Gyan Shala operates 1687 elementary classes and 97 higher grade classes which reach a total of 45493 children across India (2017). Classes are conducted for children from poor or low income families, in or close to urban slums and rural areas. The organization has introduced key elements of their learning methods into government schools and so far has assisted 7300 mostly rural government schools in Bihar and Ahmedabad.
A number of independent evaluations have assessed outcomes in Gyan Shala schools. In particular, DfID has funded extensive studies of Gyan Shala. Collectively, the studies demonstrate that the schools are much more successful than other Indian schools and approach standards seen in developed countries.
Outcomes are particularly strong in higher order domains. The following table shows the percentage of questions answers correctly by grade three children in Government and Gyan Shala schools:
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In 2011, CFBT assessed students in Gyan Shala schools. Using a high set of standards as a benchmark, they rated outcomes in mathematics and science as good and outcomes in Gujrati and English as satisfactory. Gyan Shala notes the students incoming language levels are very low, given their social background, but the gap narrows each year as they progress through the schools.
Dropout rates are low at around 5%, with most dropout caused by external factors (e.g. migration of the family to a different town).
Gyan Shala schools use a highly standardized and prescribed curriculum which is constantly refined to increase its effectiveness. The curriculum is learner-centered, and most of the class time (at least 85%) is allocated to small group and individual work rather than whole-class teaching.
The curriculum objectives are based on the relevant national and state curricula. Gyan Shala has built a carefully crafted sequence of lessons around these.
Each lesson is described in a detailed teacher guide and is accompanied by worksheets for the students to complete. Teachers are expected to follow these exactly, though they have some flexibility in timing as long as all of the activities are completed. The guide describes exactly what the students and teacher should do, broken down into 10, 15 or 20 minute time slots.
Worksheets are provided in small booklets each covering 2-3 months of teaching in a subject. Younger children leave the booklets at the school; older children can take them home.
The curriculum in the early grades is focused on language and math, with about two thirds of the teaching time allocated to these subjects. The curriculum is taught in the local language, with additional lessons in English and Hindi. English lessons focus on reading and writing only.
Each class has a large box containing teaching materials, including visual aids, class equipment, and reading books for the children.
Almost all students join Gyan Shala at grade 1 and then progress upwards. There are very few students who enter the schools at higher grades. This helps to ensure that all students in a class have similar learning levels.
There is no preschool provision, though Gyan Shala hopes to introduce it in the future. Preschool provision would help address the low language levels of students on entry to school.
The curriculum’s effectiveness is dependent on the work of the design team, a small group who are responsible for developing the curriculum. They constantly refine and improve the lesson plans, worksheets and curriculum, based on their own field observations and feedback from teachers, supervisors and students. Worksheets are only printed for a few months at a time to allow for constant refinement of the materials.
Most teachers are recruited from the community in which the school is located. They are mostly women who have completed school up to grade 10 or grade 12, though some teachers have a university degree.
Teachers are selected based on their proximity to the children and their having the basic knowledge required to deliver the curriculum. Gyan Shala makes the final selection after completion of the initial two-week training program. The formal education level of the teachers is generally much lower than that of teachers in the government schools.
The teacher’s role is delivery of the curriculum. Many other aspects of a teacher’s normal work – for instance lesson planning – are undertaken by the central design team.
Gyan Shala invests heavily in ensuring that every teacher is able to deliver the curriculum to a good standard. Training is focused on delivery of the curriculum, not generic capacity building, and incorporates a large amount of demonstration, practice, and feedback.
Training is continuous and includes:
- An initial two-week training: which introduces teachers to the main features of Gyan Shala’s approach and curriculum
- A semi-annual week-long training: refreshing points from the initial training and explaining the curriculum for the following six months
- A monthly day-long training: during with teachers review the curriculum for the following month, watch demonstrations, revise content points, and are able to give feedback on the curriculum to the design team
- A weekly 90-minute supervision and coaching session from a supervisor, during which teachers receive feedback and coaching to improve their teaching of the curriculum. Some teachers may receive more than one coaching session each week.
The two-week and monthly trainings are led mainly by the design team which also develops the curriculum.
The coaching sessions are delivered by supervisors. There is one supervisor for every 10-15 teachers. Most of the supervisors are experienced Gyan Shala teachers who have transitioned into the supervisory role.
Time on task
The school year is 220 days. The school day a relatively short 3.5 hours in elementary schools and four hours in middle schools. This enables a double-shift system, which significantly reduces the cost per student.
Teacher attendance is high due to strong accountability and the fact that teachers come from the local community. Gyan Shala maintains a pool of substitute teachers who cover for absences so that learning time is not lost.
During the time that students are in school, time on task is very high, and the model ensures that time is used efficiently.
Schools and facilities
Schools are located in rented buildings – often homes – in urban slums where the children live. This makes them highly accessible to the students and maximizes interaction with and ownership of the school by the community it serves. The location means that children can walk to school in relative safety. Most schools are distributed, with different grades in different buildings.
While facilities are basic, they incorporate all of the necessary basics, for instance, good drinking water, functioning toilets and good lighting. Teachers say that good toilets and drinking water are important for convincing parents to send their children, particularly girls, to the school. The choice of small rooms in the slums, most of which are used as homes once the school day is over, also minimizes costs, enabling Gyan Shala to allocate more funding for curriculum materials and training.
Parents’ meetings are held twice a year to get feedback from parents on the school and understand any concerns. The meetings contribute to the popularity of the schools since parents feel that their concerns and interests can be expressed and are taken seriously by the management team.
Programs are funded mainly through donations and contributions from the government, though parents pay some fees which cover around 10% of the operating cost.
The cost per elementary student is approximately $45 each year. The middle school program costs approximately $100 per student, though around half of this higher cost is because the program is currently sub-scale.
Staff costs account for 54% of expenditure, of which more than half is the cost of the design team and the supervisors. Classroom teacher salaries account for 25% of total expenditures, which is very low compared to government schools.
Training (6%) and learning resources (17%) account for around one quarter of expenditure. The remaining expenses are facilities (14%) and other expenses (9%) including central administration.
Gyan Shala has a small management team with a remarkably strong drive and ethos. All of the team are proud to work at Gyan Shala and extremely committed to their work. There is a strong learning culture which contributes to continuous refinement of the program and development of the people.
Gyan Shala, http://www.gyanshala.org
CFBT, Preliminary Study into Low Fee Private Schools and Education, 2011, r4d.dfid.gov.uk/pdf/outputs/mis_spc/60912-GyanShalaFinalReport.pdf. (study funded by DfID)
CFBT, The Gyan Shala Program: An Assessment, 2010 (study funded by DfID).