Monday, November 15, 2010

Unveiling the Treasure

Giving tells the Universe that you believe you are provided for. For even as you empty your purse, you fear not. The act alone is a demonstration of faith that you will remain whole, that your coffers will be replenished, and that love is what matters most. And for whomsoever believes these things to be true, it shall become their reality, and abundance shall be showered upon them unceasingly, as if the heavens had opened up. – M. Dooley

After a year into the Teach For India Fellowship I felt as if now I knew what giving was – I had left a lucrative job offer to teach kids in under-resourced communities, I had successfully led 37 under-resourced kids who were more than 3.5 grade levels behind to achieve new horizons, I had undergone a myriad of experiences from making 300+ people “Come Alive” to shadowing a rag-picker and lived his life for a day in a community of daily wage earners in an Ahmedabad slum. Additionally, I felt an immense amount of joy and satisfaction that I had sensitized numerous individuals to the needs of education equity in this country. Little did I know that my inner transformation had just begun … the road ahead was to unveil a treasure – a hidden conviction that love has no boundaries, was laid bare. And with that treasure came a transcendental epiphany where the “I” dissolved completely to show that “I” am simply so abundant.

I made some hard choices this year. After immense amount of reflection, I decided to do things “unusually”. The proposition made my mentor, Rajshree Doshi was an intriguing – she suggested that to learn the most out of it, I should use the upcoming year as a means to challenge myself. The way to challenge myself she said was to take on approaches, roles and responsibilities that are contrary to my normal disposition. If in a situation I am used to talking, I should keep silent. If I am the first proactive person to jump in with a suggestion, then I should hold back. If I take on leadership roles, then I should immerse myself as a team player. If my constitution led me to be at the center of things providing vision and direction, then I should focus on communities and grassroot reality. If I shoot out a list of 20 things to change, to lie low and understand the purpose behind decision-making. If in any situation I criticized and pushed for improvement, then I should now appreciate and only look at the positive. If I held a strong face and held my conviction in face of challenges, I should show my cards on the table and openly let others know about my struggles and difficulties. In brief, she wanted me to work on becoming humble – by talking less, becoming a better listener, being a team player and focus on grassroots community transformation. This process was way more difficult than I had anticipated it to be.

The process was painful, almost self-deprecating. Often I questioned my own self-conviction. Sometimes I confronted contemptible vagaries of my nature. The decision to not being myself was suffocating, sometimes even nauseating me (figuratively). This in conjunction with an incredibly challenging working environment – unfriendly staff, unruly children, a large class and students 4 years behind their learning levels – meant I questioned my mentor’s best intentions numerous times over. But, the due-diligence to walk the unchartered territory paid huge dividends – I pushed my learning curve way beyond my expectations.

In ways more than one it helped me rediscover myself. It made me realize subtle nuances about my behaviour and my image, which I never chose to confront before. I became way more aware about my anger management. I controlled confrontations and deeply reflected on them if they would occur. I became aware of the effects of an over-bearing nature and a subtle constitution to talk too much, too often. I became a far more patient and aware of my speech – leading to more responses to situations rather than reacting to them.

Above all I confronted my fears and failures in front of people. This helped break open new ice. The most difficult of them all way to refrain from jumping into a situation and becoming the “control freak” that I tend to be. I let others take leadership roles. I purposefully avoided the limelight in team jobs – not in terms of shrugging responsibility but focusing instead on issues that were more grassroots and community oriented. This led me to observe, work with and develop programs for a section of the society that I had not focused on hitherto.

I discovered that many more individuals discovered their hidden talents and leadership qualities as they took on roles I would have jumped in to grab. They developed and blossomed in numerous ways, and watching them gave me a joy unparalleled. Amongst the communities I found an appreciation for deep relationships and discovered an “urban village” context lying in the by-lanes of Mumbai’s Metropolis.

As I gave of myself to appreciate other’s work rather than centering on obtaining the limelight I discovered a subtle difference in working towards “success” and “joy”. Through all of this my ego seemingly dissolved and sprung out a love unparalleled – one of acceptance by many, one that was abundant in its nature and form. And through that emerged answers of community empowerment and my inner transformation. The essence of joy of giving was in the act of letting go!

Monday, September 20, 2010

What after Teach For India?

