From a low-income community of Pune, India to the United World College of Adriatic, Italy and now to Franklin and Marshall, USA on a full scholarship, Priyanka Patil’s journey has been nothing short of an excerpt from a Bollywood film wherein the simple support and encouragement from a teacher makes a student achieve wonders.
It all started when Ahona Krishna, a 2011-2013 Teach For India (TFI) fellow at Priyanka’s school noticed her enthusiasm for theatre performance and requested her to audition for the Maya Musical, a partnered initiative between Teach For India students and Broadway artists. Priyanka excelled in her performance and that created a platform to dream of bigger opportunities. With the mentorship of a TFI fellow, she applied to UWC and there has been no looking back since then. In spite of coming from a broken home with limited access to opportunities, Priyanka found her calling.
This could be the story of thousands of other students from India and the neighboring region of South Asia. Unfortunately, very few can push through several limitations and nurture their potential. Previously identified as the poverty-stricken, disease-prone, and less educated part of the world, South Asia has come a long way. In the recent decade, the region has shown exemplary economic growth, the highest rate of enrollment in schools, and with around 50 % of population below the age of 25. However, while both the government and non-governmental sectors have heavily invested in the education sector to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, there is an immense gap between quantity and quality.
The number of students enrolled in schools has increased but inadequate staff and the lack of resources have made quality education a challenge. In Bangladesh, more than 40% of government primary school teachers do not hold a university degree. In India, 52 % of 5th grade students cannot read 2nd grade text and 76 % of them don’t make it to a higher education system.
The gap is more evident between different socioeconomic and demographic groups within the countries of South Asia. Based on which socio-economic class a child is born in, a division is created regarding the standard of education he or she will receive and what opportunities the child can afford. But what if the students who had the opportunity to receive quality education can get a platform to share their learnings and give back to the community? Here is where The Teach For All network comes in.
“I joined (TFI) to make a difference but during the fellowship
I realized it was for myself.”
With the vision “One Day All Children Will Attain Excellent Education”, this platform is relentlessly working to bridge the gap between under-resourced schools and quality education opportunities. The organization that started as Teach For America in 1990, is now a global network, spread across 48 countries in 6 continents. While the Teach For All network organizations shares a common purpose, approach, and commitment to the network’s core values, they are independent and locally led. South Asia is host to five such organizations in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan. Diinsider reached out to representatives from Teach For Bangladesh and Teach For India to give insights about their work and how they are contributing to the “Education for All” theme in their respective countries.
The Teach For All network organizations operates in a simple yet effective model. It utilizes the existing framework of education in the countries and works to bring a qualitative difference in it. After a rigorous selection process, the organization employs fresh graduates and young professionals from reputed universities for a two-year fellowship program. The fellows are placed in selected government and NGO run schools which are chosen based on their need for efficient teachers.
But one might wonder whether students just out of university and young professionals working on fields different from education are capable of teaching students of a tender age. Shoaib Alam, Chief of Staff at Teach For Bangladesh explains the training procedure of transforming the selected fellows into committed leaders.
In Bangladesh, the fellows undergo a six-week pre-service training called the Winter Academy. Several components of classroom management, lesson preparation, teaching etiquettes, leadership capacity building, etc. are taught there which make them well equipped to teach in schools. Even during the fellowship, the fellows participate in in-service training and a leadership coach is assigned to monitor their performance. They are also enrolled in the BRAC Institute of Educational Development, a reputed university in Bangladesh which allows them to understand the national education system from an academic perspective. Thus, the fellows are both academically and professionally trained to take the challenge and responsibility of bringing a change in the education sector.
So when such equipped fellows are placed in schools, a dynamic change is seen in the lives of the students. The fellows prepare a creative lesson plan, initiate interactive discussions with the students, introduce technology, promote extracurricular activities, help students discover themselves, and constantly try to bring out their hidden potential. In short, the same experience that a privileged student sitting in a state of the art classroom receives is now available to students from low income communities in under-resourced schools.
Anurag Maloo, a 2011-2013 fellow of Teach For India, shares a story of the organization’s direct impact on the students’ academic opportunities. During his fellowship in Pune, India, an initiative was taken by Akanksha Foundation through which students from the 2nd grade would be selected through a competitive exam to join a high-end school with a full scholarship until the 12th grade. Anurag took it as a challenge and formulated an after school program for potential students. After the rigorous mentorship, 13 students became eligible for the scholarship. There are countless examples like this, which shows the positive impact of the fellowship program in the students’ lives. The 2016-2017 annual report of Teach For India shows that 88% parents agreed their child grew more confident through their engagement with the Teach For India community.
Since 2009, Teach For India has 1,500 Alumni, 1,200 active Fellows, and 40,000 children spread across 350 schools in 7 cities. Launched in 2013, Teach For Bangladesh has 90 active Fellows across 32 partner schools, teaching over 4,100 students aged between 7 to10 in the capital city of Dhaka.
This impact is also reciprocal. Anurag shares, “I joined (TFI) to make a difference but during the fellowship I realized it was for myself.” So the program is not only designed to change the lives of the students, but the personal and professional lives of the fellows as well.
Besides academic support, the program also helps to empower the students to take initiatives for their own communities. Teach For Bangladesh fellows have initiated several capstone projects through which the fellow provides mentorship to the students to address a challenge they are facing in their community. For example, students have initiated waste management projects, conducted fire safety training in their locality, organized a food and nutrition program etc. These experiences have allowed the students to take leadership roles and develop homegrown solutions to their problems.
Now one might ponder what happens to the fellows after two years. Many of the fellows remain engaged in the education sector to bring systematic changes towards educational equity. A survey conducted by Teach For India in 2016 revealed that out of 1,472 alumni, 74% are working across the education ecosystem: in schools, nonprofits, corporates, and with national and local government bodies. Being a new organization, Teach For Bangladesh has 50 alumni but 56% of them are already working in the education sector of Bangladesh in different capacities. This shows the dedication of the fellows to create an impact even after the fellowship.
The insights from India and Bangladesh show us how such organizations are creating a platform for a generation of leaders who are well-educated, skilled, empowered, and ready to stand up for their community. The Teach For All network organizations have created an example of how the privileged socioeconomic groups can be engaged to support the less privileged groups in their respective countries in the movement towards educational equity. It is a simple idea with a life-changing impact.