Model Districts Education Project


The Model Districts Education Project (MDEP) | Access to Achievement is a collaborative, five-year demonstration project of the Center for Sustainable Development, The Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York and housed at the Columbia Global Centers | South Asia, Mumbai. The project works with the Government of India, and key education stakeholders in selected rural districts of India. Building on the experience of the Global Center’s Model District Health Project to improve maternal and child health outcomes in India, MDEP uses current scientific evidence and best professional practices to develop, recommend, monitor, and evaluate a high quality, cost-effective, transferable and scalable model of primary education. Selected districts will serve as regional pilots for scaling up improvements. Currently, the project is present in Morigaon, Assam and Medak, Telangana.


The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) call for all children to complete a full course of education by 2015. These MDGs will transition into Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in October, 2015. The Sustainable Development Goal asks to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (Open Working Group Proposal for Sustainable Development Goals, 2014 PDF).There have been significant strides in terms of access, as the number of out-of-school children worldwide dropped from 100 million in 2000 to 57 million in 2015 (MDG Report, 2015 PDF), but corresponding strides in quality have yet to be achieved universally. The passing of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (2009) provides a new policy context and a new series of opportunities to strengthen the quality dimensions of primary education in India.

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), or Education for All, the current scheme for universal education, reports striking gains in access. With the opening of 288,000 schools and the establishment of primary schools within one kilometer of 98 % of all habitations, nearly 20 million children have been enrolled and the number out-of-school reduced from 25 million in 2003 to 8.1 million in 2009. Gender and social gaps in enrolment have also narrowed. The ratio of girls to boys is 96 per 100, compared to 90 per 100 in 2000; the enrolment of children from Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) now better reflects their share of the population (SCs constitute 21 % and STs 11 % of enrolments); and, by 2006, 2.18 million of 2.5 million children with disabilities had been enrolled in primary school (World Bank, 2013). However, a closer examination reveals many deficiencies in the move towards universalizing elementary education.

India’s National Policy on Education and its Programme of Action applaud SSA’s progress and endorse its continuation; but they also assert that the root problem in systemic failures of primary education in rural India is weak accountability in the management of learning performance. Their primary focus has thus shifted from ‘equity in access’ to ‘equity in achievement’. To realize the promise of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act for India’s future, the imperative now must be to improve achievement, or quality, in education. MDEP in its commitment to support the public system of education addresses concerns of equity, inclusion and quality in primary education, particularly in rural schools of the country.


The purpose of the project is to improve the quality of primary education by developing and testing an evidence-based model of primary education that is “locally owned and operated” yet readily adaptable for other locales. There are two specific aims, each with discrete, measureable outcomes:

  • to improve the quality of student learning
  • to lower dropout rates

The project seeks to demonstrate that a relatively modest, targeted program of innovations and resources geared toward community building, teaching and learning, and educational programming, coordination, monitoring, and evaluation will significantly improve the two outcomes of interest, while simultaneously being cost-effective and readily scalable. The project is thus also expected to facilitate India’s progress towards Millennium Development Goals which address issues of universal access to primary education and related outcomes by the year 2015 and will continue towards the Sustainable Development Goals moving forward.



Nirupam Bajpai, PhD, Project Director and Principal Investigator, Earth Institute, Columbia University

Radhika Iyengar, PhD, CIE/Economics, Director of Education, Earth Institute, Columbia University

Seema Nath, MPhil, Research Associate, Earth Institute, Columbia University

Tara Stafford, M.A, Senior Education Technology Specialist, Earth Institute, Columbia University

Chandana Kakati, M.A, District Project Coordinator, (Morigaon, Assam)

Bharath Ganji, District Project Coordinator, (Medak, Telangana)

For more information on the project team members, please visit our staff page.


The IKEA Foundation generously supports the Model Districts Education Project, which aims to improve the quality of primary education in India (Millennium Development Goals 2 and 3) by 2015 and move forward to ensure the Sustainable Development Goal to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (Open Working Group Proposal for Sustainable Development Goals, 2014 PDF). The Foundation’s support enables the project to work in two districts, in Assam and Telengana, to improve the quality of teaching and learning outcomes in government schools.


YEAR 1 (July 2012 – June 2013)

Cross Country Review of Public Primary Education in Rural Brazil, China, Indonesia and Mexico: Suggestions for Policy and Practice Reforms in India ” tried to highlight successes and the challenges in other similar countries of Brazil, China, Indonesia and Mexico that will in turn benefit India in promoting ‘quality’ education. This paper attempted to help Indian policy makers learn from the Global South as similar intervention for improving learning outcomes has been attempted in other developing countries.

