Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, announced April 6 that it had awarded $8.4 million to three Indian NGOs focused on education. Google made the announcement at a ceremony in New Delhi. Pratham – India’s largest education-focused NGO – will receive a total of $6.7 million: $3.1 million for its Education Foundation, and $3.7 million to support a unique program, StoryWeaver, which allows children to create their own books to share online.
Learning Equality, which works in several countries to make online content available to students who have no access to the internet, received $500,000 for its work in India. The Million Sparks Foundation, which aims to equip India’s teachers with tools for better educating their pupils, received $1.2 million.
The four grants are part of a larger $50 million initiative announced by Google in March, which aims to bridge the gap in quality education throughout the world. “Access to learning and information is a part of our core values at Google,” said Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink, education lead at Google.org, in a press statement. “We’re excited to announce our $50 million commitment to help scale groundbreaking education nonprofits working to make a quality education a reality for everyone,” she said.
Pratham noted in its annual survey of India’s schoolchildren – ASER – that 260 million kids are enrolled in school, but about half of the country’s fifth graders cannot read a simple sentence or do basic arithmetic. Less than a third of third graders can do a two-digit subtraction.
Pratham’s Education Foundation has developed a unique “hybrid learning program,” which uses small portable computers – tablets – to deliver curriculum to groups of students in India. Children in grades 5 to 8 organize in groups of five; two groups share a tablet and decide together what they wish to learn.
“Along with learning science, English and math, students also learn how to work collaboratively with their peers and foster their curiosity,” wrote Nick Cain, google.org’s manager for education, in a blog post.
“This grant from Google is a shot in the arm as we experiment with open learning to achieve education equality,” said Pratham co-founder and president Madhav Chavan, in a press statement. Google donated $4 million to Pratham in 2007 to establish the ASER center.
Pratham’s StoryWeaver is an online platform that allows children to create books in their own language and share them with others. The site currently offers free stories in 60 different languages. Children can remix the stories to create their own versions. Teachers can translate the stories for their students. The initiative aims to “see a book in every child’s hand.”
The books are also available in several African languages, as well as French, German, and Spanish. The Million Sparks Foundation reported that only 13 percent of India’s teachers passed the India Central Teacher Eligibility test in 2015, but most teachers remain in the classroom, regardless of their ability to teach.
Lacking well trained teachers, one in three students in India’s public and low-cost private schools leave primary school unable to read a 2nd grade text-book, noted the organization. The Million Sparks Foundation has developed a unique initiative – Chalklit – which delivers lesson plans, learning modules, and educational videos to teachers via a mobile telephone app.
ChalkLit’s content conforms to public curriculum standards. In 2016, the Delhi State Council of Education Research and Training collaborated with the Million Sparks Foundation and began using ChalkLit to provide in-service training for 60,000 school teachers.
Learning Equality 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 digital content, even in the most remote locations.
Jamie Alexandre, executive director at Learning Equality, said in a blog post that –while interning at the Indian American-founded Khan Academy in 2012 – he pondered the issue of how to get the web portal’s vast educational resources to the 4.3 billion people around the world who do not have consistent access to the internet.
“What if we could build a system to distribute Khan Academy’s content for use in offline settings? If we could achieve that, we wouldn’t have to leave generations behind while waiting for the slow expansion of the Internet. We could immediately jump in and provide high-quality educational materials to learners in low-resource communities,” noted Alexandre. Along with the monetary grants, Google engineers will volunteer their skills to the organizations to help them scale to the next level.