Study Hall Educational Foundation, India

When we began support of Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF) in 2008, they worked with 21 schools. Today, aided by technology, policy push and partnership with the government and the Mona Foundation, SHEF has scaled its model of education across 780 schools, educated 2,267,945 students and trained 2,807 teachers in 2020 alone.

About the project

Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF) supports an impressive portfolio of initiatives aimed at educating and empowering underprivileged girls in urban and rural India.  Since it began in 1994, SHEF has reached over 2,500,000 students through direct and indirect initiatives in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

All programs continued during the pandemic and a few even significantly expanded their scope through creative use of available technology.

“The COVID-19 lockdown launched us into an unknown space – children weren’t accessible and the teachers who had lived their lives teaching in classrooms were locked at home. Perhaps the greatest learning from this crisis has been the realization that technology is a great tool which we have not leveraged enough.” – SHEF Team

How we help

The Mona Foundation has partnered with SHEF since 2008. Since then, SHEF has scaled its model of education from 21 to 2,320 government schools, empowering 405,710 students in 2019 alone. Mona currently supports six SHEF programs: 

  • Digital Study Hall – To address the shortage of qualified teachers in poor and remote rural schools in India, DSH creates videos of the best teachers in actual classroom sessions and provides them free of charge to all teachers and students in poor public schools. Ongoing teacher training is offered to reinforce the quality of teaching and learning.

It is common for teachers in government schools to have classes with up to 120 students! The DSH YouTube channel experienced impressive growth last year, with 23,791 new subscribers and daily viewership tripling from 6,781 to 16,832 views from March to June.

DSH videos were used by organizations like Hippocampus, Goonj, Ashoka Network, Bodh, Government of Uttar Pradesh, Government of Jharkhand, HCL Foundation, Government of Rajasthan, Government of Madhya Pradesh, Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Nepal and Bhutan.


  • GyanSetu Community Education Centers – These one-room schools provide primary and early childhood education to marginalized children in city slums and poor rural villages to prepare them to transition to the public schools. They also provide critical training for mothers on health and hygiene, domestic violence, child marriage and alcoholism, and connects them to available community services.

The pandemic forced many schools in India to shut down permanently. In response, SHEF doubled the number of GyanSetu (one-room schools) from 30 to 63, educating 2,089 students in urban slums and remote villages. Most centers offer either primary education or early childhood development. One center, connected to the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), enables students to register for high school examination. This expansion has been primarily driven by two SHEF institutions: Study Hall College and Vidyasthali Kanar School.  17 centers were equipped with laptops and use DSHOnline videos to educate the children.


  • Prerna Girls School – This school provides K-12 education to 1,180 underprivileged girls using its own unique pedagogy to helps them see themselves as equal and autonomous individuals deserving of respect, to understand the oppression they face, and to develop the skills to overcome it.  Mona provides scholarships for Prerna students and supports a number of graduates to attend Study Hall College.


  • Aarohini Girls Empowerment Program This program teaches students to see their lives through a critical feminist lens and learn to resist and overcome gender injustice. It uses dance, performance, drama, and poetry to help girls develop the ability to take control of their lives, and educates boys to be champions of gender equality.

Of all SHEF programs Aarohini had to pivot the most during the pandemic. The team moved from running in-person teacher training on gender issues to connecting with government schoolteachers across 712 schools and helping them learn how to use technology for online teaching. The Aarohini team also focused on making sure that children stayed connected to their online classes and did not drop out. Their efforts have been largely successful.

  • India’s Daughters Campaign – This community-based campaign raises awareness of gender violence and child marriage and promotes girl’s education and equality. In 2020, India’s Daughters Campaign was implemented completely through online platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Zoom. The theme of the campaign was ‘What can men and boys do to make India safe for its daughters?’ The Campaign involved 712 schools, impacting 73,852 children, training 2,627 teachers, and reaching 134,279 people on social media. It also conducted 32 webinars on issues related to girl’s empowerment.


  • Digital Enablers – To facilitate access to online classes for children in low socio-economic communities, especially girls, SHEF launched the ‘Digital Saathi’ (Digital Enablers) initiative to provide devices and connectivity to selected students, alumni, and teachers who then facilitated learning in their communities.

Similarly, GyanSetu teachers were provided laptops to help them facilitate learning in the communities they serve. This expanded how GyanSetu Centers function and enabled them to provide educational resources that were previously inaccessible.

