model 1

Recognizing the persisting problem of low learning levels of students in the country, Gyan Shala program of Education Support Organization (ESO) was initiated with the aim of providing quality ‘Basic School Education’ to children from poor rural and urban families (Socio-economically backward communities – Dropouts, Out of school children-OoSC etc. with weak foundation), on par with what is available to urban upper income classes. Gyan Shala starts this program in such slums where it finds lots of 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. Gyan Shala centers provide education like any formal school system, except that various grade classes are not held in the same building, and are instead held in nearby rooms hired within the community where children live. This ensures that the parents have no hesitation in sending even a girl child to the education centers, and there is no cost of commute to school, either of time or transport cost. Classrooms have furniture suitable for children and functional lighting and ventilation. Part of the cost is also covered through parental contribution in which Gyan Shala charges Rs. 50-200/- per month from the parents, which is close to the top of paying capacity of poor parents that we serve. No child, however, is denied in case of inability to pay.

Starting with 10 classes in the year 2000, Gyan Shala has emerged as one of the largest Non-government school education program in past years, ensuring high learning outcomes for more than 30,000 urban slum children each year in its own school-classes at an extremely low average cost ranging from Rs. 3000-6000 per child per year.

Gyan Shala’s Theory of Change

A child belonging to socio-economic backward class or weaker sections such as marginalized communities, belonging to daily wage laborers, domestic workers, slum dwellers, auto-drivers etc. have minimal or low chances of attaining basic quality education due to lack of essential civic amenities. Individuals already disadvantaged in society whether because of poverty, location, ethnicity, gender, or disability – learn the least as problems with ‘inaccurate measurement of learning’ along with teaching skills, teacher absenteeism, lack of inputs, and weak management are typically severest in communities (schools) that serve the poorest students.

The model of schooling followed by both private and Government sector is appropriate for 5-10% of India’s children, but remaining 90-95%, from poor or low income, local language speaking families, need a new model (Systems Approach – Alignment & Coherence), which is what Gyan Shala has developed and demonstrated with credibility, which does not rely only on ‘excellent and motivated teachers’- who are not available in large numbers.

Our 5A Approach  

Gyan Shala has adopted a child-centric approach (model) as a majority of children’s background characteristics are as follows:

  • First generation learners

Most of the parents haven’t completed primary schooling and are employed in daily wage activities resulting in failure to provide concrete educational, vocational or personal guidance.

  • No pre-schooling and/or Weak foundation

Almost all the children have no pre-schooling and/or have very weak foundational skills which obstruct their interest/motivation to progress further.

  • Drop-outs or OoSC

Moving up the educational level (i.e. from primary to secondary), the proportion of drop-out students (overage) and/or OoSC (Out of School Children) increase drastically.

All of above intermingled with other socio-economic barriers leads to life-long abuse, suppression and exploitation furthering them into an intergenerational cycle of poverty leading to virtual and silent exclusion.

We’ve adopted a 5A approach to counter the academic challenges keeping in mind the socio-economic barriers as follows:


  • Awareness : Behavioral Change towards education (especially girl child) through continuous community engagement to create awareness and generate motivation towards child’s education.
  • Availability &: Equitable residential education wherein class sessions are held in rooms.
  • Accessibility     hired within the community where children live (walking distance) and the class timings are kept according to the suitability of community children and consist of 3.5-4 hours of daily academics.
  • Affordability:   No Indirect costs of education which act as a significant barrier to families i.e. No cost of books, transport, stationeries or time invested to commute.
  • Accountability: Daily learning evaluations (worksheets) along with bi-yearly internal and yearly external assessment by reputed external agency aided by feedback from continuous monitoring and evaluation (MEL-dedicated staff) which guides the management for effective on course correction.

Innovative Child-centric Model


“An innovative schooling model providing cost-effective higher learning outcomes at scale”

Child-centered approach
Focus more on childrens capability to learn than only on teacher’s capability to teach

Integrated solution
Combine teaching, learning and curriculum design into complementary and integrated package.

Outcome driven
Measure students’ learning through independent assessments by reputed external agencies


Gyan Shala employed/evolved two features to find such a solution that could be termed as innovative in the context of mass scale education, described as follows:

  • It decided to combine the teacher effort with high-quality learning material, so children’s inborn capacity to self-learn could be harnessed to a large extent. The cost of learning material in Gyan Shala is only a little less than the teacher cost, and its content-design match the materials in the best schools.
  • The teacher capability-role was re-engineered in the format of front-end and back-end combination. The curriculum planning and lesson preparation role of a traditional excellent teacher was transferred to a back-end curriculum design team. The front-end class teacher was given a less complex and demanding role that required lesser designing- planning abilities. The support by back-end team allowed a modestly skilled class-teacher to become as effective an instrument of children’s learning as an excellent teacher in a traditional model of good school.

Gyan Shala created a number of organizational mechanisms to integrate front-end with the back-end, so that the well planned and designed lesson sequences and schedules could be implemented in a large number of distributed classes with the requisite quality assurance.  These mechanisms include a cadre of senior-teacher cum supervisor, who act both as a support to class teachers and their link with back-end curriculum design team. One such person is deployed for each group of 5-6 class teachers. The other mechanisms of integration are the monthly training of the class teachers by the design team, and weekly review- planning of class processes by the class teacher and supervisor based upon teacher guides prepared by the design team.

