Nelson Mandela famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” For ages, education has been the only reliable way out of poverty. Around the world, education for underprivileged children has a disproportionate benefit, both to the child and the society at large. The United Nations regards education as a worldwide “passport to human development”. Children’s education needs to be prioritized to secure a nation’s future. The sad reality, however, is that the underprivileged children often attend substandard schools, and don’t get a quality education. Education is their only shot at a better life, and irrespective of innate ability, underprivileged children can’t access quality education equally.

India is largely a poor or low-income country, where 134 Million people live under extreme poverty–living on less than $2 per day–and 1.162 Billion are low-income–living on $2-10 per day (source Pew Research study). The pandemic has expanded the ranks of the poor by 75 Million people. Cash strapped parents often overlook the eventual benefits that quality education brings. For many families, the short term need for earning hands outweighs the long term benefits of education. Poor parents put their children to work or keep them at home to help with chores, especially girls who help with raising their younger siblings. Children skip school and get caught in a cycle of poverty by foregoing their education.

India’s share of the world’s crippling poverty is more than its share of the world population.

Challenges in Education

India has over 350 Million children in the K-12 age range (source Census). This huge school age population is mostly low income. Children in India are also scattered across vast urban-rural divides. The complexity of this situation weighs heavily upon the government education system. The Indian government works hard to ensure that this exploding population has access to basic education. However, in order to cater to the needs of the masses, and deliver the quantity of education needed, the quality of education in India schools has suffered. 

ASER 2018 report indicates that education has not resulted in learning. The entry grade basic learning levels are abysmally low. Half of the Grade-5 students have language and mathematical skills equivalent to that of a Grade-2 student. The learning trajectories are flat. The learning levels in a typical classroom are highly uneven, making the issue even harder to solve. The education system follows a preset grade-level curriculum, and most of the students are progressively left behind over the years. There is a need for immediate intervention at the primary level to improve the learning skills. 

There is an immediate need for innovative solutions to basic education, and by not being able to deliver the quality of education needed, in the quantity it is needed in India, the country is not making a noticeable dent in the problem. We are not providing our children with something different from what children got decades ago. Children from all corners of the world deserve a quality education, something recognized as a fundamental right in most nations. By not providing them with this, we effectively entrench poverty even further for them. Children should at least possess the ability to read and write and, eventually, obtain the power to break the poverty cycle. Our country’s future and the success of future generations depend on this. 

Private Schools

The overburdening and underperformance of schools in the government system has paved the way for a parallel private education system to flourish in India. Private schools have mushroomed throughout the country catering to the needs of all income groups. Almost one-third of Indian students chose to go to, and pay for, a private school. 

Image Source: Central Square Foundation

According to a Central Square Foundation report, over the last three decades, the number of private schools has quadrupled. A significant proportion of India’s 400,000 unaided private schools have annual fees of less than Rs 20,000 (US $275). These low-cost private schools are now synonymous with an education that is community-sourced, adaptable, and more accountable. Parents prefer private schools to public schools. This is related to economic aspiration, English fluency, computing skills, and a lack of trust and poor learning outcomes in government schools. The India private schools are also more efficient, spending 3.25 times less. Educators in these schools also have a lower absentee rate, resulting in more learning time for their students.

Filling the Gap – Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

India has a large number of charitable organizations, or NGOs, working to improve education, and many other social issues that India is facing. NGOs have become an important instrument in addressing some of India’s most pressing issues, including primary education, sanitation, child rights, housing, poverty, and women’s empowerment. Out of a total of 768,839 NGOs, 61,064 work on education (8.02 percent), according to the Sector-Wise NGO Directory registered with NGO Darpan (Niti Ayog). In metropolitan regions, there are approximately four NGOs per 1,000 people. In rural areas, there are approximately 2.3 NGOs per 1,000 persons. The bulk of NGOs receive between $1 and $5 million in funding. Although a large number of these NGOs appear to receive moderate to high funding, the volatility of funding each year and inefficiencies in resource distribution lead to choppy effectiveness.

Here are some of the NGOs working in the education sector in India whose work we admire.

Make A Difference (MAD)

MAD aims to change how people care for and invest in children. It targets stable middle-class adult outcomes for its students. 89 percent of MAD students are either enrolled in higher education or find a job.

Teach for India

Teach for India, which engages young leaders to enhance the lives of children, is currently active in seven locations. They have 1,100 fellows working with 38,000 kids directly. TFI’s role is to ensure that these children receive a high-quality education.


Pratham has been one of the biggest players in altering the quality of mass education in India and addressing the drawbacks of the current education system. Since their inception they have concentrated their efforts on improving learning levels, enhancing teacher training, reducing dropout rates, and child rights. Its flagship measurement research and assessment unit publishes the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). It is the most quoted source of data on learning outcomes in India.


Child Rights and You (CRY) was formed for providing children basic rights and providing them with justice, equality, and dignity. They work closely with communities, regularly evaluating progress. Moreover, CRY plays a pivotal role in government advocacy for child policies.

Bachpan Bachao Andolan

The Bachpan Bachao Andolan has focused its efforts on integrating kids who have been exploited back into society and aiding them in their psychological recovery. 

Central Square Foundation

CSF has been dispensing grants to support early-stage organizations through capital and capacity building. It also works on developing a research ecosystem focused on devising collaborative platforms for knowledge-building and engaging with the central and state governments to strengthen policy formulation and implementation.

Asha for Education

Asha’s mission is to catalyze socio-economic change in India through the education of underprivileged children. The Asha Trust is committed to the empowerment of marginalized sections of society, with education being its main focus.

Akshaya Patra Foundation

Akshaya Patra runs the most successful mid-day meal program in the country. Their objective is to ensure that all children receive nutritious, hygienic, and empowering mid-day meals.

India can definitely use all the help it can get by various NGOs and other think tanks to improve the learning outcomes for its K-12 education. The problem is enormous, and it will take all the best minds in the world to solve it.

But what about the gifted children?

As we know well, in a classroom with children with varying levels of comprehension, most children are either completely lost or they are bored. The charities we listed above and numerous other organizations focus on enhancing education for the huge number of students who need that extra help. However, in this drive to improve education of every child, children on the other side of the learning spectrum, the talented underprivileged children are often ignored. Several efforts have started in India to allow these children, the so-called “bright” children, to reach their full potential. We will discuss the efforts in India to educate the bright underprivileged children in our upcoming blog– Educating the Bright Underprivileged Children of India.


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