As the Fellows grapple with the question - What after TFI? Here are 87 Ideas, 87 Aspirations, One idea per Fellow. Lets figure out how to make them a reality….

1. Help build excellent Pre-KG and KG for government schools

2. A Teacher Training Institute (especially for Municipal School Teachers)

3. A research and department rating system for R&D groups in India. Also, a consolidated place which accesses and talks about them.

4. An advocacy sister group – aka Leadership for Education Equity from TFA

5. An online website for teacher collaboration on lesson plans – aka

6. An group that works to enable collaboration online and offline amongst all education or development sector NGOs in India

7. A forum which leverages technology to enable learning for under resourced children using technology – it should be attuned to needs of parents, children and teachers

8. A social enterprise that raises volunteers who can assist in classroom education – for TFI and then for other partner NGOs

9. A “TFI For Senior Citizens” – a social enterprise that is tuned to involve senior citizens in social work

10. A career guiding or “career coach”-ing enterprise – that uses a “robinhood” model to serve career needs of under-resourced children

11. Impact for India (TFI type organization for other sectors) : TFI for health, TFI for agriculture, TFI for public works, TFI for rural welfare, TFI for vocational skills, TFI for sports

12. Implement and experiment models for TFI for rural areas, TFI for smaller cities, TFI for third and fourth tier applicants

13. A grassroots level organization for “urban community building” – a scalable model for Manav Sadhana type organization

14. The Art of Living Rural and Tribal schools run 90+ schools in India. Introducing activity based learning and new teaching methodologies in these schools would form a great model.

15. Akanksha is looking to quadruple the number of schools in Mumbai and Pune – even expand nationwide in future. A great opportunity to be a school leader and build centers of excellence.

16. Make “One School For All” a reality nationwide – a single school that integrates children from both resourced and under-resourced communities.

17. Start an “Urban Ashram” like one in Pune along with a Seva CafĂ© in different cities

18. Make cities in India child friendly – like Riverside’s “aproach” project

19. Build strong alumni programs at TFI for each of “School and Teacher Leadership”, “Political and Advocacy Leadership”, “Social Entrepreneurship” or “NGO/Board Leadership”

20. Teach For All Leadership positions in other countries

21. Build technology and education collaboration in and outside TFI

22. Indicorps Fellowship

23. Bringing together various youth movements in India : Jaagore, Indicorps, Gandhi Fellows, TFI, Young Indians, Rotract/Interact

24. Start a Connect India LEAD+ for Indians

25. “Swadhyay” – spend one year travelling around India spending two months in each ashram. Or if you like in different schools around the country.

26. An online resource portal on ESL for Hindi speaking audience similar to

27. Mobile education packages like MDhil has for medical use. Look up MILLEE from Carnegie Melon University.

28. Bring the best in education through online packages for under-resourced communities and figure out last mile delivery.

29. Create an “Incubator Fellowship” – a Fellowship where you can experiment to create your social experiments and see them through. A lot of collaboration opportunities provided.

30. Make a case for and start high quality charter schools in India – KIPP for India

31. Take a year off to nurture and grow your passions. For me Travel, Pottery, Archery, Sanskrit, Drums, Books, Blog and More Travel. You pick yours!

32. Start Indian version of “The New Teacher’s Project” (TNTP)

33. Travel the world for a year to study youth programs and movements. Connect. Study. Research. Learn.

34. School Coach or Consulting to develop new schools or improve schools

35. Political involvement group for youth in India - TFI for Politics, GYIPS

36. Child spaces for disabled children

37. An excellent school where children with learning disabilities are integrated

38. A leadership Institute (College) for Youth - aka African Leadership Institute.

39. Big Brother Big Sister mentoring program in India

40. Habitat For Humanity – housing for under-resourced in India

41. Special Olympics – sports for differentially-abled children in India

42. Reach out Mumbai! – a movement where citizens volunteer once a month with different NGOs or organizations

43. Capital Area Food Bank in India – collecting food and distributing to needy across the country

44. Goodwill stores in India – donate items whose proceeds are used to help under-resourced communities

45. An online website that enables one single point application for Indian students to get Scholarships for study abroad

46. Internships for people coming from abroad. Internships for people in India with a focus on development sector.

47. A venture capital fund: Education Reform Venture Fund aka NewSchools Venture Fund

48. Ed Week or “Teacher Magazine” like magazine – education magazine

49. Hippocampus (Bangalore) and Early Childhood Center (Delhi) like children library or reading room chain. Also, see Rooms To Read.

