I have always had a fascination for how ‘education’ is designed. But it was an unlikely success story from North India that brought this diffused interest into sharp focus in the form of child-centric education. The story was that of an NGO running non-formal (alternative) schools for children living in slums. Every year, its makeshift schoolrooms would see child labourers become advocates for completion of schooling, the ‘reverse-education’ of illiterate parents through their children, and students outperforming their peers upon entering formal (mainstream) schools. The principle at the heart of this NGO: child-centricity.Across the country are many such scattered initiatives solving globally-prioritised problems of access, retention, and quality that nations have grappled with for decades. Studying similar efforts so as to identify patterns in their success could reveal how schools may be better designed to serve children from low-income families, with the particularities of their needs and circumstances.My PhD research will compare how non-formal and formal schools empower such children, identifying the factors that influence their academic, social, and economic agency. Holding potential solutions to the policy-practice gap in India and wider developing contexts, this research will be a step towards my hope of helping to pave the way to more child-centric, context-sensitive education systems that better serve all by serving those most at risk.