BYJU’S ‘Education for All’: Ensuring equal educational opportunities to children from underserved communities
Out of the 1.6 billion children worldwide who missed out on schooling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 250 million were from India. Two years on, education levels have continued to drop. Pre-existing challenges like poor access to education, infrastructure, teaching material and resources, are exacerbating the learning gap.
With a vision to democratise education and ensure that every child gets an opportunity to learn, edtech decacorn BYJU’S launched the ‘Education for All’ (EFA) programme during the pandemic. The social impact initiative provides free educational resources to students from underserved areas and lower socio-economic backgrounds. And it has helped 3.4 million students in one year. 57 percent of the learners are attributing their performance improvement to BYJU'S. And girls on the whole form 47 percent of the beneficiary set.
“The mission behind Education for All is to ensure that children from underprivileged backgrounds who lack the means to afford good quality education, can be brought on the same plane as their urban peers, and therefore can learn at an equal level,” says Mansi Kasliwal, VP, Social Initiatives at, who leads the project in terms of program design and outcome.
Leveraging tech to achieve educational equity
EFA has been able to reach out to students from remote locations like Bagepalli, Hosur, Dharwad, Sindhri, Barmer, Naupada, Hailakandi, Palamu, and various tea estates in the Nilgiris and Darjeeling, thus creating visible on-ground impact. The educational content is pre-downloaded onto the devices with free access for students and teachers and is available in 8 languages for classes 4 to 12. The core target segment is children who fall under the annual income group of below Rs 4 lakh.
Mansi clarifies that ‘underprivileged’ does not refer to just the economically weaker sections of society. “I think it's such a beautiful use case that a child who is discriminated against and has no place to go, can still sit at home and get the same quality of learning. So when I'm saying underserved, I don't just mean economically weaker sections, I also mean children who are ostracised because of their backgrounds. Those who are HIV+ve or are terminally ill, those who identify themselves as LGBTQ, victims of child labour, and also children with physical disabilities,” she says.
According to Mansi, tech gives organisations the wings to grow. “My favourite thing about tech-led interventions is the scale at which you can very quickly achieve social disruption,” she adds.
When it comes to impact-related projects as opposed to profit-based businesses, budget and costs often become detrimental to the impact.
“There is no financial ROI in philanthropic work. You're looking at sustainable and viable outcomes for the community. Outcomes can't be achieved till there is enough input. And for education-related projects, you're not going to see the learning outcomes immediately. The triple bottom line, Social Return on Investment (SROI), and the primary, secondary and tertiary impact on students’ learning experience and therefore the community at large are the metrics to measure and improve on,” she shares.
Challenges along the social impact route
“It's difficult to do anything alone in the development sector, given the huge and widespread nature of the problem. When we started conceptualising the sort of impact we wanted to have. We started organizing and designing multistakeholder programmes. Collaboration among corporates, non-profits, foundations and local and state governments is the key to grassroots-level impactful work” says Mansi.
One of the largest stakeholders for EFA, she reveals, are NGO partners — local as well as global — that have the same mission of wanting to provide digital education or leveraging tech as a means to provide good quality education to children. Another significant stakeholder is the government.
“We work with several state and central governments, along with departments of state governments. Defining the framework for the outcome for each of these partners, we step in with our digital content and the other stakeholders take over with their strengths. The objective is to be able to deliver a holistic program on the ground,” she adds.
The edtech giant is also working with organisations like the Rotary India Literacy Mission, Masoom Foundation, and Right to Live, to impact change at the ground level.
Partnerships and implementation
BYJU’S has partnered with more than 120+ NGOs across 26 states to equip students from underserved communities with the right tools to access quality education on the company’s free streaming platforms. The initiative also focuses on equal learning opportunities for male and female students, with girls accounting for half of the beneficiaries.
BYJU’S approaches NGO partners that work with children or provide learning tools to them and puts out ad invites across platforms. BYJU’S then provides student licenses wherein children are asked to select their specific grades. This is especially useful in the case of shared devices. Students are informed once the licenses are activated and can immediately start using their devices.
BYJU’S also conducts orientation programmes for NGO partners and teachers.
Partnerships for EFA transcend boundaries with the initiative recently announcing football icon Lionel Messi as its global brand ambassador. This association with one of the world’s most popular sports persons is in sync with the expanding global footprint of BYJU’S and its commitment to making education accessible, equitable, and affordable for all.
“There are few who have a global reputation for hard work and excellence the way Lionel Messi does. His spirit of graciousness has left the world inspired, and it’s with this same passion that we want to spread the message of quality learning through our Education for All efforts as well. Through this partnership we are confident to touch the lives of the 5.5 million children we currently empower. We are positive that with a strong ambassador like Messi, we can reach the heart of communities and children around the world,” says Mansi.
Customising learning journeys
While Mansi’s focus is on access, she has also made sure that benchmark studies have been done to understand where the children are at; and, what kind of delta EFA can bring about in the students’ learning journeys.
“We've worked with third-party Impact Assessment agencies to enter primary, secondary and tertiary outcomes. Just in terms of engagement and quality, 100 percent of the respondents we've conducted these studies on have said that the app has been extremely useful in terms of content. Animated videos and gamification have been very well received,” reveals Mansi.
The app is being used by students to clarify doubts and practise mock tests. As more and more students use the app, they get comfortable using digital technology, and engagement increases sharply. Around 70 percent of the overall users are on the app for at least one hour per day.
The initiative is addressing three deprivations with one arrow — that of the device, internet access, and quality content. “In a way, it’s our attempt to bring the school to the child when the vice-versa can’t happen. And the reason I’m saying this is that, for most of these children, our learning app is their primary mode of learning, especially during the pandemic,” adds Mansi.
The road ahead
The question of who solves the problem first has always driven conversations around using in-house tech for social impact, explains Mansi. She feels that EFA as a programme has worked and scaled up so quickly because the team wasn’t trying to be the first ones to solve the problem. They were just being spokes in the wheel. A collaborative approach and understanding of limitations have helped them tremendously.
In May 2022, BYJU’S Education For All announced the launch of a special two-year Fellowship Program for young, dynamic candidates aspiring to work in the social development sector.
The first cohort of this fellowship program includes 70 fellows with social development experience shortlisted from across the country. The fellows are responsible for managing BYJU’S social initiative programmes in some of India’s aspirational districts in collaboration with NITI Aayog. While gaining hands-on experience in some of the most challenging working conditions the fellows also receive training through workshops on developmental topics, product knowledge sessions, and discussions with industry experts for their professional development.
As a part of this programme, fellows will help provide quality education to over 3,000 meritorious JEE and NEET aspirants from underserved communities across 60+ districts. Post completion of this two-year fellowship, top candidates will get a chance to work as full-time employees with BYJU’S social initiatives. The launch of this Fellowship Program is a significant step in that direction as it acts as a springboard for aspiring candidates to make a successful career in the Indian edtech sector.