Why Gyan Shala?

The school enrolment in India  is inching towards the target of universal coverage, but around half the children drop out of schools before completing grade five. Various studies have revealed that a large proportion of children in grades four and five can not read with comprehension even a simple paragraph in their first language, or perform simple arithmetic operations with two digits. This is true for not only relatively backward states like UP and Bihar , but also Southern States and Gujarat . Such children would revert to illiteracy within a couple of years of leaving schools. Therefore, around half of adult India  could remain functionally illiterate even in 2025-2030 if the present trends continue.

At present, around Rs. 6000/- is spent per year as primary education budget for each child enrolled in government schools. In metro-cities, this amount is higher. At this unit cost, bringing all 5-14 year olds in the school system would cost upwards of Rs. 1200 billions. This is simply beyond the budgetary capacity of government in India  even if the government raised education budget to 6 per cent of GDP.

Universalization of literacy and primary education in India , therefore, needs transformation of current primary system, both to (i) raise the education quality and (ii) reduce unit cost per child. Gyan Shala aims to contribute to this transformation. Gyan Shala hopes to facilitate and enable a private-public partnership in transforming the structure of basic education delivery system in India  that would combine market-based solutions with state funding to meet the public educational goals, specifically for children from poor families.

Gyan Shala would focus first on addressing this challenge in urban areas which are growing very fast, absorbing the bulk of poor migrants from villages, and where even poor parents are send children to private schools if the government funded schools do not provide acceptable quality education.  Gyan Shala would also evolve equally effective solution for rural context.

Detailed reports and presentations about Gyan Shala are given in the reports section, that include :

  1. A conceptual analytical exposition of GyanShala presented as a conference paper at MIT.
  2.  An analysis of the impact of Computerized learning package developed  by Gyan Shala by Dr. Leigh Linden of Columbia University for Infodev (World Bank).
  3.  Excerpts from a paper by Sushil Vachani and Craig Smith published in California Management Review.
  4.  A powerpoint presentation about Gyan Shala program selected for Harvard Centennial Celebration,
  5.  Excerpts from a power-point by Prof. Amika Bhargava of Oakland University presented at many conferences.
  6. Gyan Shala Program Review report by Dr. HridayKant Dewan and Dr. Sanjiv Phansalkar.
  7.  A review report by Dr. Rashmi Paliwal, and
  8.  Annual Report of the program.


Mission & Strategy

The mission of Gyan Shala is to ensure the quality of basic education to the children from poor rural and urban families on par with what is available to high income or elite social groups. This would be ensured through the school based education, as the children do not receive educational support from family or parents, who themselves have not been to school. Gyan Shala aims to meet this goal while keeping the cost per child at around 1/3rd to 1/4th of the cost incurred by the government, which alone would ensure that the systemic solutions evolved by GyanShala have a good chance of being applied on a mass scale.

Gyan Shala project has three objectives. First, it would evolve a system of education that ensures high quality on a mass scale, at a moderate cost, affordable in India . Second, Gyan Shala would develop institutional model and capability to run a large number of classes for poor rural and urban slum children, and demonstrate the functioning of its approach in a credible manner. In the process, it would offer the best possible value for money to its donors. Third, having established that the approach works on a significant scale without any loss in effectiveness, GyanShala would promote large scale adoption of its approach through partnership with the governments and other stake holders.

To maximize the impact of its efforts, Gyan Shala first focused on the foundation years in the primary cycle in its early years. The education aim in this stage is to enable each participating child to become an independent reader and writer in his/her local language within the first three years of school cycle. Children also attain appropriate level of skill in handling numbers and arithmetic operations and analytical-observation skills that constitute the building blocks of scientific understanding of the physical and social world, and are required for normal life transactions.

This would ensures that children retain life-long literacy and numeracy skills throughout their life, even if they drop out at the end of primary, which is typical for many children from poor families. Strengthening the foundation years would also make children more suited to join higher grades IV-V in the mainstream primary system. Gyan Shala will slowly extend its expertise to cover the higher school classes. Gyan Shalawould also work with the government schools to introduce such elements of its practice that demonstrably raise the quality of education there.

Gyan Shala made a modest beginning by starting primary school-classes in ten slum locations in Ahmedabad in June 2000. Around 255 classes, covering both the slums and rural areas, were functioning in 2005-2006. This number rose to 300 in 2006-07, and is expected to rise to around 500 in a couple of years. In Gyan Shala design, each group of 500 classes covering around 14000 children would act as a decentralized, self-contained and autonomous education unit, which can be replicated to cover larger number of children without any deterioration in quality or increase in cost.

By providing value for money, and having a modular structure, Gyan Shala makes its expansion and financing a feasible proposition. Starting with a base in Gujarat , Gyan Shala aims to expand later to low literacy rate states of northern India .


The flagship program of Gyan Shala currently is the elementary education for out-of-school children living in slums and villages. Gyan Shala had around 8000 children in this program in Ahmedabad slums in the school year 2007-08. Independent reviews had shown that grade-III children in this program out-performed their counterparts in government/ municipal schools by around 100% in the test of language and math competencies, even though the unit program cost was less than 1/4th of what government spent on its schools. This program is partly funded by the Government’s Sarva Shikha Abhiyan program for out-of-school children.