50. Education Week like Online ed daily (similar to 48 but different)

51. Alternative Education and Home Schooling - investing in Indian context

52. Kumon Publishing type books but with Indian context

53. Recipe For Reading and Indian Phonics books. Even franchise phonics classes all over the country.

54. "Holistic" activity or entertainment centers for Art, Drama, Craft, Sports and Dance – where resourced and under resourced kids come together in integration

55. Summer Indoor and Outdoor Activity Camps for children (esp underresourced ones)

56. TED-EdxIndia - TED type talks specific to Indian Education

57. Ed Venture Lab - tie up with IIMs or SP Jain type institute to form India's first lab focused on Educational Ventures

58. Ed Reform and Enterpreneurship Competition - an autonomous body that holds a Non-profit and For Profit Business Plan competition in ed-reform and edu-preneurship

59. Creative recreational and fun spaces - can we create creative spaces where children in the city can come spend “down” time?

60. A social networking site for all Teach For All Fellows - a “Facebook” only for TFAll

61. Blogging for TFI Fellows aka

62. Enabling a strong social networking presence for Teach For India

63. Fellowship – Piramal Fellowship for Sustainable Businesses

64. Fellowship – Gandhi Fellowship

65. Fellowship – Tony Blair Faith’s Fellowship

66. Fellowship – Ashoka Fellowship

67. Fellowship – Atlas Corps Fellowship

68. Start a “White House” Fellowship program for Indian Government

69. School or Teacher Leadership Partners – Riverside, Muktangan, Shishuvan, Akanksha

70. Improve Education Initiative’s standards and assessments (now that you have worked with them night and day!)

71. Start an EI type assessment testing body. Or join other options - Indus, EI, EQFI

72. Study different schools in India with a specific culture – start a new school

73. Travel around the world to learn about new schools. Identify the charter school movement in the US and other countries – start a charter school movement in India

74. Travel to Finland which is known for its education all over the world. Identify best practices and port them to India.

75. Find a community idea – and apply for Comminteers Fellowship

76. Work as a consultant with the Central Government – now we know one young Indian working for HRD and one for Women and Children’s Department. It’s possible!

77. Work as an executive assistant or in the team of a young/progressive politician – Sachin Pilot, Naveen Jindal, Rahul Gandhi, or others

78. A “Heal For India” – TFI type Fellowship to improve municipal hospitals. Or medical options for the under-resourced communities, there is a dire need for affordable health care.

79. “Traditional” Corporate options – Investment Banking, Consulting, Law, HR, Banking, Engineering, Sales and Marketing.

80. CSR groups in a corporate or foundations or charities. For engineers – Google, Microsoft, Intel, and many other big companies have “social” or “development” projects.

81. Pursue education in the field of your choice – education, medical, business, policy, law, design and engineering. If possible pursue cross-specializations.

82. Scholarships and Fellowships for Education Abroad – Fullbright Scholarship, Reliance Dhirubhai Fellowship for Stanford, Berkeley MBA Scholarships for Social/Development Sector, amongst many others.

83. Set up or grow philanthropic foundations in India – like Sloan Foundation, Gates Foundation, Dell Foundation

84. Make films and documentaries especially on education related topics in India – like Waiting For Superman, 21st Century Initiative by New Learning Institute

85. Build national institutes like NSF. Or setup an independent body that monitors R&D labs in all fields in India., publishes about them and gives them a rating.

86. The RTE mandates that every school should have 25% from under-resourced communities. Consult with good schools to help them setup this integration successfully.

87. Set up an International Institute for Professional Teachers – a world-wide body of professional teachers with centers all around the world. The idea is to champion the cause of teachers and their issues by collaborating with people from round the world.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Youth can change the future of education in India

Aarti Mohan, the Chief Editor of "The Alternative" published some of my thoughts on ending education inequity in India - The Alternative - Read.Be. With sincere thanks to "The Alternative" for publishing my interview, I am reproducing the text as is...

