IIT Ahmedabad Alumnus takes education to slums touching the lives of 250,000 children in India

Gyan Shala, the organization, Pankaj Jain had set up back in 2000 has taken education to slums touching the lives of 250,000 lives in India, writes Anjuli Bhargava in Business Standard. Jain, an engineer from IIT-Rurkee and a Doctorate from IIM-Ahmedabad had a dream of taking education to slums and he just did that, writes the author. Jain sought to provide quality education to out-of-school slum children even in the absence of quality teachers. Apparently, he established Gyan Shala and today, from just a few centers in Ahmedabad, it had spread to nine cities including Surat, Kolkata, Patna, Lucknow, Kanpur, and Muzaffarpur. What is more, Gyan Shala teaches children through a well-designed curriculum and material that compensates for the quality of teacher and teaching, she writes.

Education in Traditional Way

The teacher supports the learning but is not the primary factor in determining the quality of the education. Before starting Gyan Shala Jain had taught at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) for 14 years, and subsequently, spent some time working in the fields of microfinance and education. He realized that people were approaching education in the traditional way — making it dependent on a team of good teachers headed by a good leader or principal, Anjuli writes.

However, Jain realized a couple of things:  First, India simply did not have enough numbers of good teachers to solve the problem at a macro level. And second, even if a teacher was good, to begin with, they often became de-motivated and disinterested.

Innovative content and design

Apparently, the Gyan Shala model works on the premise that if the content and design of the curriculum are innovative and interesting, the teacher can support the learning and outcomes can be improved. So, Jain not only decided to restrict his focus to urban areas, but he also figured out that reaching large numbers of children would be a challenge in rural areas where the population is more scattered. The program is tailored to benefit children whose weaknesses can’t be compensated for by their parents. In middle and upper-middle-class families, for instance, parents or tutors often support weaker children, which are not the case with those whose parents are poor and uneducated, Anjuli concurs.

Modus Operandi

Gyan Shala uses hired spaces in slum areas. It also hires the teachers. The model is cost-effective, with the cost of educating a child varying between Rs 3000-5000 per year per child. Currently, 30,347 children are being got educated at Gyan Shala centers. It has grown as an organization too with a total of around 250 employees not including teachers. The good news is that external evaluators have repeatedly confirmed Gyan Shala’s operating principle — that learning outcomes can be improved even without stellar teachers. In 2004, MIT’s Poverty Action Lab evaluated Gyan Shala centres and found the children performing better than those in government schools at the same levels, she writes.

Similarly, Educational Initiatives, an organization that does student assessments, found Gyan Shala’s students to be doing better in studies than those in municipal schools. In 2012 it found that on an average, its Grade 3 and 5 students performed as well as children in CBSE schools, although the Grade 7 students didn’t come up to the CBSE standard. “At this level, our students had some catching up to do,” Jain tells the daily.

Bikramma Daulet Singh, Managing Director of Central Square Foundation, a non-profit focused on improving the quality of school education, tells Anjuli that Gyan Shala has a strong model which has shown very good results. It is based on prescriptive resources and lesson plans for teachers, which seems to be working if one looks at the learning outcomes.

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