The Digital Saathi initiative has helped bridge the digital divide (and its embedded gender divide) by establishing community-based facilitators empowered with technology to give all students access to online classes and learning.

Khushboo’s story: By the time Kushboo was in second grade, both her mother and stepmother had died  and she had to drop out of school to clean the house, cook, and look after her younger siblings. Read more

Some of SHEF’s recent activities to combat COVID-19 are:

  • Moved all teaching and learning activities online for schools supported by SHEF, leveraging WhatsApp, Zoom and DSHOnline
  • Through its partner organization Didi’s Foods, SHEF is providing 1,130 meals per day to a community kitchen set up by the Government of Uttar Pradesh.
  • Provide critical information on social distancing and prevention to over 2,000 government schools and connected them to COVID-19 government relief programs
  • Produced 1,000 washable face masks and distributing them to various hospitals
  • Distributed 140 packets of sanitary napkins to 125 girls, and are working to produce reusable sanitary pads for girls who don’t have access to these necessities during the lockdown
  • COVID-19 Prevention Kits – providing masks and bars of soap to the  most vulnerable. SHEF has partnered with a local organization to produce a very cost effective three layered mask for $0.25/mask. They are also trying to procure hand washing sanitizing soap to distribute in these communities.  The plan is to provide 2,600 children with 8 masks each at $.25/mask, and 2 bars of soap at $1 each
  • Continuing education through “Digital Enablers.” In areas where the one-room schools have operated for more than a year, they are identifying Digital Enablers (Prerna School Alumni) who are provided with either a cell phone or a computer and access to the internet so they can leverage the DSHOnline instructional videos and teach 5 to 10 children in their neighborhood. So far, they have been able to equip 9 such Digital Enablers and hope to extend this service to all Mona supported GyanSetus. Mona Foundation will be reallocating a portion of their 2020 grant to cover this cost.

Many kids in the very poor and “slum” areas around cities or villages never attend school.  GyanSetus, or non-formal education centers  (in practice, one-room schools) are nurturing transformative community hub, providing a way to bring the kids to level and transition them to the school system.   Through several innovations GyanSetu seeks to provide solution to the chronic problems of education system that have isolated and alienated the children on the margin.

GyanSetu centers also act as hubs of community transformation, which is why each one holds meetings for mothers 6 to 7 times a month. During these meetings  the certified teacher, accompanied by counselors train the mothers on the basics of  health and hygieneso critical now, domestic violence, child marriage, alcoholism, etc. and connect them with community services that can save their lives, and keep them going.  Each meeting leads to a community action and is documented.

Every GyanSetu center educates 30-40 students and their families. 86% of students transition to public schools. Mona Foundation is committed to supporting 63 one-room schools in 2021 to educate 2,089 kids this year.

The biggest measure of success is when a GyanSetu child transitions to regularly attending a formal school. This is done by providing age-appropriate learning to each child and counseling the family to value education.

Activity-based teaching is a cornerstone for engaging and retaining out-of-school children at the GyanSetu centers. Making structures with clay, using leafs to draw characters and waste paper sculptures are activities that are conducted regularly at all the GyanSetu centers.

86% of kids in these one-room schools transition to public schools and will have a fighting chance to survive, pull themselves out of abject poverty and support the basic needs of themselves and their families.

Digital Study Hall’s (DSH) approach to education has been described as “YouTube meets Netflix in a schoolhouse with a dirt floor.” 

The Digital Study Hall Online (DSHONLINE), an initiative of Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF) was created 10 years ago with Mona Foundation’s support as a forward looking approach to overcoming the shortage of qualified teachers in poor and remote rural schools in India. DSH creates videos of the best teachers in actual classroom sessions teaching standard textbook materials, and then provides them free of charge to all teachers and students in poor public schools. Ongoing teacher training is offered to reinforce quality of teaching and learning.

With the country in lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID19, and all schools closed, thousands of teachers and students are now flocking to the DSHONLINE platform, allowing children to feel part of a social learning environment from the safety of their home. And it is working! When Mona started supporting this initiative 10 years ago, DSH was offered in 23 schools. Today, with 1,643 relevant instructional modules for grades 1-8, they are in 2,320 schools with 94,000 subscribers and 14.5M views. Other platforms like Shaladarpan and Diksha collectively reach out to over 20,000 government and private school teachers across India.

Studies have shown dramatic improvement of student performance and local teachers demonstrated significant improvement in their grasp of subject matter.Digital Study Hall also works at the forefront of women and girls empowerment programs by including gender education into the core of their academic curricula and community education campaigns.