The Policy and Practice of Public Primary Curriculum in India – A study of textbooks in public primary schools of District Morigaon (Assam) and District Medak (Andhra Pradesh) examined the perception of teachers, cluster resource coordinators, resource persons and staff members from district and state level offices of SSA, DIET, Department of Education and SCERT, on the challenges and opportunities related to the textbooks in public primary schools. Data indicated that textbooks continued to be the prime source for education in schools.
The paper concluded with a list of recommendations to the local governments and education authorities that it has derived from an assimilation of findings from different sources.

In Service Teacher Training for Public Primary Schools in Rural India – Findings from District Morigaon (Assam) and District Medak (Andhra Pradesh) presented an amalgamation of different viewpoints of teachers, cluster resource coordinators, resource persons, and staff members from district and state level offices of SSA, DIET, Department of Education and SCERT, on the challenges and opportunities usually associated with the in-service teacher trainings in public primary schools. The data collected through this research indicated that in-service teacher training is not reflective of the principles proposed in the curriculum. There were severe gaps that impacted the quality outcomes adversely. The paper concluded with a list of recommendations to the local governments and education authorities.


YEAR 2 (July 2013 – June 2014)

In Morigaon, Assam a district wide needs assessment survey was carried out. The baseline survey assessed the ground reality of schools and explored areas of intervention. The two main aims of the study were to assess students’ learning in language (native and English) and arithmetic and to determine the realities of schools on various education indicators stipulated by various assessment, education data collection centers such as ASER, TSES, etc.

A small survey was conducted in 64 schools in two blocks of Kowdipally and Narsapur in Medak to collect data on school infrastructure and classroom conditions. Subsequently, an action plan was prepared and shared with the district for implementation of MGML pedagogy in the district.

Based on the findings from Year 1 and Year 2, a comprehensive package of interventions was suggested that address the holistic development of children under the vision of “School as a Way of Life”. The school is a basic socializing institution that should provide a stimulating learning environment for a child to develop necessary life skills. These recommendations attempt to address a package of interrelated services that are likely to improve enrolment, grade completion, and educational quality. These interventions are in seven areas; early childhood education, nutrition, health, physical education, school as a safe space, multi grade multi- level pedagogy, and community-school partnership.

Year 3 (July 2014 – June 2015)

The research team worked on five policy papers. These papers tackled a variety of subjects in primary education. These papers were on the topics of “Early Childhood Education”; “Gender Education in Primary Schools”; “Data driven decision making and policy in public primary education”; “Annual Work Plan and Budget Process Strengthening Measures” and “Understanding Challenges to Applying RTE in the rural context”. These papers were shared with education stakeholders at both the national and state level.

A qualitative study on “Community participation in primary schools” was conducted in Medak, Telangana and Morigaon, Assam. This research study aimed to explore how key stakeholders, e.g., teachers, parents and government officials, define community participation. The study further aimed to determine factors that aide or impede participation and to recommend ways to enhance the amount and quality of participation.

Another research study was completed on the “Challenges to successful implementation of classroom management and time management techniques by teachers” (one in Medak, Telangana and another in Morigaon, Assam).

Year 4 (July 2015 – June 2016)

The Honourable Chief Minister of Assam, Shri Tarun Gogoi inaugurated the “School as a way of Life” programme in Dhekiajuli Sonarigaon MV School of Jorhat district on 6th August, 2015. The programme was named UTTARAN in the local language. Detailed needs assessment and learning assessments were carried out in all the selected schools in the three districts. Subsequently in November, 2016 the MDEP team provided training on the interventions listed under “School as a way of Life” to teachers from the 50 schools in Goalpara, Morigaon and Jorhat. In addition, meetings were held with anganwaadis and ka-shreni teachers to discuss and find solutions to issues of early childhood education. The MDEP team is working closely with the Department of Education to arrange for teachers from selected schools in the three districts to receive training on Multi-Grade Multi-Level teaching learning methods which is an important pedagogical intervention suggested in “School as a Way of Life” under the guidance of the District Institute of Education and Training in Jorhat district.

In Telangana, Mr D Ronald Rose IAS, District Magistrate & Collector, Medak District and Dr Nirupam Bajpai launched “School as a way of Life” programme in Mandal Parishad Primary School, Thuniki Bollarum (Village), Mulugu (Mandal), Medak District on 1st September, 2015. It is called be “Badi… Mana Jeevana Pragathi Baata” in the local language. Subsequent to detailed needs assessment and learning assessments the MDEP team provided training to the teachers in Mulugu mandal training on all aspects of “School as a way of Life” in January, 2016. Teachers from 10 schools in Mulugu were also sent to Rishi Valley Rural education Center (RiVER) in Andhra Pradesh to receive training on Multi-Grade Multi-Level teaching learning methods by the local government as per the recommendation on “School as a Way of Life” and currently 10 schools are operating as MGML schools.