Elementary Program

GyanShala starts this program in such slums where it finds lots of young children loitering in streets during regular school timing, which is taken as a more effective evidence of children dropping out of school system compared to any formal survey which might or might not show universal enrolment. GyanShala program is run like any formal school, except that various grade classes are not held in a same building, and are instead held in nearby rooms hired within the community where children live. This ensured that the parents had no hesitation in sending even a girl child to the school, and there was no cost of commute to school, either of time or transport cost.

This program was designed to lay strong foundation stage of school cycle, which would facilitate higher retention/ continuation and success in later years of schooling. The program admitted children of age group 5-6 years in grade 1, and enabled them to acquire the terminal competencies of grade 3 State curriculum in 3 years, even if they had no pre-schooling.

Main features:

  • Classrooms nearby homes/ communities
  • Curriculum content made suitable to the child’s natural learning style
  • Pedagogical approaches learnt from the successful examples across India- World and also from pedagogy experts and adapted for the needs of the children
  • Use of human resources available locally and easily at each level
  •  Regular training of all categories of the staff
  • Systemic planning for organized support  to teachers and children in the form of weekly senior teacher visit

Subjects covered and class transaction methodology adopted:

Initially, the Program had three major subject streams, namely Local Language (Gujarati, Hindi, Bangla etc.), Math, and Project work. The latter covered the environmental/ social studies module of the state/national curriculum, but more importantly, it helped the children to learn how to learn independently. This module gave opportunities to practice, refine, and develop some skills that Howard Gardner refers as Multiple Intelligences.

In addition to above three subjects, English is also introduced as a second language, as the parents shared their concerns for the same.

Gyan Shala considered the class-time to be the most important resource of any school system, and placed maximum emphasis on its optimal utilization, as the major instrument for children to learn well. The school time was divided into activities-periods of 15-20 minutes to match typical attention span of small children, with language and math related activities claiming around 60 per cent of class time. GS integrated extra-curricular activities in the daily class schedule, and allocated these a space comparable to individual math, language or project modules.

Once every year, children in one class location stage a 2-3 hour cultural event for which they invite elders from their community. That gave an opportunity to each child in GS to perform in public.

The program followed the State curriculum, while pedagogy placed emphasis on children doing individual and group work each day in the class under teacher supervision. Supply of high quality learning material was given large importance, with each child getting to work on one page worksheet each day for each subject stream. Teacher spent around 20% of class time in full class teaching-exposition, and 30 % on individual attention to each child. The remaining time was given to group teaching-tuition, and supervision of group work by children.

Classroom organization and mainstreaming

Classrooms had furniture, suitable for children, and functional lighting and ventilation. The State-national curriculum was fully implemented so children could transfer to any other regular government or private school into the next grade class on completion of any grade education in GyanShala. Class duration was kept 3.5 hours, without any break (children are allowed to have individual break for either drinking water or attending natural requirement on an individual basis as per their needs, so as to avoid academic time loss of the group.) Classes were held for a minimum of 220 days in an academic year. Our reviews have shown that the number of hours of class-time devoted to the core subjects of language, math and pre-science/ math/ EVS was comparable to most full day schools, as there are no breaks or intermission in 3-5 hours of class or organized extra-curricular activities. On completion of three years elementary module, most children were mainstreamed in regular schools in grade 4, except for a small group in Ahmedabad who continued in grade 4 GyanShala classes, who were mainstreamed in higher grade classes later in recognized schools, according to the preference of children-parents, using the provisions under the Right to Education (RTE) act.

The children mostly received free education, including free supply of stationary and books, and other learning material. An attempt was made to secure part financial support of the Government through Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), which also enabled the supply of mid-day meal.

