In recent years, the Indian government has focused on making schools more accessible so that more Indian children can participate in India’s extraordinary economic growth. Enrollment in India’s public and private schools has increased, yet the country still struggles with improving the low quality of education. It’s estimated that 53 percent of fifth graders can’t read at a second-grade level. Meanwhile, 46 percent can’t solve a two-digit subtraction problem.
Unfortunately, the quality education challenge in India extends beyond primary and secondary schooling. Those that do get through school struggle with highly competitive college entrance examinations to top tier colleges and others fail to complete college, even at less reputable institutions, creating an imminent shortage of skilled employees. In a workforce of more than 495 million, less than 10 percent possess employable skills despite informal and formal vocational training programs. Over the next ten years, 500 million youth will need to be skilled to support market demands.
Further to the education challenge is the lack of access to financial products and services for an estimated 280 million people. Far too many of India’s low-income families are still unbanked which limits the necessary incentives for entrepreneurship and engagement in the economy.
We are encouraged by the new and unprecedented focus placed by the Indian government on improving education quality, job-oriented skill development and catalyzing an environment for entrepreneurial growth. We know that giving people living in urban poverty a quality education, the right financial tools, skills development and employment opportunities can lead to better outcomes. We have learned that urban youth from low-income families are ambitious, and they seek a path to the middle class and not just a minimum wage job. We know that all parents, no matter what their economic status, want the best education for their children.