10 years in and it’s just the beginning

Arundhati Misra and Abhik Bhattacherji

With nearly one in four people below the age of 14 years, India today stands at an inflection point; where we go from here depends largely on our ability to provide equal opportunities for all children to attain an excellent education.

In 2006, 17 years after starting the Akanksha Foundation, Shaheen Mistri felt compelled to address the issue of educational inequity at scale. As she thought through the solution, she believed that the answer lay in a people’s movement that would come together to provide an excellent education to every child in India.

In 2007, Shaheen met with Wendy Kopp, the Founder of Teach For America and was struck by the idea of leadership being at the heart of the solution and thus Teach For India was born. In 2009, the organization welcomed its first cohort to the Fellowship. The 87 ‘niners’ (a name that came from the year that the Fellows joined) formed the beginning of what Shaheen hoped would become a nationwide movement of diverse leaders. Two years later, the niners graduated from the Fellowship and became the first cohort in our Alumni movement. Through their work as Alumni, the hope was that they would become lifelong leaders for educational equity. This first cohort went into teaching, teacher training, school leadership and government policy. Today, we have 900+ Fellows working relentlessly to change the lives of students across seven cities and 3400+ Alumni who are collectively fuelling the larger movement towards our vision.

The Teach For India Fellowship is an opportunity for India’s brightest and most promising youth, from the nation’s best universities and workplaces, to serve as full-time teachers to children from low-income communities in under-resourced schools (public, private and PPP). Through two years of teaching and working with key education stakeholders, our Fellows are exposed to the grassroot realities of India’s education system and cultivate the knowledge, skills and mindsets needed to attain positions of leadership in and beyond education.

“When I go back in time and imagine myself in the second standard, I would never have thought that I’d be doing the things that I’m doing right now. Without Teach For India, this wouldn’t have been possible,” says Arshad Ansari, Teach For India Student Alumnus who is currently studying BMS at Rizvi College in Mumbai. Vanshika Godawariya, another Student Alumna echoes similar sentiments, “I was such an introverted kid. I used to be shy, not giving much answers to anyone but they came into my life and from average, I went to the top.”

Our Alumni movement is a growing community that works towards educational equity at all levels of the system. Alumni start their own organizations or hold key positions of leadership, both within and beyond the education sector, enabling them to impact the lives of millions of children, collectively. About 77 per cent of our Alumni continue to work in the social sector after completing their Fellowship with 34 per cent working directly on-ground with children, 31 per cent working in pathways linked to education, 12 per cent working with the government in jobs that impact children and 14 per cent in the private sector across diverse fields yet staying connected to children and the larger mission. While our Fellows support 32,000 children, our Alumni are reaching 33 million children across India.

The goal, quite simply, is to put every child that we work with on a different life path. We measure our impact as progress to this goal on three levels – academic growth, values and mindsets, and exposure and access. Central to all our impact is leadership. We aim to develop student leaders who show transformational change both in themselves and in their classroom, school, and community and we use a number of metrics and assessment tools to measure our efforts. All our Students take bi-annual standardized assessments, developed in partnership with an external assessment company, to measure progress on reading comprehension and mathematics. Using standardized rubrics and sample surveys, we also measure personal, non-academic growth that includes values, mindsets, and exposure and access. In addition to internal assessments, we participate in longitudinal studies to measure the academic and non-academic effects of our program over time.

Two examples of Student leaders are Farhan Siddiqui and Priyanka Patil. Farhan, an 8th grader from Ahmedabad, is committed to clearing out the Pirana garbage dump yard in his neighbourhood. He conducted extensive research on the dump yard and surveys to identify the effects of it on people. He even collected soil samples and had them studied at research centres to understand the impact of the garbage on the ecosystem of the surrounding areas. His aim is to draft a research paper on the dump yard, which he hopes will push the government to take action. Equally laudable are Priyanka Patil’s achievements, a Student Alumna, who studies Psychology, Theater and Italian at Franklin and Marshall College in the United States. Taking part in Maya, a Teach For India Arts program opened up doors for her to pursue higher education abroad and even enabled her to garner a spot on Teach For India’s Advisory Board. Taking all of this into consideration, it’s no surprise that she was invited to lead a session on student leadership at Teach For America’s 25 year anniversary. Now, the question we have to ask ourselves is, would Farhan and Priyanka have achieved any of this if they hadn’t had teachers who believed in them, who exposed them to the world and showed them that anything is possible?