With donor support, Gyan Shala program was implemented in two rural clusters, each covering around 30 village locations, for 3-4 years. The rural locations were chosen in backward regions. Although, the program achieved similar educational results as in urban program, these had to be closed down due to resource constraints.

Recognizing the success of the program in ensuring quality, the Ahmedabad Municipal School Board and Gyan Shala had started a pilot to try out Gyan Shala elementary school model in a representative sample of schools in 2006. The pilot was being studied scientifically to determine its educational impact, and on being found successful, it would be expanded to cover most municipal schools.

Gyan Shala had initiated its own pilot program for grade 4-7 in eight locations in 2006, whose objective is to develop a similar to its elementary education model. The early results appear promising, but it would be scaled up only after confirmation of the impact of this program in delivering high quality education at a significant scale, but at a modest-low cost. In course of time, Gyan Shala would extend its coverage to cover all classes up to grade X.

Over 2003-07, Gyan Shala designed and implemented a World Bank (Infodev) funded Computer Aided Learning package in both its rural and urban schools to study and test the efficacy of computer aided program in improving children’s learning. Its impact was studied by Poverty Action Lab, MIT, whose report is awaited.

Gyan Shala has also initiated replication of its program in Bihar  state.


Design For Quality

Gyan Shala is designed to create a class environment that supports activity-oriented learning, is sensitive to children’s needs, and is rich in learning material that enables children to use their inherent capacity to learn. Organizational processes have been established to generate high quality curricular decisions, learning material, and curricular practices in the classrooms.  Gyan Shala benchmarks the quality in its classes with national curriculum norms and actual curriculum attainments in the countries that lead the tables of international comparative school performance.

From the very first day in the school, each child gets used to write/ complete three pages of worksheets each day in the class, and handle books and printed matter, even though she still can not read/write the text. The learning material provided in the classrooms aims to match the recognized high quality norms.

One teacher works with a group of 30 children. The work is so organized that each child receives individual guidance and feedback for improvement every day. The teachers are provided extensive training and they receive supervisory/support visit at least twice a week.

The class schedule is designed to minimize idle time and maximize the time-on-learning task for each child. The individual topic module is kept short to match the attention-span of small children. School timing is set to minimize the interference by the local social life cycle in school functioning.

Children’s Progress is tracked each month, and formally assessed every six month, to initiate corrective actions to keep each child on the intended progression track.

Classes are held close to children’s home so that young children can come to the school unescorted. This is critical for their regular attendance. Each classroom has colorful and well-designed furniture and adequate lighting and ventilation.

Scaling Up While Retaining Quality

The organization structure of Gyan Shala is designed to integrate the management of the program with the development and supply of learning material and teacher guides, the annual and monthly teacher training and weekly supervision-support to the teachers.

This is done in a decentralized mode so as to fit the learning needs of a chosen group of, less than 15000, children with similar socio-economic profile. The teachers are supported/ supervised by a team of senior teachers. A core team of subject specialists is responsible for the design and development of learning material and teacher training, all of which is linked to the feedback from the classes.

The design establishes a chain of supervision/ mentoring for quality assurance. Explicit attention is given to creating an institutional ambience of discipline – professionalism.

Distinctive Feature of Gyan Shala Design

Ensuring children are regular

  • Located very close to home.
  • Improved physical environment in the class compared to homestead of children
  • Total absence of physical punishment/ direct pressure.
  • Adequate learning material
  • Adequate working opportunities in the form of worksheets that gives an immediate sense of achievement.
  • A balanced stimulating and supportive environment

Ensuring teachers are regular

  • Private sector contract employment
  • Competitive salary
  • Weekly supervision
  • Contextually much better career option
  • Program specific focused training that leads to apparent operational success
  • Ongoing training and its repeated reinforcement
  • Thoughtful/ courteous but purposive management discipline

Ensuring effective learning outcomes

  • Benchmarking of curriculum decisions, material and attainment to national norm and attainments in leading schools
  • Complement teacher role with suitably designed learning material
  • Reliance on the `best known’ learning theory/ technology
  • Standardization and routinization of high quality learning tasks and schedule
  • High quality operational training of teachers
  • Error identification and corrective intervention cycle
  • The core value of `high quality’ in every thing that the organization does
  • Acceptance of reasonable level of costs of material and management
  • Integration of material and learning schedules development (R & D) unit with the routine operations and program-class supervision

Viability even at large scale

  • Use only such level of talent and staff that are available in large numbers at the given salary level
  • The core competence of the organization is to `induct and train’ new staff of modest formal education to do the tasks of requisite quality
  • A decentralized self contained education design and delivery unit whose effectiveness/ success can be measured un- ambiguously
  • Privatization of program control

Estimated operational cost per year per child (2007-2008)

  • Teacher/training cost: Rs. 550/-
  • Learning Material Cost: Rs. 500/-
  • Supervision and teacher support: Rs. 350/-
  • Design improvements and management: Rs. 250/-

Parents/community pay for hiring the class room.

The furniture and facilities entail a one time capital cost of around Rs. 15,000.
Note: The operational cost per child in Ahmedabad Municipal (Government) Schools exceeds Rs. 8000/- per year.