Teach for a better india

Teach for a better india

Education is the greatest wealth people can bequeath to their children, and these days, it comes at a premium. Teach for India takes quality education to the underserved in our country

S. MEERA

As per the government mandate, primary education is compulsory in India. While the intention is good, the quality of education that is imparted on a free or subsidised basis is questionable. Even private schools grapple with the quality of teaching staff, so one can imagine the crisis faced by government schools that cater primarily to the economically backward.

While philanthropists to do their bit by helping underprivileged students, the need of the hour is a sustained effort at reaching quality education to these children, at an age when their capacity to learn is at its highest.

Teach For India was started with this in mind. ShaheenMistri, CEO, Teach For India, says, “By the mid-2000s, I had begun researching ways and means to replicate child-by-child victories on a national scale, which led me to Teach For America (TFA), founded in 1989 by Wendy Kopp, an alumna of Princeton University.”

TFA, which currently supports 10,000 Fellows in 46 urban and rural American communities and has ‘graduated’ 30,000 alumni,seemed to have the model best suited for India. In 2006,Mistri reached out to Kopp for support and guidance, prompting her to take a week-long reconnaissance trip to Mumbai. “The timing was perfect because the 15-year-old TFA was ready to take its tried and tested model worldwide through the Teach For All initiative, an affiliation of NGOs in various countries committed to using the Teach For America model,” explains Mistri. Feasibility studies were undertaken pro bono by McKinsey & Company in the U.S. and it confirmed that India could successfully participate in the global Teach For All network.In 2008, Teach For India was registered with seed funding (US $2.5 million) from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

Teach For India is a nationwide movement of outstanding college graduates and young professionals who commit two-years to teach full-time in under-resourced schools; who will become lifelong leaders working from within various sectors toward the pursuit of equity in education.

The teaching model

Teach For India is a nationwide movement of outstanding college graduates and young professionals who commit two-years to teach full-time in under resourced schools and who will become lifelong leaders working from within various sectors toward the pursuit of equity in education. “We realised then that this long term commitment is what is required to eradicate educational inequity from India. The methods are primarily the same, both the organisations recruit the youth to spend two years full-time in low income schools teaching kids and after the two years, work from inside and outside the educational system to fight educational inequity,” explains Mistri.

While other Teach For All programmes recruit only fresh graduates, Teach For India recruits young and experienced professionals from diverse sectors with experience ranging from two to ten years across diverse sectors. Also, while some international ‘Teach For’ programme members receive their compensation directly from the schools they are placed in, Teach For India Fellows are paid by the organisation itself.

In the short run, Teach For India Fellows work diligently as dedicated teachers to expand, in a measurable way, the educational opportunities available to thousands of India’s most underprivileged children. In the long run, regardless of the career path they choose after their Teach For India Fellowship, the Fellows will work toward fighting educational inequity in India, with their willingness and capacity to create change. “They may work as CEOs making the corporate sector more responsible, or as journalists highlighting key legislation in the media, or as entrepreneurs developing low-cost technologies for under-resourced schools,” explains Mistri.

Readying the team

Teach For India focuses on students from grades two to eight as these are the critical years where a strong learning foundation must be laid. The state curriculum is followed to make sure the children excel in their school tests but Teach also has its own content to bring them on par.

The Fellows are selected not just for their academic performance, though that is one of the important criterion. “We relentlessly ensure that all Fellows have the knowledge and skills necessary to lead their students towards achievement,” says Mistri. But once selected, the Fellows undergo a five-week residential training programme. Here, they are exposed to curriculum, lesson planning and classroom facilitation and student assessments among other modules, sessions and keys to successful teaching. Additionally, each Fellow has a mentor in the form of a Programme Manager whose primary responsibility is to guide Fellows to become effective teachers and leaders.

Apart from the dedication of fellows, Teach For India utilises a rubric called Teaching As Leadership, linking leadership theory to teaching practice, emphasising excellent teaching and enabling Fellows to see concrete ways to build significant leadership skills.

Building a bond

In the initial days, Teach For India faced a lot of scepticism from schools. But some schools were more accepting than others because a lot of them faced a severe teacher shortage. In June 2009, Teach For India placed its first set of Fellows in low-income municipal and private schools in Pune and Mumbai. Today, Teach For India is in five cities – Mumbai, Pune, New Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai, with 700 Fellows and 437 alumni working towards eliminating educational inequity.

“Once our Fellows started teaching and started interacting with the other teachers, the doubts started ebbing away. The attendance numbers started coming up and the students’ grades improved at a remarkable rate,” says Mistri. After the first year, it got relatively easier. Teach For India had a proven track record and complete faith in the abilities of its Fellows. “It is always difficult in the beginning to start in a new city but we are confident we will be operational in two more cities by 2015,” she adds.

Teach For India targets a presence in eight cities by 2015-2016 to progress in its vision of ensuring an excellent education for all children in India. “We will begin operations in one new city by June 2014 and in two more cities by the start of the 2016 school year. Our vision is that one day, all children will attain an excellent education,” shares Mistri. As Teach For India expands to more cities and recruits a larger number of Fellows, it will place 2,000 Fellows in schools and require over Rs. 100 crore a year.

Currently several corporate partners pitch in, year after year. It will also have to ensure a balance between scaling up quickly and continuing to maintain the highest levels of quality and impact.

Making the difference

Teach For India recently initiated a four year longitudinal study in partnership with Columbia University to compare the impact of their intervention relative to classrooms in schools where they have no interaction. The first year of the study is complete and has very positive results, showing children exposed to this teaching are better in English and Math than their peers.

Since Teach For India engages with schools on a long-term basis, the Fellows teach the same batch of children so they can effectively devise long-term strategies to bring out the best in them. At the same time, they also interact with the other teachers in the same school to share best practices. Thus, teachers who have very limited interaction outside the school body, are exposed to teaching practices and innovations.

Teach For India is always on the lookout for people can join the fellowship or recommend someone. “Great teachers are always required at Teach For India,” says Mistri, on a parting note.


Concept in brief: 

Teach For India targets students of government schools between grades two and eight to provide them with a strong foundation and also develop leadership qualities. In a four year longitudinal study it has initiated to study the impact, the first year shows a clear improvement in English and Math skills among the students who were exposed to this system. Teachers from the government schools who have little opportunity to experience the developments happening in the teaching world also get exposure to leadership-based teaching methodologies, helping them improve their approach to their students too. And, of course, the Fellows themselves get an opportunity to use their knowledge and skills to serve the underserved and learn leadership-based training methodologies. 


Snapshot 

Venture: Teach for India

Founder: Shaheen Mistri

Founded in: 2006

Focus: Reaching education to the underprivileged