India’s textile industry is one of the country’s oldest and largest, directly employing over 45 million people. When we started Threaded, we wanted to meet the workers behind the looms, to fill in the big picture with faces, names, and stories. More than that, we wanted to work with partners who don’t just employ people, but empower them to pursue greater opportunities and a better future through education initiatives.
As major employers, our suppliers are dedicated to supporting the people in their communities. Care for their employees isn’t just about job training and safety (although also crucial), it’s about empowerment, education, and providing the tools to create a brighter future.
On our last trip to India, we had the chance to visit not only our partner mills and factories, but also to meet a fraction of those talented 45 million workers, their children, and some of the schools that benefit these communities.
While visiting these schools, I learned that despite the differences in structure and curricula between the US and Indian systems, they share similar challenges. Both countries are concerned with improving student engagement and success, especially for low-income and marginalized groups. They both also offer free government-funded education. In India, this ends after primary school at age 14 (rather than 16), though it is still obligatory—in policy at least, if not always in practice. Whereas the US public school system is relatively well-funded, with a higher ratio of qualified teachers and more generally solid management, the government-funded schools in India have historically served lower-income students, and are often poorly managed and maintained, especially in rural areas. If they are able, many families choose to send their children to the more expensive, but better-run and more rigorous private schools (a choice a lot of us in the US struggle with too).
Thanks to efforts by the government and nonprofit groups though, India’s public school system has vastly improved. Education is now a priority: more and more children are becoming the first generation in their families to go to school, and the literacy rate has continued to rise across the country.
Although access has improved, ensuring engaging, quality education is still a major issue facing the rural communities where our supply and manufacturing partners are based. A number of the nearby schools lack sufficient amenities and infrastructure. Without the right supplies or a supportive environment, qualified teachers soon move on and student dropout rates climb.
To do their part, our partners promote education among children, especially girls, by supporting schools that rely partially on government funds and ones that rely entirely on their CSR initiatives. Their involvement doesn’t just end with funding either. One of our partners built a preschool for the surrounding area, and also sends nutritionists into the local communities to make sure children grow healthy and strong—in both mind and body.
For these students, having the opportunity to learn and the possibility to go on to higher level of education is life-changing. Even when most of the parents, mainly factory workers, are unable to speak English, the children begin learning it at age two or three, and will learn three languages while in school. They gain a stronger foundation and opportunities while still so many outside their communities struggle to make a living.
Since the equivalent of high school education is not guaranteed—or free—in India, one of our partners formed a trust to offer merit-based scholarships for the children of factory workers. With fewer women pursuing higher education in India than men, this is especially meaningful for the girls.
Currently, these efforts support roughly 1,500 students at fully CSR-funded schools. The schools are equipped with interactive technology, libraries, and more to make learning engaging, and ensure the students have the skills and knowledge they need. Our partners also work with over 40 government-funded schools in the area, helping over 10,000 students. It isn’t just all academics either. Outside the classroom, the programs include extracurricular activities like community engagement, welfare programs, vocational training, and art and crafts for a more holistic and fun learning experience.
Children aren’t the only beneficiaries of these education initiatives. A strong family is central to community life, and learning is important for the adults as well. Across three different villages, there are adult literacy classes serving 175 women, an effort to close the still looming gender literacy gap.
Although a lot of progress has been made both across India and in our own little corner of it, there is still a long way to go. To that end, our partners are continuing to increase their efforts and expand their projects. By 2020, they plan to support 1,100 schools in their region alone. We are proud to support them.
Every parent can relate to the desire to give their children a good education. Our children— literally and figuratively—are the future of our respective countries and collective world. At Threaded, we’ve made brightening that future a priority. We want the next generation to have a strong start, to have even more opportunities when they grow up than ours—and thanks to these programs, they will.