One teacher shared, “I am a social studies teacher and I have a Bachelor’s in Education as well. I always watch your video lessons to learn how to teach mathematics and next day I teach children in my class. I feel indebted.”Ranju Chaudhary commented on Class 6 – Algebra.

In a move that has brought national recognition from the Indian government for DSH video lessons, the Ministry of Human Resource and Development, in collaboration with the National Council for Teacher Education and other stakeholders, has developed the National Teacher PlatformDiksha – which has on board close to 300 Digital Study Hall (DSH) video lessons. These video lessons will be accessible to the teachers of government and private schools across India.

The process of publishing these video lessons is methodical and makes use of a comprehensive metadata framework that maps the video lessons to each state curriculum. Enabling the video lessons to reach a wider audience of children studying in various state boards. Diksha was launched on Teacher’s Day, September 5, 2017.

Teachers at the government schools face a huge challenge with the change in instruction language, now English. DSH video lessons have proved to be of great help in partner schools during this transition. Rajasthan Government Schools adopted DSH videos.  In 2017, DSH started creating Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) prescribed curriculum video lessons in the English language. This curriculum has recently been adopted by the government schools in Rajasthan on their Shaladarpan platform.

India’s daughters are unsafe, unwanted, unequal and unfree.

  • 1/3 of the world’s child brides are in India, 5 M
  • Two rapes reported each hour
  • They are unwanted in the womb. Almost 1,000,000 girls are killed in the womb each year through selective termination
  • And 50% of married women are report domestic violence.

Aarohini Girls Empowerment program, a program of Study Hall Educational Foundation and supported by Mona Foundation, empowers girls to see themselves as equal persons deserving of respect and is designed to promote education for girls and prevent violence and child marriage.  It’s central theme is that “education can be truly transformative if it addresses the everyday reality of girls’ lives and responds to their special needs and challenges with respect and care.”

Its pedagogy is unique and complex.  It is designed to  help the students take a critical feminist look at their real lived realities to see where in that power structure they stand, and then how to deal with that, how to resist, how to negotiate, and how to transform. It uses every instructional methodology at the disposal of the school including dance and performance drama in the classrooms, or street theater, or poetry or daily communications in the classrooms, to help the girls build an identity as an equal autonomous person deserving respect, having the right of agency – the ability to take action, be effective, influence and assume responsibility, and feel in control of their lives – and to voice their protests.

“Although education is a very powerful social and personally transformative force, it is not just any kind of education. If education is to be transformative, it must be redefined and transformed. We have learned that if school is going to change girls’ lives, then it must provide a safe, caring space, and it must teach girls lessons of equality, along with the lessons of math and science.”  Dr. Urvashi Sahni, Founder, Study Hall Educational Foundation.

The Aarohini Girls Empowerment Program was first implemented at Prerna School, which was founded in 2003 with 30 students and is now serving 1,000 students and counting.  The Prerna girls come from the lower cast and lower social and economic backgrounds.  The average family income is about 9,000 Rupees (~$120) and average family size of 7.  The program is offered to augment the government program, and has now scaled to more than 2,320 schools, empowering 405,000 girls. Essential to its implementation is Teacher Training which is done through a 3 pronged approach:  In person trainings at specific training centers, follow up every three months by regional tutors, and leveraging the Digital Study Hall YouTube channel instructional content.

The results have been systematically documented and reported and widely recognized including by the Brookings Institution Center for Universal Education, the Obama Foundation Global Girls Alliance, and the government of India.

The Prerna Girls School journey and pedagogy has been cogently documented in the book Reaching for the Sky, by Dr.Urvashi Sahni. One of the primary cases that Reaching for the Sky presents is the benefits of including gender studies as part of the core curriculum and building social and political awareness around it.

Aarohini Tele-Mentoring Center:  A key component of the Aarohini focuses on training teachers to engage young girls in ‘Critical Dialogues’ in the classrooms. Critical dialogues are facilitated discussions among students on issues that affect and limit their lives. This highly participatory approach has students learning to question established traditions, practices, and ‘naturalised’ social norms, while also learning to think about the issues independently, give voice to their thoughts, express their concerns and feelings, and use their own experience and feelings as a valid source of knowledge. From January 2018 to November 2018, 24,618 critical dialogues were conducted by the trained teachers with the girls of grades 6, 7 and 8.