We do know that it’s impossible to reach each and every child in India but that remains our goal, for every child to attain an excellent education. So how can we do it? How can we reach as many children as possible with the resources that we have? These questions are what led us to innovate and create Firki, TFIx and KER.

Firki is India’s first open-source online teacher education portal. A world-class, blended learning program for teachers across India to use and transform their teaching methods.

A year-long incubation program and lifelong learning circle for passionate entrepreneurs who want to adopt Teach For India’s Fellowship model into their context, both semi-urban and rural, TFIx is open to anyone who would like to apply.

KER (Kids Education Revolution) is a bold and ambitious collective of schools and educational organizations that are working towards reimagining education at scale and are driven by a profound belief in the power of student leadership.

It is our hope that with these platforms, we will be able to reach as many children as possible through as many people as possible. However, just like everywhere else, the last few months have been trying and unprecedented. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the communities that we serve has been severe. Our Staff and Fellows have worked tirelessly to ensure that our Students remain connected, safe and have the nutrition they need, but they have also been working to ensure that learning doesn’t stop by incorporating something called blended learning. Blended learning combines online educational materials and opportunities with classroom methods and has a dual impact on both teachers and students. To students, it offers a multitude of real-world skills that translate into life skills such as research, self-learning and accountability. It increases student interest, creates peer-learning, fosters better decision-making and allows instant diagnostic information and student feedback. It enables teachers to save time, have effective interactions online and develop individualized lesson plans.

Learning packets circulated through WhatsApp, teachers recording themselves teach classes and uploading the videos on YouTube, volunteers creating Google accounts for Students, photocopy shops in communities printing workbooks for pick-ups, astronomers, rappers and chefs arriving on Zoom to inspire, are some examples of what Teach For India Fellows have been busy doing to keep learning going.

It’s been 10 years since Teach For India began its journey of ending inequity in education and it’s been a rollercoaster ride so far with a number of highs and lows. We’ve weathered many storms but have also had countless reasons to celebrate. We always knew that this would be a marathon, not a sprint, and 10 years in we remain as determined as we were when we started to not stop until each and every child in India has access to an excellent education.

For your readership: Teach For India Fellows transform the life paths of children in their classroom and in turn transform themselves. If you too would like to make a difference, apply to the 2021 Fellowship on apply.teachforindia.org and become a changemaker today!

More than 50 per cent of the Students that the organization serves do not have access to a stable internet connection or a smartphone. It’s a discomforting picture, to imagine Students who were already academically behind their high-income peers fall further behind, perpetuating yet another generation of poverty. However, you can help. Sponsor a device and bridge the digital divide. Use this link to make a donation https://www.teachforindia.org/donate?campaign=dont-stop-learning.

If you are unable to apply to the Fellowship but would still like to get involved, you can step into our classrooms and share your knowledge, experience and skills with our children by volunteering to teach and/or assist our Fellows. To know more, visit https://www.teachforindia.org/volunteer.

About: Teach For India is a part of the Teach For All Network, a growing group of independent organizations that are working to expand educational opportunities in their nations. Teach For All is a platform for shared learning and deep engagement across countries. The 40 countries in the network today share a common vision that one day all children will attain an excellent education.

For more information, visit www.teachforindia.org or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Arundhati Misra is an Economics Major from St. Xavier’s college, Mumbai and has a Masters degree in Economic History from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is an Associate, National Communications for Teach For India. She can be reached at [email protected].

Abhik Bhattacherji is a literature major from St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi. He has 12 years of experience across the corporate and development sector. He is now Director, Marketing & Communications, Teach For India. He can be reached at [email protected].

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