The William and Flora Hewlett and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations announced a $9.1 million grant for Pratham, a non-profit organisation, recently to help 60 million children in India get added help in basic math, reading and writing.
The grant supports Pratham's Read India initiative, which is working in conjunction with the state governments in India to help ensure that children between the ages of 6 and 14 achieve basic mastery in these skills by the end of 2009.
The gift to Pratham is the first grant the Hewlett and Gates Foundations have awarded in their partnership to improve the quality of education in developing countries. The two foundations previously announced that they would collaborate on a series of grants to improve the quality of education at primary and secondary schools in the developing world.
The grant to Pratham will improve basic learning skills in 100 districts of India, affecting 10 million children spread over 10 states, for three years.
The project, which was launched in January, will be executed in two phases: first 'learning to read' followed by 'reading to learn.'
The grant also will support a rigorous evaluation of the Read India programme, the large-scale expansion of a model to rapidly improve learning levels of children in language, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences and life skills, and an evaluation of individual learning outcomes.
Dr Madhav Chavan, Pratham co-founder and director of programs, thanked the two foundations. "Thousands of members of the Pratham network are pleased with the generous grant," Chavan said. "It is an endorsement of our mission, strategy, and ability to deliver on a large scale."
He explained that an estimated 50 percent of the children in India could not read at a minimum level. Read India is a phased programs that will focus on four major components - introducing 'learning to read' activities in all schools, creating and supplying reading and learning materials to teachers, involving mothers in their children's learning, and mobilising youth groups in helping teachers, children, and parents.
The programme will be an important step in the efforts to end the cycle of poverty perpetuated by illiteracy and poor education.
As part of its mission, Pratham volunteers and supporters are working to ensure that every Indian child is in school and learning well, enabling India to eliminate childhood illiteracy in India and to meet the UN millennium education goals.
Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest welcomed the collaboration, saying, the foundation was pleased that Pratham's Read India initiative was the first recipient of the collaboration between the Hewlett and Gates foundations.
"The goal is to leverage the resources of both foundations to address a key barrier facing the poor -- lack of genuine educational opportunities. It also is an implicit recognition that profound social problems are interrelated. It's hard to reduce poverty, improve health or raise the status of women without also extending to the poor access to a quality education," he said in a statement.
Brest said the Read India initiative is a good example of the type of grants the foundations plan to award because it holds the promise of large-scale impact on a major societal need combined with rigorous evaluation that should allow what's learned be broadly applied elsewhere in the developing world.
Mahalingham Ramesh, president, Pratham USA, said in addition to this grant the organisation aims to raise $15 million more in the next two years through sponsorships and individual donations to provide the remaining 500 districts in India with the staff, volunteers and ways to calibrate results.
Pratham, founded in 1994 in partnership with UNICEF, is the largest educational non-government organisation in India. Founded in India as a grassroots effort to end illiteracy its mission is to provide underprivileged children in India with an opportunity to gain the reading and education skills needed to secure a job with a living wage and to improve their lives and the lives of future generations.
Pratham reaches 350,000 children each year through its direct programs and many millions more through its libraries and its catalytic programs in partnership with state governments.