In 2018, no child marriages were reported among girls upon completing class 8! In 2016, 44 underage girls were forced into marriage upon completion, and in 2017, 32 underage girls were forced into marriage. In 2011, 53% girls demonstrated vulnerability to child marriage as per a sample study.

India’s Daughters Campaign is a powerful public expression of empowered voices of thousands of Aarohini Girls Empowerment Program graduates. This purpose of this annual campaign is to raise awareness against gender violence, child marriage, and inequality, promote girls education, and enlist the support of the politician, community, and civil leaders.

In 2019, the India’s Daughter Campaign reached out to 1.16 million community members including 232,000 students from 2320 government-run primary, upper primary and secondary schools across Uttar Pradesh province. 1592 community meetings and panel discussions with members of leading political parties were held, and a total of 1729 awareness marches were carried out across the state, during which 3840 people signed a pledge to stop child marriage.

A total of 1,430 girls who would have dropped out of school because of financial reasons will continue education. 1,330 girls from remote schools in Uttar Pradesh have been connected to scholarship schemes. Another 100 girls have been sponsored at the Prerna Girls School.

Under this project we identify girls who would drop out of school only because of financial crises. We strive to keep the girls in the school and continue their education by direct fund transfer or hand holding the girls to avail government scholarships.

Evaluation process: We monitor the academic progress of the girls that are sponsored and our mentoring cell remains continuously in touch with the girls.

“I could never open my mouth at home. I was a frightened weak girl. Now I speak up. Now I am not afraid. My father has stopped beating us because we speak up. I know my rights and am not afraid to demand them.

Now I dream and I want to be a teacher.  I wasn’t sure I would even finish high school. But now I have a BA and I want to do a B.Ed. I want to learn dancing and computers and everything, anything. There are many challenges but I know that we can find solutions, I am not afraid now.  At home my mother asks my advice and I am confident now that I can give her good advice.”   – Aarti Singh, Student, Digital Study Hall, Lucknow. Mona Foundation invests $10/month to educate Aarti. 

On December 20th, 2018, the Brookings Institution published a policy brief—“Mainstreaming gender equality and empowerment education in post-primary schools in India”—and blog—”To empower girls in India, make gender education compulsory”— by founder Urvashi Sahni. The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC. Their mission is to conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society at the local, national and global level.

In the blog, Urvashi writes “Schools are powerful sites for change and social transformation. As the founder of the Study Hall Foundation’s (SHEF) Prerna School—a K-12 school for girls and boys in Lucknow, India—I have seen first-hand how schools can change children’s lives. But to fulfil school’s transformative promise, we must revolutionize what we teach and how we teach it.”You can find the report here and the blog here.

Social Entrepreneur of the Year:  In 2017, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, a sister organization of the World Economic Forum, in partnership with the Jubilant Bhartia Foundation announced Dr. Urvashi Sahni, founder of Study Hall Educational Foundation (Digital Study Hall is a program of this Foundation) was announced as the winner of the India 2017 Social Entrepreneur of the Year.

Help us fund the growth plan of this innovative initiative in 2021

Click on each of the suggested donation amounts below to see what your investment in education of girls and women can support across many of DSH programs.


2020 Achievements

Total of 780 schools served, educated 2,267,945 students and 2,807 teachers trained across all of SHEF’s programs

Trained 110 teachers, both male and female, in the Aarohini Program from 43 schools as part of a 2-year pilot program to bring more men into the conversation.

DSH Online:

  • increased its subscribers from 89,700 to 113,491
  • amassed 17 million views with over 2 million unique users
  • created 298 new videos

Provided 150 K-12 scholarships and 20 college scholarships

Use of technology enabled SHEF to scale GyanSetu (one-room schools) in slums or remote villages from 43 to 63, and 2,089 students

India’s Daughters Campaign involved 712 schools, impacting 73,852 children, reaching out to 134,279 community members across

2021 Project Goals

  • Will continue to train 125 teachers in the Aarohini program to specifically bring boys into the conversation of gender equality and sustain efforts underway in 43 co-ed schools
  • India’s Daughters Campaign to work with 850 schools
  • Will produce 80 more video lessons for children of grades 1 to 8
  • Provide Prerna School K-12 Scholarships to 150 girls
  • Provide college scholarships to 25 girls
  • Strengthen the 63 GyanSetu centers in operation


Change four lives!

Give $50 a month, or $500, to fund the education of four girls for one school year.