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 cannot 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 for the 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.

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 the early 90s, as a member of Leeds University team. This review revealed that a well designed, funded and implemented program, APPEP, failed to make a 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.

At present, around INR 18,000-24,000/- is spent per student per year towards the elementary education budget for each child enrolled in government schools. At this unit cost, bringing all 5-14 year-olds in the school system would cost upwards of INR 3600 billion. This is simply beyond the budgetary capacity of government in India even if the government raised the education budget to 6 percent of GDP.

Universalization of literacy and primary education in India, therefore, needs a transformation of the 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 initially focused 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 sending children to private schools if the government-funded schools do not provide acceptable quality education.  Gyan Shala has also evolved an equally effective solution for rural context.

Detailed reports and program reviews about Gyan Shala can be accessed through the ‘Reports’ section.

Mission & Strategy

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 (90-95% of India’s children) on par with what is available to urban upper-income classes.

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 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 Gyan Shala 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 of effectiveness, Gyan Shala would promote large-scale adoption of its approach through partnership with the governments and other stakeholders.

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 an 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 required for normal life transactions.

This would ensure 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 has gradually extended its expertise to cover the higher school classes. Gyan Shala also partners with the government schools to introduce such elements of its practice that demonstrably raise the quality of education there.

Gyan Shala runs school classes in slums or rural areas, close to the residence of children so young, 6 yr. old, children, particularly girls, do not face any social or economic constraint in attending classes. Classrooms are furnished with good furniture and are well lighted and ventilated. The children are provided high quality learning material, including daily worksheets for each of three subject streams, and stationary items, free of charge and the teachers are provided continuous training, supervisory support and daily teacher guides. Girls and boys constitute almost equal share in Gyan Shala, and share of minorities exceed their proportion in the geographies served (more than 60% for backward classes).

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 1450 in 2016-17, covering around 35000 children in the slums of nine cities across four states and is expected to rise to around 1800 classes 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 a larger number of children without any deterioration in quality or increase in cost.

Gyan Shala learns from various education experts as well as best practices from the world and ensures implementation through its team of around 1200 people including teachers, field supervisors and designers cum managers. Although Gyan Shala classes are held in slum settings, it follows best classroom transactions such as whole class teaching, small group activities for peer learning and self-learning through daily workbooks. Gyan Shala strives to improve its practices by involving credible agencies to rate various organizational processes with a focus on students’ achievements.

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 expanded later to low literacy rate states of northern India (Bihar & Uttar Pradesh).

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 cannot read/write the text. The learning material provided in the classrooms aims to match the recognized high-quality norms (materials in best schools).

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 months, 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 fewer than 15000 children with a 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 Features 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 everything 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 unambiguously
  • Privatization of program control


Gyan Shala program is divided into three core programs viz. Elementary program (grade 1-3), Middle school program (grade 4-7) and High school program

The flagship program of Gyan Shala currently is the Elementary education for out-of-school children living in slums and villages. Gyan Shala facilitated education for around 32000 children in this program in the year 2016-17 at a low cost of INR 3000 per child annually.

After stabilizing its elementary program through three annual reviews and redesign of various program components, Gyan Shala started Middle school program in 2005-06 on a small scale. Gyan Shala facilitated education for around 2648 children in this program in the year 2016-17 at a low cost of INR 6000 per child annually.

The  performance of Gyan Shala children in the **ASSET test over 2009-18  confirms  that  Gyan Shala  is  able  to  achieve comparable or better results consistently in Elementary program  (Grade  3 evaluation) as  well  as  the  Middle  school  program  (Grade  5  and  Grade  7  evaluation) at a much lower per child cost ( INR 3000 to 6000 per child annually).

** (ASSET tests are considered a good benchmark as they are taken by more than 15,000 students of 500 schools every year in each grade (grade 3, 5 and 7).)

Taking note of Gyan Shala’s success in ensuring high learning levels in its own managed classes, the government invited Gyan Shala to start a pilot quality improvement program in a representative sample of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) Schools over 2007-11. The program covered around 7800 children and around 190 teachers of grades 1-4 in the year 2009-10.

The analysis of students’ test score over 2008-09 and 2009-10 by Educational Initiatives (EI), an independent agency, showed that the program helped raise children’s score in math and language competencies, compared to children’s score in other AMC schools, by 25-65%, across subjects and grades. The program cost came to INR 500-650/- per child per year. AMC normally spends almost INR 18,000/- per child per year on running its school. A learning gain of 25-65% for an additional spending of INR 600/- per child made this program a VFM investment of resources.

Building on this experience, though, Gyan Shala could secure the agreement of the Government of Bihar to initiate a 3-year pilot (2014-17) in 7300 schools, mostly rural, in four districts of Bihar, to introduce the curriculum and class practices developed by Gyan Shala. It was decided that under the pilot, each child will receive daily worksheet, for each subject, as happens in Gyan Shala.

The worksheets designed for the program practices have been adopted as textbooks-workbooks for all the students of Grades 1 and 2 in the entire state of Bihar covering 73000 schools starting from 2015. So, the program impacted around 0.6 million children every year for 2014-15 which rose to 6 million children every year from 2015 onwards.

Gyan Shala noticed that most parents in the slums are extremely reluctant to send teen-aged and adolescent girls to distant schools at the high school stage. Further, household demands to contribute to family’s economy make it difficult for the adolescent boys also to find time for a full day high school. Gyan Shala, therefore, launched its High School program in 2011-12, under the provision of open Schooling, which enables a flexible duration study program close to the residence of children.

In 2017-18, the High school program had 17 classes of grade 8, 15 classes of grade 9 and 5 classes of grade 10, facilitated education for a total of 788 children. In the year 2017-18, the fifth batch of the students took the Board Exams for Grade 10 as shown in the table below. The total of 106 students appeared for the exam and out of them, 70 passed the exam. Total eight Gyan Shala students secured distinction, twelve students secured first class, fourty-eight secured second class and seven secured pass class.

We expect the High school program design to stabilize over the next 4-5 years. Being a pilot-scale program in its development phase, per child cost of this program is high, but it should stabilize at around INR 10000/- per child annually when it reaches the scale of the existing middle school program.

Statistical Profile of Gyan Shala over the period 2008-17 is as follows:

Overall (All Programs)
Academic Year 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
No. of Centers 357 456 614 840 1074 1328 1630 1785 1446 1268
No. of Children 9411 12167 17348 23651 28623 34622 41591 45493 35104 30347
Teachers 1557 1772 1349 1203
Office Team 70 91 79 76
Field Team 198 203 160 139

Program-wise profile of Gyan Shala over the period 2008-17 is as follows:

Program-wise profile
Variable Academic Year
2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Elementary Program (Grades 1-3) No. of Centres 337 428 578 788 1008 1251 1539 1688 1325 1106
No. of Children 8808 11386 16341 22139 26805 32557 39212 43153 32376 26897
Middle School Program (Grades 4-7) No. of Centres 20 28 36 48 60 69 84 85 97 125
No. of Children 603 781 1007 1415 1651 1854 2158 2021 2167 2648
High School Program (Grades 8-10) No. of Centres 4 6 8 7 12 24 37
No. of Children 97 167 211 221 319 561 802
Total Centers 357 456 614 840 1074 1328 1630 1785 1446 1268
Total Children 9411 12167 17348 23651 28623 34622 41591 45493 35104 30347