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CSF’s Approach to System Reform for Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN)

By Radhika Israni

Jul 24, 2023

High-fidelity FLN reform work at the state-level requires a vibrant ecosystem of solutions and organizations with expertise in FLN. In this piece, we elaborate on CSF’s role in shaping this ecosystem through collaboration with partners to improve FLN outcomes by way of structured pedagogy, assessment informed instruction (AII), professional training and mentoring of teachers, reliable monitoring, and robust assessment frameworks.

With over 1.5 million schools and 260 million students, India has one of the largest and most complex education systems in the world. However, schooling does not result in quality learning for children in India. According to ASER 2022, a large proportion of children are not picking up basic skills even after they leave Grade 5— 80% students in Grade 3 in schools in rural India cannot read Grade 2 text and 74% students in Grade 3 in schools in rural India cannot do subtraction. This decline is further visible in Grade 5. According to The State of Global Learning Poverty: 2022, by The World Bank, 56.1% of children in their late primary age in India suffer from learning poverty.  Strengthening the foundation of learning in early years is the only way to solve the country’s learning crisis.

In July 2020, India’s National Education Policy (NEP) recognized foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN) as an urgent and necessary prerequisite to learning. The policy was revised after over three decades. To address aspects of quality of learning and achieve the goal of attaining foundational literacy and numeracy, the Ministry of Education (MoE) launched a national mission on FLN, called NIPUN (National Initiative for Proficiency in Reading with Understanding and Numeracy) Bharat in July 2021. The mission lays down priorities and actionable agendas for states/union territories to achieve the goal of proficiency in foundational literacy and numeracy by 2026-27 for every child by the end of Grade 3.

CSF supported the launch of the NIPUN Bharat Mission and continues to support the design and implementation different aspects of the mission at the national level, thereby ensuring sustained salience of the program and priority for all stakeholders in the country. CSF has also been working towards facilitating the institutionalization of sharing best practices on FLN among states and the periodic reviews on progress in FLN mission delivery at the national level.

Some of the key highlights of our work include contributing to the first-of-its-kind Foundational Learning Study (FLS) undertaken by the Ministry of Education and the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), in 2022, to establish reading and numeracy benchmarks under the NIPUN Bharat Mission. The study is a salient indicator of assessing students’ baseline skills in foundational literacy and numeracy for Grade 3 across all Indian states. Additionally, to solve for lack of learning-oriented data in the Indian education system, we intensified our work on assessments and supported the Central Board of Education (CBSE) to pilot Structured Assessment for Analyzing Learning or SAFAL, a competency-based assessment for children in grades 3,5 and 8.

High-fidelity FLN reform work at the state requires a vibrant ecosystem of solutions and organizations with expertise in FLN. CSF played a strategic role in shaping this ecosystem. We are currently working in 12 states to plan and implement their respective FLN missions through varying operating models. In each of these states, we have a project management unit (PMU) at the disposal of the mission director (usually the state project director or principal secretary of education) to assist the planning and execution of academic, administrative, and operational aspects of FLN delivery of the state. Our focus has been to provide our partner states with support to improve FLN outcomes by way of structured pedagogy, assessment informed instruction (AII), professional training and mentoring of teachers, reliable monitoring, and robust assessment frameworks.

In order to achieve the aforementioned objectives, we work in collaboration with an eclectic group of delivery partners. These include: Language and Learning Foundation (LLF), Madhi Foundation, The Education Alliance, Leadership for Equity (LFE), Samagra Governance, CARE India, Room to Read (RTR), Vikramshila, and Sampark Foundation.

CSF’s Footprint in India

Our partners engage with us in a technical and/or project management capacity across various states.

CSF’s presence in 12 Indian states and its partner representation in different capacities

Understanding CSF’s FLN Reform Playbook

CSF’s approach to improve FLN learning outcomes flows through seven key workstreams that look at achieving effective FLN delivery in states. These include:

1.Integrate a Structured Pedagogy Approach and Assessment Informed InstructionTo influence the state to reform all materials used in FLN classroomsTo get schools to commit to holding all teachers accountable to use these learning materials effectively  
2.Improve Teachers’ FLN Teaching Competence through Effective Teacher Professional Development  (TPD)Influence the state to reform face-to-face trainings, use digital content, and provide supervision in schools to improve teachers’ FLN teaching competency  
3.Provide Mentoring Support to FLN TeachersInfluence the state to create a cadre of mentors who provide structured support to teachers in schools to improve usage of materialsInfluence the state and schools to conduct regular assessments to track progress of children  
4.Establish a Comprehensive FLN Monitoring System  Influence the state to develop an FLN key performance indicator (KPI) framework, create tech-based data collection tools, and establish dashboards with district- and block- level FLN delivery scorecards  
5.Establish System Assessments, District Benchmarking, and Goal Setting ApparatusInfluence the state to set up regular sample-based spot assessments and endline assessments to generate FLN achievement reports which guide districts to attain goals  
6.Establish a Regular and Effective Cascaded Review of FLN DeliveryInfluence the state to review FLN delivery using FLN scorecards and learning trends, and support the creation of effective district- and block-level implementation plans  
7.Effective Communication for Behavior ChangeBuild awareness on the need for FLN reforms while stirring strong behavioral change through dissemination of communication oriented information, education, communication programs, etc.  

Today, we are slowly moving all our workstreams from the design phase to actually reaching teachers and students, in order to stabilize FLN infrastructure and extend them for effectively achieving FLN outcomes for all children in states.

CSF’s approach to system reform for NIPUN Bharat

FLN is undoubtedly gaining momentum across the country and it is critical to sustain it at best for the next four years. We cannot forget that the NIPUN Bharat Mission is still nascent and need to collectively ensure that it roots out holistically to ensure all children attain proficiency in foundational literacy and numeracy by the end of Grade 3, by 2026-27.


Nipun Bharat
Primary Education

Authored by

Radhika Israni

Project Lead, Strategic Communications , Central Square Foundation

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