"Youth can change the future of education in India"

Aarti Mohan, 29 Jul 2010

Education in India has recently been a much discussed subject. RTE and related developments have only highlighted the lacunae and loopholes in the system. What are the core issues we are looking at?

So far we have only been focusing on inputs. The RTE Act itself is centered around inputs like infrastructure, number of teachers, mid-day meals and several other enablers to get children to come to school. Earlier, the biggest challenge was infrastructure. That has been addressed partially. Then enrollment became a huge matter of concern: schools were functioning, but the children were all outside. Giving due credit to schemes like SSA, enrollment is now more than 90%.

It is hence time we started talking about outcomes. Are the students learning well? Are we effectively assessing the impact of education? My belief is that if we focus on the outcomes, inputs have to and will follow.

Do Government schools have the wherewithal to deliver quality education?

We will just have to force that. Though it is definitely not the same, I would take the example of DoorDarshan to illustrate my point. At one point of time, DoorDarshan ruled. With the entry of satellite television, they got relegated to the bottom rung. I know a lot of us don’t, but if you catch the occasional program on DD, you will notice that they have worked a lot on the viewer experience.

With the entry of high quality options and alternatives, they have been forced to look within and improve their programs. The same is starting to happen in Govt. schools.

Govt. schools need a huge amount of qualitative input in order to get children to stay on in school, isn’t it?

I believe in the concept of building model classrooms as I have seen it happen. Put some of the country’s youngest and brightest minds to the task. Let them come up with ideas, test it out on the children, show results and identify best practices. Transformation has to occur inside the school with the change agent being the classroom itself.

Second, focus on the Principals and the teachers. We are a country where we invest poorly in the professional development of the teachers and school leaders. An education program to train school administrators doesn’t even exist. That’s where we need to start to build capacity. Transform a teacher, and you set up a model classroom. Transform the Principal, and you can set up a whole model school!

Next, make education so interesting that the child would hate to leave the classroom. I have had what the authorities would call the “slowest learners” pick up and speak English in a matter of 1 year. Initially, children had to be dragged into classrooms. Today, my kids love to come to school, they all sit silently and listen in the classes. The process of change is painful and long drawn, but once it starts to happen, everybody transforms – from the Principal to the peon.

A lot of models are very effective when applied to 100 children, but fail when applied to 100,000. How is this concept of model classrooms going to scale?

As we speak, “all” the NGOs working on education in Mumbai are partnering with the MGCM in order to improve the lot of Govt. schools. None of us in the development sector have the kind of finances or scale to make education happen for India, only the Govt. does.

Youth across the country need to be involved in order to bring in long term change. Hold forums, galvanize people. We need to spend time empowering communities so that they can then become agents of change in their localities. This may sound idealistic, but so did people say of Gandhiji. We at TFI have aptly named our movement to end education inequity as India's second freedom struggle.

You talked about gathering some of the brightest minds. How? What will get them to believe in the vision and work for education in India?

2000 people applied to the Teach For India program in the first year - some of the best employees at corporates, investment bankers, top rankers at educational institutes – they all applied for an opportunity to teach in a low income school for 2 years, at a very modest salary. In a flourishing capitalist economy, that says a lot about how the youth of today think. I believe that the yearning to bring in change has taken precedence over huge pay packets. Youth from all over the world are applying for intensive programs like the Gandhi Fellowships and Indicorps.

How do you see this whole partnering with the Govt. machinery working out?

From my experience with TFI and how we are now working with the Corporation, I have a few suggestions.

1. Assessment. We can train the teachers on assessment techniques. Today, the education system says “a child in 3rd Std should read this book”. What if the child cannot even read or write simple words? Give the teacher the freedom to teach 1st Std in 3rd Std. Measure progress regularly.

2. Incentives. May sound controversial, but let us say the Govt. gave parents a voucher of Rs. 5000 for your school. It is now upto you to assess gaps and use the money to get people from outside your school to address it. People can help on various counts – from helping teachers prepare progress reports to recruiting teachers, even the Principal. The school is held accountable for the "right" results.

3. Kindergarten. An important part that has been completely left out of the RTE. Help the Govt. start and support pre-schools.

4. Reflections. Train the teachers to be reflect in school – let them watch other teachers teach. Let them reflect on the problems at the end of every day. It’s a good way of identifying gaps and preventing “one size fits all” solutions.

