Sep 30, 2011
India is at risk. It is currently facing one of the worst educational crises in the world. According to a study by Harvard University and the World Bank, at any given day in India, 25% of teachers are absent from school, and only about half are teaching. Absence rates vary from 15% in Maharashtra to 42% in Jharkhand, with higher rates concentrated in the poorer states.
Despite these daunting statistics, the education sector provides many possibilities for social entrepreneurs. The last five years have seen a tremendous growth in the Indian social sector. Many non-profits, enterprises, and venture capital funds have blossomed.
Teach For India
One such successful venture is Teach For India. Teach For India (TFI) is a nationwide movement of outstanding college graduates and young professionals who commit two-years to teach full-time in under-resourced schools. Many will also become lifelong leaders working from various sectors toward the goal of equity in education.
TFI was founded by Shaheen Mistri, CEO, Akanksha Foundation which started in 1989 and works to provide underprivileged children with a quality education. Teach For India was formed from a group of young leaders in 2006 who came together to find a unique solution to fight against educational inequity in India.
With this dream, they met Wendy Kopp, CEO, Teach For America to study the feasibility of this Teach For India program. Following a favourable McKinsey study, the first cohort of fellows was placed in underprivileged schools in Mumbai and Pune in 2009.
This year, Teach For India placed around 250 Fellows across Mumbai, Pune and Delhi. It is expanding to Hyderabad and Chennai next year. In just three years, the program has impacted nearly 13,500 children .
Teach For India aims to place 1500 fellows in 10 cities impacting 45,000 students by 2013-14. In the short run, TFI will provide a source of dedicated teachers who will work diligently to expand educational opportunities for thousands of India’s underprivileged children. In the long-run, Teach For India will build a powerful and ever-growing network of alumni who will continue to work toward realizing educational opportunity for all.
Unlike many education NGOs in India, Teach For India focuses on a long term impact. During the two year program, fellows gain an understanding of the whole system. Apart from the teaching, fellows learn about the challenges, barriers and obstacles to student achievement and during their 2nd year, fellows are expected to do a community project which works to remove major barriers to student achievement.
Improving Education through Entrepreneurship
As a first year TFI Fellow, I have already gained an immense knowledge of the sector which would have been impossible without first-hand experience. Although it’s easy to understand the problems in Indian education in the abstract, issues become real when faced with experiences such as a grade 3 child who doesn’t know how to write his name in English.
When I first started teaching, I was appalled at seeing the conditions of the children. Being in grade 3, half of them didn’t know how to write numbers. Many couldn’t even distinguish between basic letters like b and d, d and p, etc. It was both shocking and frustrating. However, over time, my students have made good progress. Although their growth is slow, the progress gives me hope that Teach For India can indeed improve outcomes.
I believe that TFI’s reach will extend far beyond the program. The grassroots experience that TFI provides is already proving to have a broad impact. For example, Gaurav Singh, a TFI 2009 Fellow is pursuing the prestigious Fisher Fellowship in New York operated by KIPP Schools. The fellowship selects exceptional teachers and trains them for 8 months preparing them to launch their own chain of schools in their own country. Gaurav is opening his own school next year in Mumbai.
Manu Jindal, another 2009 TFI Fellow has been awarded a 65% scholarship to pursue his MBA from IMD, Lausanne and he plans to start his own educational venture after completing his MBA.
For my part, being in the classroom just two months has inspired me to begin to plan my own educational venture. The experience I have gained in learning how to both teach kids as well as interact with parents provides a solid foundation for growth. I know that two years will only continue to inspire me and deepen my commitment to Indian Education.
Teach For India Fellows hold great potential to start many chains of low cost affordable schools and educational ventures. Our grassroots experience working in municipal schools will give us the perspective to bring about reform.