It is not enough to follow the statutorily mandated Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Act. These activities need to be monitored and used effectively to help government, specifically the education sector.

That we need to strengthen government school delivery is no longer a debatable topic. The real issue is the process of execution to bring about the much-needed transformation in this area. One of the key challenges that keep coming in the way is the unavailability of the desired financial resources and budgets to trigger the change; especially in the areas of infrastructure upgrade of schools, accessibility to digital devices, deeper internet bandwidth and most importantly research and development (R&D) and innovation to new initiatives for integration into the school curriculum. The challenge has only got compounded with the need to execute the National Education Policy (NEP)  2020 at the earliest across the 1.5 million schools across the country. While discussions are on increasing the budget outlay towards school education, a significant time may elapse before this change actually starts to make an impact on the demographic advantage that India boasts of.

Fortunately, India can boast of being the first country to introduce Section 135 in the Companies Act, 2013 that statutorily mandated Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for specified companies. The term CSR refers to practices and policies undertaken by corporations to have a positive influence on the world for which a certain percentage of the profits of the corporation are so earmarked. CSR can help make an impact in the fields of education, environment, healthcare, hygiene and poverty eradication, to name a few. If one were to recall the top CSR initiatives, however, deployment and application of CSR into school – education for impact on society never stands out. Corporations today are at free will to deploy their CSR earmarked funds to whichever social cause they wish to so long as they make a positive impact in any of the areas that I had mentioned above – This is probably the only area that may need a modification in the CSR clause that is enshrined today in the Companies Act of 2013.

Strengthening the government school delivery will need additional funds. Since the objective of government schools is to teach all children free of cost to entail their right to education, the additional money required cannot be passed on to the parents of these children. Funds can only be paid by the following two bodies (a) The government themselves which has to simply up the education budget and find out politically and socially acceptable ways of meeting these through increased income or (b) Through funds deployed as part of CSR of specified private and public corporations. Keeping this understanding in mind, the following approach directions are recommended: 

  1. The entire CSR model should be driven as a public-private partnership (PPP) model between the Beneficiary (Government school), the CSR funder (the corporation) and the Implementation Agency ( the private entity with expertise in the school management/Transformation ecosystem) 
  2. For Point (1) to work, any initiative of the government for strengthening the government school through transformation should integrate CSR right at the inception stage if there is no plan to allocate budgets. This means that even if an EOI (Expression of Interest) or an RFP (Request for Proposal) is published, it should not just capture the project details but should also ask for suitors for committing their CSR towards that project.
  3. Adoption of local government schools as a part of a corporation set-up should be a norm. If for example a corporation is set up in say a township in a particular district, all local government schools within a 15km radius should be part of that corporation
  4. The government must set up an online aggregating platform to bind the three stakeholders: the beneficiary, the implementer and the CSR donor. 
  5. Finally and most importantly, is for a certain more drilled down categorisation of the CSR allocation. Instead of leaving the entire deployment plan to the corporation, the government must predefine how much can go in each area – This can be done either through further sub-division of % or through weights assigned to the corporate for different categories followed by accountability to that figure. This is easier said than done but a start has to be made to get the desired impact. 

KPMG’s CSR survey 2019 recorded that at least 76 per cent of Indian companies reported 2 per cent CSR deployment translating to at least US$ 1.25 billion or Rs 8,700 crore. 60 per cent of this is supposedly towards healthcare and education. Assuming equal distribution, this means at least Rs 2,600-plus crore towards education-related services. That is nearly 3 per cent added to the education budget deployed, which is by no means insignificant. Channelizing this for effective execution to the desired impact may just warrant introspection of the above-mentioned five points suggested. 

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