The Teach for India programme bridges the gap between quality education and off-beat work experience. S. YASASWINI
Have you ever thought of your teacher as a leader? As someone who sets goals for the class, comes up with a clear action plan, implements it, learns from mistakes and, ultimately, accomplishes her goals? This is the premise behind a new initiative called Teach for India (TFI) — that teachers are leaders and we need a lot of them to solve the educational crisis in India.
Leading the way
Based on the hugely successful Teach For America programme, TFI places high achievers in classrooms of low-income schools for two years. The experiences they have and the training they undergo prepares them to be leaders in the education field — whether directly in schools, as administrators or as policy makers and change-makers in organisations. The breadth of the vision shows in the diversity of Fellows who participate in the programme.
Paritosh Kumar, a member of the 2010 cohort, has a Bachelors degree in Business Administration from Symbiosis and worked as a financial analyst in DE Shaw before he applied for the fellowship.“I read about TFI and liked their structured approached. They train Fellows initially and give follow up support,” he says. “There is also no requirement to have previous teaching experience”. For others, the Fellowship was an opportunity to get close to students and interact with them personally.
Dhanya Palani, another 2010 fellow, was a part of an e-learning company. The work was interesting but not satisfying enough because she felt cut off from the people she was writing for. “I heard about TFI on the radio and then looked up their website. Almost immediately, I knew that this is what I wanted to do.”
However, the journey from applying to getting selected is hardly an easy one. The Fellowship is meant for extremely self-motivated students and young professionals and the selection process is geared towards people who are happy to face and overcome challenges. The five-week training programme in Pune introduces Fellows to the varied challenges in the education sector, equips them with skills to handle students with varying levels of achievement and, most importantly, takes them out of their comfort zone. “One of the tasks during training was to earn Rs. 25 but we were not allowed to use our hands! Some of us sang, some even cleaned car windows with their elbows,” says Dhanya, enthusiasm lacing her voice. “Even filling out the application made me think about my priorities in life and was an introspective process. And one and a half years into the fellowship, every day is a new discovery, a new challenge.”
When asked the toughest part of their job, Paritosh says that it is sometime people’s attitude. A Fellow at a Mumbai municipal corporation school, he is often told, “these are just slum children, they don’t need to learn”. The other setback is the tendency to look at teachers as administrators and data generators — how many students passed, what grades do they have, is the paperwork in order — rather than as facilitators for change. There are students in Std III who cannot recognise the alphabet. It is hardly surprising then, that many children are disruptive in class.
Dhanya also recalls an incident where she was called on to revalue her entire education. When trying to draw a horse on the board, her students told her that she needed to first learn how to draw from another teacher. “But even that teacher isn’t very good. I think only people who don’t know anything become teachers,” said the child. This and other attitudes are what TFI seeks to change.An important part of the programme is the impact Fellows leave beyond their classroom, beyond the two years of their fellowship — a precursor to their lives as leaders in education. These can range from self help groups for women that help supplement the family income to teaching mothers to read, write and converse in English as a second language. “When a few of us spoke to the parents, many mothers felt that they can help their children better if they could read English”.
And so, a few TFI fellows began an evening class for the parents. “Even some of the fathers want to join now,” says Dhanya.Fellows are also actively planning their future careers. Paritosh plans to go to graduate school for a degree in education management. “I want to start an NGO to provide operational support for the public education system,” he says. Dhanya wants to return to TFI as a programme manager. “This is such a unique organisation because we are part of the international Teach For All network. I get to hear about how people are handling educational crises across the world. I think about which of those solutions can be implemented in India”.
Paritosh attributes his confidence to go down an unusual career path to the two years he has spent in TFI. “I would never have thought of such a thing if I had remained in my comfort zone.”And that, finally, is their advice to all aspirants – this is a great Fellowship and learning opportunity for anyone who wants to move outside their comfort zone and see how much they are really capable of.
TFI will also place Fellows in low-income English-medium schools in Chennai from 2012. Deadline for applying is January 22. To learn more about the fellowship, log on to www.teachforindia.org.
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