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. 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 four distinctive features, viz.,
(i) Focus relatively more on using children’s capability to learn than only on enhancing teachers’ capacity to teach, and
(ii) Re-engineer class teacher role into a team effort of a 6 tier team, thus bringing curriculum designing close to the classroom, and demystifying teacher role,
(iii) Take an overall system-organization perspective to design a school program, instead of looking at only teaching-learning-curriculum processes and
(iv) With 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.
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.
- To become one of India’s most effective NGO program to address the schooling quality gaps and help India improve its ranking in social development indicators.
- To evolve a cost-effective total system solution model for quality school education on a nationwide scale, without discrimination based on any factor.
- To initiate a systemic transformation in school education by measuring the improvements in
learning levels feasible by improving pedagogy practices with high accountability.
- To implement the program at a substantial scale, generating credible evidence of impact in
order to inform the overall policy-program formulation by the government.
- To enable every child from poor urban and rural family attain learning levels of school education similar to that of children in elite schools.
- Empathy & Humility
- Integrity & Ethics
- Equity & Accountability
- Teamwork & Excellence
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 1270 grades 1-10 classes in 2015-16, covering around 35000 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 a rural setting. Gyan Shala has been invited to introduce key elements of its learning approach to improve quality in Government schools (Gujarat & Bihar).
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.
Gyan Shala facilitates external program and student assessments by reputed agencies periodically to establish the effectiveness of the program and to make necessary on-course corrections. Gyan shala children performed on par or better then, India’s best CBSE schools, as per credible independent assessments by ASSET of Educational Initiatives (EI) – India, and CfBT Trust, UK.