Voices from the USAID Finance and Investment Network: Boston Consulting Group
Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global management consulting firm working across the public and private sector to provide solutions to lingering business and societal challenges. Garima Batra, a Partner at BCG, works with the firm’s social impact practice. In partnership with USAID India and USAID INVEST, Batra and her team conducted an assessment of India’s early childhood education and foundational learning outcomes. Through this effort INVEST examined how private sector engagement can offer opportunities for improvement and new pools of capital for public goods and services.
By Carolanne Chanik, INVEST Communications Coordinator
Students’ foundational learning skills, the ability to read basic text and calculate simple mathematics by grade three, remain in crisis across India. National Achievement Standard surveys indicate that about 50 percent of students in grade five lack basic competencies in literacy and numeracy. “Learning poverty,” a term used by the World Bank to describe a lack of foundational skillsets, can impact a child’s ability to flourish as an adult and lead to a human capital deficit for the country as a whole.
“The private sector can play a critical role in improving education outcomes,” says Garima Batra, a partner at Boston Consulting Group, focused on social impact and education. A lack of adequate resources and expertise, for example, is something to consider. Education sectors throughout low- and middle-income countries remain underfunded, as evidenced by a $1.8 trillion gap between what countries are currently spending on their annual education budgets and the amount that needs to be spent to achieve the 2030 targets set by the Sustainable Development Goals. This gap cannot realistically be filled by public funding alone. “There needs to be a way to bring the private sector into the fold — that’s what we’ve looked at through our work with INVEST.”
BCG supported USAID India and INVEST in identifying the constraints to achieving foundational literacy and numeracy outcomes by conducting a market landscape and regulatory environment assessment on private sector engagement in India’s primary education systems. The goal of the assessment was to identify ways in which USAID can deploy its resources to help crowd-in private sector dollars for public goods and services.
Through this assessment, Batra and team have identified three ways to improve public education, particularly foundational learning outcomes, through private sector engagement.
1. Fill Capacity Gaps: The private sector can act as service providers in areas where the public education systems have critical capacity gaps, such as in curriculum and content planning, teacher trainings, and assessments or data strengthening on learning outcomes. “Strengthening the capacity of state-run education departments can lead to long-term sustainability of impact,” says Batra. In recent years, for example, private sector actors advised state leaderships on systemic transformation efforts across academic and administrative areas. Coordination between government and the private sector has been key to ensuring efficacy and impact. “If this trend continues, I believe it will lead to significant improvements in education outcomes,” says Batra.
2. Drive Innovation: USAID can provide enhanced focus within states where certain student populations, such as children with special needs or tribal populations, or topical areas, like parental engagement or early childhood education, have been historically underrepresented or underserved by public goods and services. “State governments typically have a lot of budget per child, but they’re not always able to spend effectively to meet their unique needs.” USAID can play a role in catalyzing private sector capital towards sourcing innovative solutions designed for underrepresented students or areas of focus, and implement them at scale.
3. Build Public Goods: The private sector can provide financial assistance in developing public goods that many state systems can leverage, such as digital teacher enablement tools or digital tools for students in local languages.
As a final step, BCG presented their findings to USAID India to further refine these takeaways and will go on to design activities to contribute to changes in the basic education system.
The human impact potential connected to these interventions is massive. “USAID is looking to work with the private sector in two to three states, which could impact anywhere from seven to 10 million students,” says Batra. “That’s a very significant number.”