Back-to-School Outcomes Fund to address learning crisis

The global pandemic had its deepest and most profound impact on the lives of children. While data showed that more than half of 10-year-old children globally were not able to read and understand a simple sentence before the pandemic, long school closures made the situation a lot worse, with nearly two-thirds of all children not being able to read with understanding[i]. India is no exception to these trends.

Learning losses due to the pandemic, combined with low levels of learnings to begin with, put millions of children at risk of lagging behind not just in school, but also in their working lives.

In order to address this crisis, leading education actors and experts in India have recommended a deeper focus on the building blocks of learning – foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN) skills, which help children thrive in schools and throughout their lives.  The Government of India has taken this issue seriously and is prioritizing achieving universal FLN in the new National Education Policy and through the NIPUN Bharat Mission. 

Recognizing the urgent and important need for collaborative action alongside the Government of India’s NIPUN Bharat Mission, a coalition of partners is launching a first-of-its kind initiative, the ‘Back-to-School Outcomes Fund.’

The Fund aims to improve FLN skills of up to three million children in Government schools across India in five states over five years - Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi.

This Fund adopts the principles of outcome-based financing through two complementary pathways to impact – the Back-to-School Development Impact Bond to improve in-school learning outcomes, and an ed-tech accelerator (Accelerator) that focuses on at home or remote learning.  

Building on the proven track record, data and evidence from partners, and the learnings from the Quality Education India Development Impact Bond, the Back-to- School Development Impact Bond aims to improve FLN learning outcomes by deploying evidence-backed and cost-effective in-school interventions. The interventions will function within the state school systems and are designed to ease government adoption of best practices in imparting FLN skills by involving education officials, building their capacities, and conducting regular outcome assessments.

To complement the in-school focus of the Back-to- School Development Impact Bond, the Accelerator will promote access to and use of high-quality and contextually relevant edtech solutions in FLN to encourage at home learning. The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the paradox of edtech in India – only 1% of the 4,500 ed-tech companies[ii] in 2019 focused on FLN, with fewer focused on low-income segments in India. Since COVID-19, education experts have emphasized the significance of supporting children’s learning at home for better outcomes.

The use of outcome-based financing has been proven to nudge the whole ecosystem to shift the focus from inputs to learning outcomes. It also provides the flexibility required to nurture innovation, generates valuable evidence and benchmarks, and encourages performance and data driven mindset in the sector.

Each pathway to impact is supported by a consortium of partners comprised of foundations, corporations, bi-lateral aid agencies, intermediaries and education partners.

The Back-to-School Development Impact Bond is supported by leading corporate social responsibility partners including the Reliance Foundation, leading philanthropies including the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Atlassian Foundation, and social impact investors including the Bridges Outcomes Management and Kaizenvest.

Dalberg Advisors is the facility design partner anchoring the design of the overall fund and the DIB as well as the performance manager, working with four implementation partners:  Kaivalya Education Foundation, Language and Learning Foundation, Pratham and Peepul, and with Central Square Foundation as FLN and Government Engagement Advisor.

The Accelerator is supported by Reliance Foundation, a founding partner, with Central Square Foundation anchoring the design and implementation.

The British Asian Trust functions as the Fund Manager and USAID has provided technical assistance support to set up the Fund.

This vibrant and diverse mix of partners enables the FLN ecosystem to leverage and benefit from their unique competencies and expertise and achieve the shared vision of a better future for millions of children in India.

[i] https://blogs.worldbank.org/education/new-opportunity-help-ensure-all-children-learn-and-fulfill-their-potential

[ii] Tracxn and internal benchmarking conducted by Central Square Foundation