Teach for India’s model is simple. They believe that every child in India should be given the opportunity to attain an excellent education. Their efforts are thus directed at children from families where financial constraints do not allow education to be a priority. Such children would usually be enrolled at local, non-privately run schools; schools which can be characterized by both low income and low resources. By placing their own teachers, known as Fellows, at such schools, Teach for India ensures that only quality education is imparted, thus raising the standards at these schools.
The success of the model thus relies heavily on recruiting good teachers .Which the organisation accomplishes by recruiting only the best college graduates and young professionals every year. Despite being the best, these youth need to be prepared for the challenges of working with children from harsh backgrounds. This is done through a 5-week long intense training proramme, which every Fellow undergoes, before being placed at a school. During this training, stress is laid on effective teaching techniques and leadership skills. Fellows are also familiarized with the different situations they will need to deal with. From convincing orthodox parents to send their children to school to interacting with children such that they forget their worries at home and are able to focus in the classroom.
I had the opportunity of visiting their Abhyudaya school at Kalachowki in Mumbai, where a bunch of fifth graders welcomed me into their classroom. I also had a very enlightening conversation with Aida, a first year Fellow. An Indian by origin, Aida, was born and brought up in the United States. While she initially applied for the Teach for America program, her Indian passport prevented her from qualifying. Luckily Teach for India, which is a mirror image of the Teach for America program, was an option.
Fresh out of the training program and just a month into the new school year, she told me just how intense the past weeks had been. With early morning starts and late evening lectures too, tons of assignments and tasks needed to be completed by the midnight deadline – giving her just about enough rest before she did it all over again the very next day! But it’s all been worth it. As she herself has been able to see improvements in her class in just 30-40 days. From the childrens’ concentration to their grasping ability – these are changes she has been able to bring about thanks to the skills and techniques she was imparted during the training.
Learning by rote and text-book teaching, two styles very characteristic of Indian schools, get a big thumbs-down at Teach for India. Given the childrens’ backgrounds, such a teaching method is not going to result in real education. It’s also going to be impossible to achieve a minimum of 1.5 years of academic growth in the classroom this way. Yes, 1.5 years of academic growth, as measured by standardised Teach For India tests, is what every Fellow aims to achieve. After all, if educational inequity is to be bridged at some point, a single year’s growth in 1 year won’t suffice, would it? So, Aida, like most Fellows, recognises the importance of visual learning and interactive educational methods. Moreover, that’s how she was taught when in college back in America; and is confident that it works!
During the lunch break, I popped my head into another classroom and before I knew it, was surrounded at the door by a cluster of curious little faces. As the Fellow-in-Charge (who the children fondly called “Didi”) mentioned I was from Australia, I was literally pulled into the classroom, placed in the teachers chair and bombarded with questions from excited girls and boys, as they peeped over each others’ shoulders to get a better glimpse of me. At this point, I have to say that despite the excitement of the moment, I noticed their English. They spoke clearly and confidently and even understood everything I said (in my typical Australian accent)!
Each student was so bright and soulful, each with the grandest dreams! I asked a little boy, what he wants to be when he grows up, and without any hesitation he replied “When I grow up, I want to be a Palaeontologist!”. A Palaeontologist!? In all honesty, I wasn’t 100% sure what that was, then he sweetly explained “A scientist for discovering Dinosaurs”. Each and every other aspiration was just as bright and high. Some wanted to be teachers and doctors, and others more famous – cricket stars, fashion designers and signers. These ambitions, I realised, had undoubtedly been nurtured from the care and attention of their teachers.
Teacher for India’s Fellows are at the heart of what they do. Which is why efforts are put in to make opportunities available for them post the Fellowship too. The organisation has tie-ups with various schools for MBA, LAW or MS degrees. It also has its own placement process, akin to IITBs campus placement procedure, where companies come and recruit Fellows for various leadership roles. All efforts that go a long way in attracting truly the best of the lot!
As of July 2014, the organisation is operating in 6 cities – Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Ahmedabad. And is slowly and steadily spreading its wings to other parts of the country too.