“Two hard stones, having the potential to ignite a spark, when rubbed against each other produce friction and create light.” This riveting theme for InspirED, a national conference aimed at finding solutions to the most pressing education problems, was well conveyed not only by the little entry packets warped to look like stones but also by the effervescent participants chattering about education reforms, and the immensely aware school children dazzling with their views on education. The conference was held at St. Stephen’s College on 20-21 December 2014 as a Teach For India initiative. It provided a platform to spark solutions and ideas ranging from basic classroom level learning to system transformation towards an excellent education for all children. The two days saw 42 sessions facilitated by 35 renowned national and international speakers in the field of education advocating both micro and macro level reforms.
As the event unfurled, Vishal and Naseem Didi, the emcees, had the audience guffawing with their histrionics. However, the show stealer was the student panel consisting of 5 students not more than 11 years of age discussing excellent education. In the words of Suraj, a student of class 5, “An excellent education is the one that teaches about helping others, teaches about math, about nature. Does not make me scared of mistakes, rather I learn from my mistakes.” When the discussion routed to how an ideal school should be, Divyanjali, a student of class 6 asserted, “Where all the problems of the school are discussed and it is also discussed how to overcome it. Everyone is equal in an ideal school.” When asked by the audience about the challenges in an excellent education, she was quick to avow how teachers do not believe in their students. Such acuity at a very young age left the audience in absolute wonderment. The ceremony also had Keynote Speaker, Arvind Kejriwal, emphasizing the much needed change in government school systems, more education and health sector reforms, and increasing the number of vocational training colleges. Kejriwal concluded by stating that, “Education should not be a matter of charity but a matter of right.” Shaheen Mistri, CEO of TFI, shared stories of hope, grit, leadership, and commitment. The audience, during the opening, also joined Nimesh “Nimo” Patel for his inspiring song “Planting seeds, Nothing more”. The ceremony concluded with Tarun Cherukuri, City Director Delhi, TFI, urging everyone to work towards a collective action and using the days’ sessions as a potential push towards the process.
InspirED focused on three major tracks that collectively impact education. As per the organizers of the event, “These high-possibility areas of transformation are pathways of intervention that when addressed collectively will scale the impact of change.” The system track started with an ebullient panel discussion among Nalin S Kohli, National spokesperson of the Bhartiya Janta Party, Manish Tewari, Ex-Union Minister of State, and Yogendra Yadav, member of Aam Aadmi Party. The discussion was moderated by Rahul Kanwal, Managing Director, TV Today Network. Even though the discussion started with altercating views on political agendas, after a few interruptions it zeroed in on the trivialization of education. The politicians, from three different national parties, were to some extent able to put their heads together on the required system changes such as better review systems, ending rote learning, and reenergizing teacher training. Nevertheless, the whole discussion made 15 Year old Priyanka retort, “We can have these discussions. As many discussions as we want. But if children aren’t learning, what is the point of these discussions? Every kid does come to school for learning but learning isn’t happening.” None of the people on stage had an answer to the brave girl. Later in the day, Sridhar Rajagopalan, MD Education Initiatives (EI), shared the staggering truth on what a child might perceive in the classroom based on an extensive research carried out by EI. He recommended learning based on data and expressed displeasure at the limited availability of reference materials for teachers. He stated that this reference material could be crucial in closing the gap between teaching and learning. The systems track also marked various other sessions such as private management of public schools, which highlighted India’s inability to bridge the ever growing gap between public and private schools. The track also saw focus on the need of non-state actors, identifying areas of priority investment, and discussion on various RTE amendments.
As part of the school track, Seth Andrews talked about India’s capability of reaching prosperity with a bright possibility as derived from the learning based on the South Korea Education Model. Seth emphasized the need to create a culture of learning as well as structures to facilitate such learning and leading to immense progress. In addition, there were debates revolving around revolutionalizing education through technology and innovation, moving schools to more data driven approach and creating conditions of optimal learning in schools.
“It is a crime to not use the art of storytelling in classroom and to keep kids away from it,” declared Anisha after attending a session by Ameen Haq, the founder of Storywallahs. Ameen took everyone attending the session back to the foundations of learning a new concept in a manner that kids won’t forget. He demonstrated how stories could be used to teach mathematics and science in a deep and impactful manner. As a part of the class track, Shaheen, CEO of Teach For India, showed how the preparation for Maya – The musical led to increased energy in the classroom with a lot of internalization of values for the students. She provided various strategies to implement the Maya model in the classroom. The impact of the model was strongly substantiated by the two little girls who were a part of Maya musical when they spoke fearlessly and with deep understanding about their experience. The session definitely left the listeners propelled to focus more on holistic education in classrooms.
If the conference was for the children, it was also by the children. If students reciting the chronicles of Jupiter, a social sciences lesson integrated with a reading lesson and perfected with much dramatization, was a quintessential example of approach towards holistic education, the fun drawing activities revealed unintentional gender stereotyping. Even street plays on various hot-topics stimulated one’s thought process not only from the theatrical point of view but also by its sheer conviction. The education exhibition conducted by students from various TFI classrooms across Delhi was overflowing with classroom ideas. The exhibition also focused on various community projects undertaken by the TFI Fellows. Be it the enchanting stories of The Magic Room, an after school learning center for kids, or Khwaab, a learning center that focuses on empowering women in the community, it was quite inspiring to see so much hope. When asked what do you like about these bhaiyyas and didi? Sonali, one of the mothers, was quick to respond, “Attitude nahi hai.” She went on to add that the Fellows had given her an opportunity to learn. Sonali now uses Google to find designs for stitching suits. This was enough to kindle anyone’s faith in the myriad possibilities all in sync with the theme of the conference – discover light.
The conference organized to better the scope of excellent education definitely aimed at bettering itself when at the end of each day everyone collected for feedback sessions. With too much information bombarded, reflection sessions were cleverly put in at the end of the day to internalize all the information. The two day long conference definitely sparked inspiration, motivation, drove solutions, and spurred a lot of potential. A potential for change. A change where one day all kids will be able to attain excellent education.
The author is a TFI 2013 Fellow. She left her corporate job to teach grade 5 in MCD School in Delhi. She strongly believes that education inequity can be bridged through collective action. She can be reached at email@example.com.