Gyan Shala Program

An Introduction

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

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. The classes 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. The curricular plan and schedules reflect world-wide best practices, while meeting state-national curricular norms, and 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.


In the initial stage, Gyan Shala had focused on the foundation stage in the school cycle, covering grades 1-3, by the end of which is child is enabled to (i) become an independent reader and writer in first language, (ii) acquire basic arithmetic knowledge and skills, and (iii) learn to learn about environment through independent project work. On completing Gyan Shala module, children are tested by the government and then admitted directly in grade 4 in recognized government or private schools, with a strong foundation.

In 2005-06, Gyan Shala started its middle school program, covering grades 4-7/8. This module followed similar educational principles as the elementary program but employed subject specialist teachers. Starting 2013, High School Module has been launched.

Independent Assessment of Program performance

In an independent assessment of children’s performance by a research team of MIT, USA, in 2004, grade 3 children in Gyan Shala scored greater than 100% higher marks both in language and math compared to grade 3 municipal school children in Vadodara. Such differential exited even in relation to the municipal school children who had participated in Pratham supported program of additional schooling support. Independent annual assessment by Educational Initiative (EI) over 2008-2011 showed similar results of Gyan Shala grade 3 children in relation to Ahmedabad Municipal school children. Over 2012-2015, EI has compared Gyan Shala children’s performance with that of children in India’s elite English medium schools who take ASSET test. Gyan Shala grade 3 children have matched or exceeded the average of these schools. Cambridge Trust (CfBT) conducted school rating exercise, and assigned same rating level as of around 35% UK public schools and 50% international schools in Dubai. Such a high quality performance has been possible even though the unit cost of education in Gyan Shala is less than 1/4th of the cost in government school system, indicating a cost-effectiveness gain of around 800%. The Gyan Shala program was featured by Monitor-Business India study of leading innovative programs in India in 2010, along with industry leaders such as ITC-e’chaupal, and TCS. In a paper in California Management Review, Gyan Shala was clubbed along with ITC-e’chaupal and India’s postal department as examples of effective program in serving people at the bottom of income pyramid. In a review book, Fenton Whelan of McKinsey/ ACASUS, has highlighted Gyan Shala in India and BRAC of Bangladesh as illustrative examples to attain UN development-education goal of 2020.  Two research studies commissioned by DFID ( have highlighted the potential of Gyan Shala model as PPP template for setting up quality schooling for poor.

The learning levels in Middle School too were found to be significantly better compared to Municipal Schools in 2008-2011 assessment by Educational Initiative, and this module too attracted similar rating by CfBT as the grade 1-3 program. The ASSET tests, however, shows this program to lag a little behind the average of India’s best schools, though, close to the average in best schools.

Partnership to improve quality in Government Schools

Recognizing the good performance of children studying as per Gyan Shala methodology, SSA Mission and Municipal School Board invited Gyan Shala to take up a pilot project to raise learning levels in a randomly selected sample of 23+14 municipal schools. From 2014, the Govt. of Bihar has invited Gyan shala to support a similar intervention in 7300 rural schools in 4 districts, covering close to a million children. Gyan Shala was also entrusted the responsibility of managing one of the residential schools for tribal children in PPP mode by the Tribal Development Department of the Government of Gujarat in 2009.

ESO is registered as a public trust with All India working domain. Annex-I and II give the list of major donor-partners over years, and composition of current Governing Board. Annex-III lists major independent reports on Gyan Shala, and some video links. Annex IV gives the summary of EI assessment reports over years.