The founder, Prof. Pankaj Jain, got an opportunity to be a member of terminal review mission of Andhra Pradesh Primary education Project (APPEP), a British funded program to improve quality in Govt. schools in Andhra Pradesh, India, over early 90s, as a member of Leeds University team. This review revealed that a well designed, funded and implemented program, APPEP, failed to make significant impact in improving learning levels. During his other work, he also observed that Bangladesh girls from poor families had gone ahead of their counterparts in India, in early schooling by mid-1990s, even though Bangladesh was economically poor and socially more conservative. Understanding the relative success of Bangladesh in educating its poor girls and lack of success of APPEP became an intellectual challenge for Prof. Jain. He spent 1995-99, studying various school programs, both Govt. and non-governmental, in India and many other countries, as well as learning about the formal knowledge stream ‘education’. These efforts made him realize that the traditional model of good schooling, requiring a team of ‘good teachers, headed by a good Principal/ team-leader’ could serve top 5% of Indian children, but this model would not serve 95%. What India needed was to ‘evolve an approach/ model to deliver high quality school education on a mass scale with easily available human and financial resources, not a small scale model of excellence, which existed in India aplenty. By putting together the lessons from various excellent schooling systems, and of world’s leading large scale development programs like AMUL and BRAC, he evolved Gyan Shala’s basic approach to organize school system that had three distinctive features, e.g.

(i) focus relatively more on using children’s capability to learn than on enhancing teachers’ capacity to teach, and

(ii) re-engineer class teacher role into a team effort of a 6 tier team, thus brining curriculum designing close to the classroom, and demystifying teacher role, and

(iii) take an overall system-organization perspective to the design a school program, instead of looking at only teaching-learning-curriculum processes.

Not finding many existing NGO education programs willing to work on the problems of large scale schooling programs, he and some of his fellow professional colleagues at IIMA and IRMA initiated Gyan Shala program, under Education Support Organization.

Gyan Shala aims to set up a replicable and scalable model to provide good quality basic school education to children from poor and low-income rural and urban families, 95% of our children, on par with what is available to urban upper income classes. It started its 10 grade I classes in Ahmedabad in 2000, and had grown to have around 1630 grades 1-10 classes in 2014-15, covering around 44000 children in the slums of nine cities across four states. In between, Gyan Shala had also run a rural component, testing and establishing the viability of the program in rural setting. Gyan Shala has been invited to introduce key elements of its learning approach to improve quality in Government schools. This program ran in 37 municipal schools in Ahmedabad from 2008-2012, and is currently operated in 7300 mostly rural schools in four districts of Bihar, covering around 0.5 million children in Bihar Government Schools. The profile of our program in 2015-16 was as follows.

Elementary Program Grades 1-3 Higher grades Total
Profile/ city Ahmedabad. Surat Kolkatta Patna Muzaffarpur Bihar sharif Lucknow Kanpur Faruka bad Grades 4-7 Grades 8-10
Classes 344 77 74 477 195 95 147 155 124 85 12 1785
Children 7659 1709 2026 13033 5089 2508 3778 4106 3245 2021 319 45493
Teachers 270 71 83 417 145 88 145 170 132 123 18 1662
Field staff 45 9 11 49 20 8 14 18 16 7 2 199
Design- Mgmt. team 22 2 6 15 2 3 6 5 11 9 81