The hierarchical model is shown in the following figure:


Gyan Shala also evolved a ‘distributed school-classes model’ to meet the special needs of urban poor, who find even a nearby one km away school as inaccessible to small children due to traffic on the roads and unfamiliar surroundings. The classes are held in rooms hired close to children’s home within slums, but different grade classes are so managed that they work as parts of an integrated school education, operating within same campus/ building. This policy also eliminated the need for transport-commute cost which can be as large as the cost of schooling in many urban settings.

The information flows are as shown below:


The two-way information flows (top-down and bottom-up processing) ensures timely delivery of authentic information to drive process changes in a responsive manner.

Curriculum and Pedagogy

 Gyan Shala believes in Constructivist and Piagetian perspectives of learning. It has adopted activity oriented pedagogy in the elementary program, in which the teacher-whole class interaction is for no more than 15% of class time. The children spend the rest of the class time in working individually or in groups, some time by themselves, and some time under teacher guidance. Each child works on individual worksheets, one for each core subject while also participating in some group learning activities, and receives individual feedback from the class teacher on a daily basis. In the middle school, children do group assignments and projects that require them to undertake field investigation and to learn from peers.

Gyan Shala classes adopt a benchmarked and extensively re-engineered standardized curriculum which follows the State/National curriculum norms while also taking cues from reputed international curricula to incorporate some additional elements. The local language competency lags behind formal national and international curriculum norms at the elementary stage, as Gyan Shala children come from a social background where their language use is highly constrained. Such children find it tough to match the language competencies of 3rd graders from upper income or even middle-income families. The Math and Environmental science curriculum too is a little behind international norms because most GS children come without any pre-schooling. The three years of an elementary program has to incorporate many elements of pre-school, leaving less time to cover the standard curriculum for grades 1-3.


The middle school (Grades 4-7) curriculum then moves at a faster pace to compensate for gaps in the elementary, and to cover some aspects of grades 8-10 in Indian curriculum. This is done because the Indian curriculum adopts a leisurely pace till grade 7, and then takes a jump in grade 8-9 for math and science, which makes it difficult for poor children to cope with these subjects in high school examination without paid tutorial support.

 Quality Assurance Mechanisms

  • Gyan Shala translates curriculum into such learning tasks and exercises and corresponding learning material to the children that match the practices in excellent schools. The design team obtains feedback from class practices and continually adapts the curriculum material design to keep children’s progress on targeted trajectory. It has taken many steps to establish a ‘learning culture’ in the design team which supported continuous quality improvement efforts.
  • Gyan Shala lays emphasis on multi-stage and ongoing teacher training compared to one long teacher education program, and promotes a high intensity but collegial work culture.
  • Senior teachers provide on-site support and interface between teachers and the design team. A twelve member design team works with no more than 250-300 teachers, and directly participates in teacher training and class support. These practices help the class practices to match design parameters related to (i) Correct exposition of concepts, (ii) Appropriate sequencing and progression of curriculum, (iii) Provision of practice and reinforcement exercises, and (iv) Minimal waste of class time on non-learning interactions.     

Gyan Shala has institutionalized periodical third-party independent assessments of learning outcomes by highly reputed agencies, so that the progress of children could be ascertained correctly. These studies help in the diagnosis of problems and trigger corrective actions, wherever needed.

Other quality assurance features include:

–     Each class has no more than 30 children.

–     Continuous teacher training and support that has annual, bi-annual, monthly, weekly and daily components whose cost is around 20% of teacher cost.

–     Large investment in teacher support and supervision that costs 50% of teacher cost.

–   Supply of high quality and ample quantity learning material, books, daily worksheets and group learning aids, which cost around 20% of the total program cost.

–     Careful and detailed design of learning schedules and processes that maximizes time on learning task, adequate space for whole-class, daily group and individual teaching for each child, and matches the children’s attention span.

–     Continuous up gradation of the design of learning process, pedagogy, learning material and class processes to suit the needs of teachers and children.

–     Equipping the classrooms with functional furniture and basic infrastructure.

–     The design and conduct of class processes that minimizes social interference in the learning cycle of children.

–     Incorporation of ‘best practices’ learnt from leading education programs, and significant

investments in staff development.

–     Integration of high-quality management support with a program design that ensures accountability.

Lessons from successful development programs

Gyan Shala incorporated four lessons from successful large-scale education and development programs and the literature on best practices in these fields, described as follows:

  • Re-engineering of a traditional class teacher has enabled a modest skill Para-teacher to become a part of highly effective education delivery chain.
  • Gyan Shala set up mechanisms, including a supervision chain, to monitor, detect and correct process errors on a continuing basis. This helps to identify and correct system weaknesses much before these could lead to the failure of children in the summative examination.
  • Gyan Shala introduced institutional mechanisms for accountability, by integrating design and management functions and linking budgetary provisions with the performance.
  • Gyan Shala evolved a decentralized and participatory operational management system. This made modest level managerial skills to be adequate for program operations. The worldwide success stories of AMUL dairy cooperatives and Grameen Bank type microfinance programs share these features.


The success of Gyan Shala is based on its Innovative schooling model (Low cost-Sustainable, Scalable & Replicable model), whose key design features are:

  • Focus relatively more on children’s capability to learn than only on enhancing teachers’ capacity to teach.
  • Re-engineer class teacher role into a team effort of a 6 tier team, bringing high-quality curriculum designing close to the classroom, on a large scale.
  • Take an overall system-organization perspective to design a school program, instead of looking at only teaching-learning-curriculum processes.
  • With a major focus on learning outcomes, Gyan Shala ensures periodic independent assessment of program & student performance by reputed external agencies (EI, CfBT, DFID, GMI etc.) to gauge the program effectiveness for appropriate on course correction.