India is estimated to have 440 million children. 42% of them lie below the international poverty line of USD 1.25 per day and millions of others, even though above poverty line, are marginalised due to poverty, malnourishment, illiteracy and other factors. Health and education outcomes of children in India are among the worst in the world. 80% of the children under the age of 3 have anaemia. 48% of the children under the age of 5 are chronically malnourished. 50% of the children do not attend school regularly and after five years of classes, fewer than 60% can read a short story or do simple arithmetic. Two-thirds of the children are victims of physical abuse and around half of them face emotional abuse.
The above statistics indicate that our children are not poised to perform well in life. A child’s development is not only restricted to one’s education outcomes, but also includes health, nutrition, cognitive skills and socio-emotional skills. Children need a healthy and intellectually stimulating environment at school as well outside of school to grow into capable adults. The family and community of a child play a massive role in his/her development. The fourth publication of the Evidence series: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement states that, “The evidence is consistent, positive, and convincing: families have a major influence on their children’s achievement in school and through life.”
A child spends the majority of his/her time in an out-of-school setting. The families in low-income groups generally lack the awareness, capacity and capability to engage effectively in their child’s development. This can be attributed to low level of education and exposure of parents. There is a need to build parents’ belief, knowledge and skills in order to empower them to contribute to their child’s development. Without leveraging technology, reaching out to individual parents can be a Herculean task. However, as the parents belong to a low-income group, access to technology is minimal.
We believe that parents can play an effective role, if supported with the right set of tools and techniques. Helping parents to engage more effectively in their child’s development is more of a behavioural than a product challenge. One has to keep behaviour science at the core of intervention’s product and programme design. Since the scale of the problem is massive, we envision a mobile (smartphone as well as feature/multimedia phone) based solution. A solution which will provide parents with a set of a dedicated curriculum based, at-home DIY activities with children, focusing on academics, health & nutrition, and socio-emotional & cognitive skills. While there exists a large amount of content regarding child development, the key to success is the contextualisation and effective delivery of this content. Partnering and selling to schools could be considered as a commercialisation strategy, but diligence is required to measure the pros and cons of this approach. The solution can be applicable to any age group, however it would be prudent to begin with choosing a certain age group like 2-5 years (early childhood) or 6 to 10 years (elementary school) to work with.
As mentioned, working with parents needs a huge behaviour shift. Behaviour change is a complex process involving multiple variables. Apart from this, a few potential challenges that could come up during the execution stage are:
● Lack of tools and techniques for measuring health, cognitive and socio-emotional indicators
● Minimal/restricted access to technology
● Outreach and acquiring users
● Reluctance from schools