Educating at the grass root level

SkillingIndia on November 12, 2012 Comments
Teach for India aims to build a powerful & ever-growing leadership force which can be instrumental in making education a reality for all children.

Shaheen Mistri, Founder CEO, Teach For India says, “The idea is to mold leaders who actually understand what is needed at the grass-root level.”

Education inequity in India

Shaheen Mistri: India is currently facing one of the worst educational crises in the world. Today, 8 million primary school-aged children in India are not even enrolled in school and of those who are, 42% drop out before even getting a basic primary education. Children in low income schools test a full 2-3 grade levels below their counterparts in more affluent schools. Just the sheer numbers are daunting! The problem of educational inequity in India is like a jigsaw puzzle that needs a variety of pieces to fit in before it can be resolved.

An effort to solve the puzzle

Shaheen Mistri: To ensure that every child gets an equal opportunity is complex. It’s so complicated to fix that those of us who have our own children realize how hard it is to get it right with just one child. To get it right with millions of children is an immense challenge. Firstly, we should think about the complexity of the system. There are areas, which we don’t even know need fixing. Because we are not aware of how deep the problem runs. But, there are many things that need to change, both in and out of the education system, to end the inequity in education. Maybe what we need to do is actually take a step back and build a leadership force of people who will go out and do things both in and out of education. Some things in education like changing teachers training, providing schools with great school leaders, and changing educational policies. Others are outside education such as media campaigns for education, corporate initiatives for education and increased laws for education. If high caliber, motivated and committed leaders are placed into each one of those puzzled pieces, and kept well connected, perhaps, it could lead to a movement that can change that.

A movement by Teach For India

Shaheen Mistri: Teach For India is a nationwide movement that aims to bridge the educational gap in India. We place promising college graduates and working professionals in low-income schools to teach full-time for two years, in a Fellowship programme. The idea is to mold leaders who actually understand what is needed at the grass-root level, who will then go on to enter different sectors such as government, business, policy making, and media, and work together across sectors towards making education for all children a reality.

Teach For India is currently in its fourth year of operations. From a cohort of 87 Fellows who joined us in May 2009, we now have over 500 Fellows teaching in low income schools in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Chennai and Hyderabad. The aim is to be present in all the major metros in the nation in the next four years.

In fact, our Fellows include outstanding young leaders who are graduates from IITs, IIMs, BITS Pilani, ISB, St. Stephen’s, St. Xavier’s, Harvard and Princeton University and dynamic professionals from corporates such as McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, HDFC, Accenture, Thermax, ICICI and Godrej Industries. Parallel to their work in the classrooms, our Fellows undertake a community project, which addresses barriers to student achievement that externally influence their students’ academic lives.

In 2009-2010, Teach For India Fellows have touched the lives of 3000 children in 33 schools. In 2010-2011, we were operating in 60 schools and impacting 6,500 children. In 2011-2012, across three cities, we were impacting 12,000 children. Today, across five cities, we impact 16,000 children. Our children have shown a growth of 1.2 school years in just one year in their writing skills and have doubled in their reading fluency (27 to 62 words per minute).

We teach with a focus on language and math as they are areas of great need and we believe that with strong literacy and foundational skills in mathematics, our students will be better set up for more success in the other content areas. We also teach science, history and other subjects required by the school. In addition to academics, we incorporate values into our instruction, expose students to experiences, which could expand their opportunities in life and incorporate students’ interests and aspirations into our teaching. Our adherence to the State curriculum varies by school, but in our first year, we decided against using it because we found it lacked rigor. Furthermore, it wasn’t working for our students, so we needed something that would push them more than the State curriculum could. Therefore, we decided to adopt Education Initiative’s learning standards in Language and the Common Core standards in Mathematics and have designed our curricula around these two sets of standards.

In the long-run, I see Teach For India building a powerful and ever-growing leadership force of alumni who will work from inside and outside the educational system to shape the fundamental, long-term changes necessary to ultimately realize educational opportunity for all. One day, all children in India will attain an excellent education.

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