added that “we are still not measuring learning outcomes. We do not have standardized assessments.”
However, as Ashish noted, India’s most recent 12th Five Year Plan touches on learning outcomes and providing quality education, indicating that there may be growing awareness surrounding the issue. Indeed, India is beginning to focus on quality of education in response to increased dropout rates in the education system. The country has also begun to spend more money on education, with 11% of the overall budget allocated to education.
Ashish closed by speaking about the role philanthropy and the private sector can play in addressing the quality of education in India. He posited that this role focuses on two areas. The first is research and development work, which can bring innovation to this space, something the government struggles to achieve, instead prioritising scale. The second is advocacy, assembling various constituents together to speak with a unified voice in order to “get government to even change direction a little bit.”
An audio recording of the discussion is available here