Stories of Change

Lessons on Transforming Government Schools in India

By September 1, 2020 No Comments

Two Gandhi Fellows, Surender Yadav and Akash Mishra along with Lucky Gautam started Self-Reliant India (SRI) in 2017 with a simple yet multi-faceted objective – empower children through quality education and enable them to move out of the poverty cycle. To that end, Surender and his team run two programs under SRI- Nanhe Kalam & School Transformation in Haryana.

We had a short tête-à-tête with Surendar to understand the gaps in Government schools and share his views and learnings on transforming the system.

  1. Since you are based in Haryana, what is the state of Government Schools there?

    In 2017, we conducted a survey of Class 5 students learning in Government Schools of Rajasthan & Haryana. We found that even the high-ranking students (1st-3rd toppers in class) dropped out of school due to the unsupportive environment at school as well as at home.

    More than 95% of students picked up jobs in the informal sector post dropping out. Also, in another survey that we conducted with 3 Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas of Rajasthan & Haryana showed that 85% of students selected for Class 6 were from private schools or had access to extra coaching classes.  We realised that students from low-income communities were unable to make the cut as they lacked access to these avenues of additional support.

    From the ASER Report for Haryana, we understood that:

    • 56.1% of students of Class IV can’t even read Class 2 level texts (ASER report 2016 – Haryana).
    • 19% of students of Class IV can’t even recognise numbers between 10 and 99 (ASER report 2016 – Haryana).
    • Parents are sending their children to private schools (55.7% of children in the age group of 6 – 14 are enrolled in private schools despite economic burdens (ASER report 2016 – Haryana)
    • 96.6% of schools had SMC, but only 11% of schools had conducted any meetings after September 2016 (ASER report 2016 – Haryana).
  2. How is SRI addressing this problem?

    SRI seeks to change the ineffective school environment and unsupportive home and community environment which results in poor student learning outcomes and early dropouts of students belonging to low-income communities. As a solution, we decided to create awareness about the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya*(JNV) system of education and provide coaching to students to gain admission in these schools. We also help Government school teachers achieve JNV level teaching practices by doing monthly workshops & providing on-field support.

  3. What do you believe will bring about a fundamental change in Government schools?

    We believe that alignment and engagement among all stakeholders is critical to transforming Government schools. Also, awareness of quality education alone is not sufficient to nudge a sustainable behavioural change among parents and communities towards Government schools.

    At Self-Reliant India, we believe that improving the classroom environment will create the best teaching practices and thereby creating role models among students and teachers. Our theory of change is that Government schools will transform and deliver quality education through community participation and ownership. Regular, inclusive interactions among the community PRI (Panchayati Raj Institution)  members, influential leaders, and community youth at the school will improve their participation in the change-making process.

  4. You have been running this project for 3 years now. What has been your biggest learnings so far?

    Working with different stakeholders on the ground has led to some major learnings and insights:

    • Inclusion of Government teachers and systems like BEEO (Block Education Extension Officer), and DEO (District Education Officer) creates interest, and instils a sense of ownership of the project amongst these stakeholders.
    • Providing incentives and genuine recognition to Government teachers motivates them to join and take ownership.
    • Student learning outcomes can improve significantly with regular assessments and a feedback loop which includes the parents and teachers.
    • Standardising curriculum and pedagogical techniques can help in effective delivery and outcomes.
  5. How do you access the impact of your work?

    We assess the impact of our work through the number of students getting selected in JNVs through our intervention and the change in student learning outcomes in the subjects of Hindi, Reasoning, and Mathematics from the beginning to the end of the intervention. Our Monthly, Weekly, and Block Tests help us see the progress of the children.

    The monthly capacity-building workshops and classroom observations of the Fellows’ helps us see the progress made by the Fellows. The increase in student enrolment in Government schools also helps us to check on the positive correlation between the performance of the Government schools and the JNV results.

  6. What has been your outreach so far?

    We have worked with 1000+ students of Class 5 from Government schools. 87 students have been selected to study in JVN schools in 3 districts of Haryana. 100+ community youth have been trained in effective teaching techniques. We have partnered with Barefoot College in Tilonia to implement the Nanhe Kalam project.

    We also did a pilot project with the Haryana Education Department to provide material & guidance to 149 schools across all district of Haryana. Among 2504 students, 51 students got selected in JNV.

    In terms of awareness, we have created a community that knows about the JNV school system. We have helped to build a sensitised community of young fellows who will be effective teachers in the future. The high number of students getting selected for JNV schools has boosted the positive image of Government schools.

    Due to Covid-19, as all the schools have been closed, we are teaching children through online classes. Our fellows have made short videos of each concept and send it to the children via WhatsApp. The key point of this process is daily follow-ups and active engagement with parents by the Fellows. Currently, we are teaching 70% of our kids and are planning to reach to rest who don’t have access to smartphones by sending them printed material.

  7. What are your recommendations as to the feasibility and replicability of your project?

    JNV schools are present in 600+ districts across the country and the long-standing trend indicates that students from Government schools are not able to access them. This shows us that our project can be scaled to all districts. We have an established curriculum based on 3 years of experience in implementing the program – resources to work in Hindi-speaking belts/districts/states. We are open to collaborating with other organisations to share our processes and resources towards achieving the same vision.


Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas* – The National Policy on Education-1986 envisaged setting up of residential schools to called Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas that would bring out the best of rural talent. It was felt that children with special talent or aptitude should be provided opportunities to progress at a faster pace by making good quality education available to them irrespective of their capacity to pay for it. Such education would enable students from rural areas to compete with their urban counterparts on an equal footing. The Navodaya Vidyalaya System which began as a unique experiment is today unparalleled to the other schools in India and elsewhere.

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