New Delhi: Ashish Dhawan-promoted Central Square Foundation (CSF), London-based hedge fund Steadview Capital, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), and Google India have pooled in $40 million to help improve early-stage education in India.

The fund will primarily help students from class I-III to improve their reading and mathematics skills.

This is the first time BMGF, which has committed $16 million over four years, is venturing into the education funding space outside the US. While Steadview Capital has committed $7.2 million for three years, Google has made a one-time commitment of $2 million to produce mathematics-related video content for classes I-X. The rest will come from CSF.

“From a diversified strategy, CSF has decided to focus on early-stage education and its outcome, so that millions of children who are entering the school system gain basic literacy and mathematics skills," said Dhawan, who is also a co-founder of venture capital fund ChrysCapital.

“Foundational learning in early years is a key gateway skill to quality education in schools…and directly correlates to increased workforce participation and better quality of life for India’s human capital." Dhawan had earlier invested 75 crore in the education space through CSF.

The falling standards of primary schools have been a cause for concern for a while. A 2017 annual state of education report by education non-profit Pratham said that one in two students, cannot even read texts meant for students three levels below, and indicated that it directly impacts the productivity of India’s workforce.

“Education is a cumulative process. You do not get good outcomes if foundational learning is weak. Foundational literacy and numeracy in India needs to improve. Simply put, if you cannot read with comprehension by, say, Class III, you will not be able to keep up with the curricular demands of higher classes," Girin Beeharry, director, Global Education Learning Strategy, BMGF, said in an email interview.

The India chapter of the foundation will focus on health, agriculture, sanitation and financial services, but may not back the education space, Bill Gates had indicated in an interview earlier this year.

Beeharry, however, clarified the funding to CSF is to “support their strategy and not a diversion of resources from our (four) programmatic priorities".

“We can help through large scale pilots, pedagogical tools, training, frontline assessment and evaluations. But the bigger goal is the system must be part of it. Unless states show their willingness it won’t be possible," Dhawan said, adding that the initial focus will be on two to four states.

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