In the 17 years since the UN, as part of its Millennium Development Goals, identified getting students into the classroom as one of the biggest challenges to education, the number of kids who aren’t in school has reduced by 50%. Thanks to targeted intervention and political will, the number of children who are in school has reached 90% worldwide. However, many students, still aren’t acquiring basic skills. Some 130 million children globally complete four years of school without learning to read or add and subtract.
It’s not very different in India. Even as India‘s literacy rate has made significant gains over the last few years, learning levels have not necessarily kept up. There are over 260 million children enrolled in schools, but about half of all fifth graders still cannot read a simple text or do basic arithmetic. The most recent ASER study by Pratham shows that only 43% of Std III students are able to read a Std I level text and less than 30% of Std III children can do a 2-digit subtraction. The reasons behind this lag in learning levels are varied and complex, but limited access to quality materials, under-resourced teachers, and barriers to learning outside the classroom are among the many challenges.
At Google we believe that technology can help bridge the gaps that block educational resources from reaching students, while also making those resources more engaging, interactive and effective.
Google has never taken a conventional approach to solving problems, and neither does Google.org, our philanthropic arm. Our approach is to find the most promising nonprofits and put the best of Google—our philanthropy, our people, our products—to work, helping them close this worldwide gap in learning and academic opportunity.
Google.org, is expanding its commitment to help more children reach their potential and bridge the education gap through a global $50 million grant commitment. This funding will go towards supporting nonprofits that are building tech-based learning solutions.
Part of the global grant, US$8.4 million will be given to four NGOs in India, Learning Equality, Million Sparks Foundation, Pratham Books StoryWeaver, and Pratham Education Foundation over the next two years to expand and scale the work they are doing to enhance the learning experience for students in the classroom.
These organizations are using technology in innovative ways to improve the quality of education by boosting access to quality materials, helping to develop teachers, and enabling learning beyond the classroom. Read more how they’re doing this below.
Pratham Books - StoryWeaver ($3.6 million in India) - Creating an open-sourced platform for translating books
Pratham Books has created StoryWeaver, an online platform whose open source technology connects readers, authors, illustrators, and translators to create free stories that can be translated, remixed, and even newly authored. Parents and teachers can easily find stories that fit their students’ reading level and language preferences, and all StoryWeaver content is free and can be easily accessed, downloaded, or printed.
Today StoryWeaver offers books in over 60 languages. With support from Google.org, Pratham Books aims to dramatically increase StoryWeaver’s reach, aiming for more than 500,000 active users and 20,000 titles.
Pratham Education Foundation ($3.1 million in India) - Giving kids self-driven, offline lessons to learn in any environment
Pratham’s Hybrid Learning Program empowers students to use self-driven, tablet-based curricula to learn outside of the classroom. Students ranging from grade 5 to 8 self-organize into groups of five. Two groups share a tablet, and children in each group decide together what content they’d like to learn. Along with learning science, English and math, students also learn how to work collaboratively with their peers and foster their curiosity.
The data collected from the program will help Pratham and the broader sector better understand how a student-focused model can accompany more traditional teacher-focused models, with the hope of scaling these methodologies across India’s rural school ecosystem.
Million Sparks Foundation ($1.2 million in India) - Connecting teachers to create a knowledge sharing community
A shortage of qualified, high-performing teachers in India’s public and low-cost private schools continues to affect educational quality for India’s low-income students. In 2015, only 13.5% of teachers passed the India Central Teacher Eligibility Test. But when 1 in 7 public schools lack the minimum number of teachers, most teachers remain in the classroom regardless of performance.
The Million Sparks Foundation is addressing these challenges with ChalkLit, a digital content platform and social community whose lesson plans, learning modules, videos, support high caliber teaching. ChalkLit content is divided into bite-sized chunks and organized to align with public curriculum standards, and accessible by teachers via a lightweight mobile app built for users with limited connectivity.
Learning Equality (US$ 500K for India as part of the $5 million across India, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa) - Taking digital content offline for students without internet
The organization has built a free open-source software to bring online materials—including books, video tutorials and quizzes—to the 4.3 billion people who lack consistent access to the internet. Their new platform, Kolibri, runs on numerous devices and helps educators access, organize and customize digital content, even in the most remote locations.
With their local partners Motivation for Excellence, the team aims at bridging the digital divide by bringing the online learning revolution offline. The Nalanda Project is an in-class technology intervention that empowers students to take charge of their learning and allows teachers to efficiently deliver classroom instruction.
When we support an organization, we commit more than just our funding—we bring these grantees into the company and give them access to our best thinkers. Google engineers volunteer their skills and time to help our grantees take their products to the next level, and Google provides products and tools help them scale solutions. And, always, we share what we learn with the rest of the nonprofit sector; we believe technology solutions that can help anyone ought to belong to everyone.
We look forward to supporting the impact that these programs will have on students and educators across India, and to expanding our efforts throughout the next year. Together we look forward to applying technology to improve learning outcomes for the country’s future generations.
Posted by Nick Cain, Program Manager, Education, Google.org