Profile of Teachers and Training

The educational support to the children was delivered by a 6 tier academic team. The class teachers are recruited from the community so they were comfortable in working in poor community setting. Typical students-teacher ratio was around 25 across the grades. The class teachers for grade 1-3 were required to have passed higher secondary, though many young graduates too took up the job. One senior teacher was engaged to supervise every 8-10 classes, who had a minimum of graduate education. The teachers-teams are supported by a two tier team of curriculum designers and teacher trainers for various subject streams. A group of senior supervisors takes care of administrative aspects in the field and insulated educational processes from other disturbances. Teacher training was given large resource support and management attention, which comprised of ’12 days orientation training at the start of teacher-role, supplementary training of one day each month and 4-5 days during festival break. Every year, 8-10 days refresher training was organized during summer break. Weekly visit of senior teacher to each class also acted as teacher-training cum demonstration exercise.

Background of the children:

Towards the end of 2015-16, around 43,000 children studied in around 1688 classes in various slums in nine cities across 4 states. Typically, one parent was functionally illiterate and almost all were daily wage labourer or employed in informal sector. It was typical for children to contribute to the running of household, or its economy, after they cross ten years of age. The proportion of girls and boys in Gyan Shala remained almost equal and minority representation exceeded their proportion in the populations-geographies served.

In 2015-16, the number of classes and children at various locations were as under.

SN Location Centers Children Boys Girls
1 Ahmedabad 344 7659 3749 3910
2 Surat 77 1709 828 881
3 Patna 477 13033 5845 7188
4 Muzaffarpur 195 5089 2302 2787
5 Bihar Sharif 95 2508 1153 1355
6 Kolkata 74 2026 1004 1022
7 Lucknow 147 3778 1787 1991
8 Kanpur 155 4106 1898 2208
9 Farukhabad 124 3245 1596 1649
Total 1688 43153 20162 22991


The program team conducted two written and two oral assessments in each grade to assess children’s progress and plan remedial-corrective steps. These records are kept along with monthly attendance of all children. Independent assessment of children’s performance was conducted by Educational Initiative for the cohort completing grade 3, using ASSET test, to provide feedback about the performance in comparison to other, mostly elite, schools of India taking ASSET test.

Gyan Shala ASSET (by EI) summary (Ahmedabad Program), Gyan Shala score in red, while Asset average is in red print.
Language 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Grade 3 480  (500) NT NT NT NT
Grade 5 490 ( 500) 410    (520) 450   (510) 410   (500) 380   (510)
Grade 7 NT 400   (520) 480   (500) 450   (500) 430   (510)
Math 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Grade 3 530  (490) 450   (500) 440   (500) 550   (500) 560   (490)
Grade 5 500  ( 500) 410   (500) 390   (500) 410   (500) 400   (510)
Grade 7 NT 420   (500) 430   (500) 410   (500) 400   (510)
EVS 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Grade 3 NT 420   (510) 460   (500) 550   (500) 580   (490)
Grade 5 NT 420   (500) 390   (500) 420   (500) 420   (500)
Grade 7 NT 410   (500) 430   (500) 420   (500) 420   (500)

Rural elementary programs in Gujarat

In the wake of severe damage to school infrastructure by the Gujarat Earthquake in 2001, GS started its grades 1-3 classes in two taluka/blocks of Surendranagar district, Dhragandhra and Patdi, bordering the little Runn of Kutchh. The program had around 2000 children in 60 classes in 20 villages.

Most government school building got repaired, and these started functioning in all villages by the end of 2003, but the local villagers found the quality of GS schools much better, and wanted these to continue, so the program continued for four years. The program had to close due to funding and regulatory constraints.

The rural program performed as well as the urban program in terms of children’s learning. The only area of difference was among teachers, who were mostly women in urban areas, but almost all male in rural areas. We could not get educated girls in the villages who were willing to teach poor children. In terms of unit cost too, the two program components came on par.

In 2002-03, Yuva Shakti (Jan-Vikas) approached Gyan Shala to support their education initiatives in Halol taluka of Panchmahal district to build communal harmony, after riots of 2002. For four years, 52 classes were supported academically by Gyan Shala by but managed Yuva Shakti.