Foundational Learning

Enabling Children for Foundational Learning

Foundational learning and numeracy are vital to achieving quality and equitable educational outcomes. Considering large gaps among children in developing countries, especially those from low-income households, focused interventions are vital to enable children to progress academically and not fall behind the curve. 

Foundational learning is the basis of all future learning for a child. Not achieving basic foundational skills of being able to read with comprehension, writing and do basic mathematics operations, leaves the child unprepared for the complexities of the curriculum beyond grade 3. Research has shown conclusively that once students fall behind on foundational literacy and numeracy, they tend to maintain flat learning curves for years, perpetually unable to catch up.

The damage is even greater for children who study in a language (e.g. English) that they do not speak or understand. Children studying an unfamiliar language face a ‘double learning disadvantage’ since they must try and learn a new language and at the same time try and absorb concepts from other subjects. Thus, grade 3 is the inflection point and this is where children who have not gained requisite foundational skills fall behind.

Globally, six out of ten children and adolescents are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) has estimated that 617 million children and adolescents worldwide are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. In India, as per NEP 2020, over 50 million children who are in elementary education lack foundational literacy and numeracy skills. At the national level to assess the learning levels of students, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) under the aegis of the Ministry of Education (MoE) conducted the National Achievement Survey (NAS) in 2017. The NAS 2017 highlighted the problem of low learning levels which decline as the child progresses – only 47 per cent of students had acquired a proficiency level in Language in Class III which declines to 39 per cent in Class VIII. Also, only 53 per cent had acquired proficiency in Maths in class III, which declines to 40 per cent by the time they reach Class VIII.

In light of this large gap in learning and the importance of foundational education, there have been commendable efforts at the global level and also those specific to India.

Global Push

The World Bank introduced the concept of learning poverty in its 2019 (further updated in 2022) report in coordination with the UNESCO Institute of Statistics. Learning poverty is defined as ‘being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10’. This report is significant as it aligned countries to strive towards one standard indicator. The report also highlights that the ‘very high level of global Learning Poverty is a signal that many education systems, despite their progress in the recent decades at improving access to schools, have not delivered learning. The magnitude of the learning challenge in the developing world is immense, and it is now even larger than before as a consequence of the pandemic’.


Recognizing the importance of early learning, as per the vision of new National Education Policy 2020, a national mission ‘National Initiative for Proficiency in Reading with Understanding and Numeracy’ (NIPUN BHARAT)’, was launched by the Government of India on July 5th, 2021 under the centrally sponsored Samagra Shiksha Scheme. The vision of NIPUN BHARAT Mission is to create an enabling environment to ensure the universal acquisition of foundational literacy and numeracy so that every child achieves the desired learning competencies in reading, writing and numeracy at the end of Class 3. This mission aspires to ensure that every child in the country necessarily attains foundational literacy and numeracy by the end of Grade 3, by 2026-27.

Our Small Step for Building Foundational Literacy and Numeracy

Education has been one of our foremost focus areas and we have been striving to make quality education accessible to children from low-income households, since 1998. To strengthen the NIPUN Bharat Mission and National Education Policy 2020 priorities, at Dr. Reddy’s Foundation, we have designed an intervention on foundational literacy, numeracy and English language (FLN&EL), mainly for government school students who are not able to accomplish foundational literacy and numeracy skills by the time they complete class 3 or 4 education.

The key objective of the intervention is to support and encourage students in every way possible so that they accomplish age-appropriate ‘FLN&EL’ skills, in partnership with government schools. We believe this will enable children to effectively progress academically and not fall behind the curve. Currently, this initiative is in its 2nd year (after a 1-year pilot) and has been extended to 100 government schools.

To know more about DRF’s education work, please read our Education Strategy Paper:

Pranav Kumar Choudhary  | COO

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