Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
In India, more than ten million children who are in age to receive education remain excluded from the education system, usually because they come from marginalized communities and underprivileged backgrounds. For the rest who do go to school, recurring studies have demonstrated that the education they receive is very low quality, especially in primary school. For example, the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international study comparing students’ performance worldwide, ranked the quality of education in India 63 among 64 surveyed countries. Indeed, the number of students completing their primary education with inadequate numeracy and literacy skills is startling: the 2011 Annual Status of Education Report stated that only 48.2% of students in the fifth grade could read at the second grade level.
The explanation for this is two-fold. First, only 10.7% of national budget is dedicated to education, and there are big discrepancies across the country. Quality standards and investments in education vary across the country as schooling is governed by the state level laws legislated by around 35 governments in the different states and union territories.
Second and most important reason can be found in the national shortage of teachers. India has more than 220 millions children of age to go to school. Assuming that a class is composed of around 40 students, and that these students sit for one math class and one science class per day, then India would need 5 million qualified teachers to teach maths and science only. However, India barely has 2 million teachers. This analysis is confirmed by a 2010 report from the Unesco Institute of Statistics, which stated that India would need 2 million new teachers by 2015. Moreover, they are not evenly distributed. Numbers at the national level show that 12.7% of the primary schools had only one teacher while another 39.1% had only two teachers. It means that more than half of the primary schools in the country have less than two teachers. Teachers are unable to pay individual attention to students and detect the ones who are lagging behind. Moreover, their administrative responsibilities take an additional toll on their teaching abilities.
The problem of adequate number teachers, coupled with the lack of quality teachers only worsens the problem. According to a review analysis by the ministry of Human Resource & Development (MHRD), only 35% of government school teachers are trained on teaching methodology, while close to 0.8 million remain completely untrained. Also, teachers in general lack the qualification and support to teach multi-level classes, which are though very common.
Many initiatives have been put in place to tackle the problem of education quality, both from government bodies or CSOs. Some are successful, but very few of them actually manage to ensure the same quality when it comes to scaling up. Given India’s demographics, scale stands as a vital success factor for any efficient education model in this country. Pankaj believes the only way to find an effective, replicable, and short-term solution to teachers and budget shortage is to work within existing resources. By challenging the deep-rooted assumption that good quality education is highly correlated to the teacher’s expertise, he came up with an innovation: with Gyan Shala, he has rethought the role of a teacher by breaking his tasks down.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
The Indian primary education system suffers from a severe shortage of quality teachers. In this context, Pankaj Jain has delineated the role of a teacher to create a system that divides the skills of a traditional teacher in three distinct parts. The daily teaching and interactions with students is entrusted to trained unemployed women who have strong inter-personal skills. To ensure quality and consistency in methods, a central, back-end and qualified curriculum design team, adapts the official curriculum and provides the teachers with a detailed methodology and schedule that they are to follow. Finally, quality senior-teachers support and supervise approximately around seven class teachers and act as a link with the design team.
This para-skilling idea is the basic concept of Gyan Shala, an Ahmedabad based non-profit founded by Pankaj in 2000. But Pankaj has also put in place detailed processes to meet his commitment to provide high-quality and affordable education. These processes include complementary teachers teams, a high emphasis on teaching and learning materials, recurrent teachers training, individual follow-up of students, as well as optimised staff and infrastructure expenses.
This highly scalable system has proved its efficiency: according to a Poverty Lab-MIT survey grade 3 students are 88% higher in language and 99% higher in maths than grade 3 students in municipal schools, despite a slightly lower attendance. Today, more than 30,000 students from grade 1 to 10 are going to his network of classes, located in slums or poor urban areas all around India. Pankaj also successfully managed to implement his teaching model and pedagogy in government schools in Gujarat.