5. Support. Phonics skills, building language acquisition, foundational mathematical content, making learning fun using art and drama, professional development for the teachers and quality feedback mechanisms can go a long way in developing teacher quality.

Has this worked before?

Wendy Kopp, an International Affairs bachelor student from Princeton, proposed the idea of creating a national teachers corps in her thesis 20 years ago. Today, the organisation she created – Teach For America - attracts some of the brightest college graduates wishing to teach in the neediest communities. When Barrack Obama needed to revitalize public schools in America a few years ago, amidst all the education experts, he came to Wendy for help.

TFI is a year old, and we are already collaborating with organisations like Mumbai's Sarva Shiksha Abhyan and the Mumbai Municipal Corporation. A movement of leaders from among young people who can work together to fight the education inequity is slowly getting built. I think we are getting there, sooner than you think.

Background : Teach For India (TFI) is a movement to eliminate educational inequity and to provide an excellent education to all children. In the last year, TFI placed 87 of the best and brightest young people as full-time teachers in low-income municipal and private schools. For more details visit :

Sunday, June 27, 2010

One Goal....Waka Waka!

This FIFA world cup help score the biggest goal - Join the campaign for "Education For All". We are not asking for money, we just want you to add to the thousands from the world who demand that world leaders make "Education For All" a priority. Take a minute and sign up to join 1Goal ! Waka Waka !!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Work hard, go far!

My dearest "Shahunagar Superstars" :: There are those who want to write you off, maybe because of assumptions they made about you or your school or your community. But every day we will prove them wrong. Together we will prove that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about you or what you can achieve. The only thing that matter
s, rather, is what you think about yourself and what you’re willing to do to achieve your goals.

Tell me :: How hard are you willing to work, how big are you willing to dream?

Inspired by Michelle Obama's High School commencement address at Friendship Public Charter School, Washington DC. Read complete transcript here. Worth a read!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Mumbai Transformation Project

Today the dialog in India's focus on primary education has moved from enrollment to quality. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai schools have close to 98% primary enrollment with an average student to teacher ratio of ~35. 85% of the classrooms are in "good condition" and the basic infrastructure is in place. There have been several initiatives including the Maharashtra Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and Mid-day meal program to improve the quality of school education and student experience.

Yet, there are severe need to manage the several challenges -- at the core of all the challenges, there exists tremendous scope to improve student learning outcomes. The quality of education remains poor, substantiated by the fact that any family who can afford to pay for the child's education prefers to move the child out of the public schooling system. The foundational language and maths skills are found to be poor, which lead to high drop-out rates especially in higher classes. In-service training for teachers is limited and field coaching is non-existent.

1400 schools. 14000 teachers. 450000 children. 8 mediums of education. The system is yearning for change! MCGM and Teach For India has launched an initiative to transform the student learning outcomes of our schools with a vision "One day all MCGM teachers will want to send their own kids to the schools they teach in".

Teach For India will start by placing approximately 50 Fellows to teach in 15 Municipal Schools. These Fellows will work indefatigably to make their classes a "model" class in these schools. We hope to cause ripples of "change " by bringing their knowledge, skills and mindsets into the school staff rooms.

You can stand on the side and watch us. Or you would much rather support us. Let the transformation begin. Now!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

An idea who's time has come....

"There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come." – Victor Hugo.

Can you just imagine how much has changed in the education sector just in the period of one year? Let us start from a global picture and move local.

Internationally, USA’s new progressive leadership has brought in a new renewed focus back on basic education and is bringing in sweeping policies to aid education innovation. Obama’s administration is openly addressing the needs of all sections of the education populace and focusing on bridging the apparent inequities, in a manner that none have done before.

Globally on the Teach For All front, the network has already spread to 12 programs worldwide and there seem to be an avalanche effect since, there are already talks that we will be in 80 countries in next 5 years.

Moving now to an India focus, there has been a spate of changes within a year. I clearly remember as the progressive Kapil Sibal was sworn in as the HRD Minister right in the middle of our Summer Institute. Kapil has kept up his word and to expectations to work incessantly for enabling a sea change in the education sector. The landmark “Right to Education” Bill brought in education as a fundamental right of every Indian. While a lot remains to be seen and done to make the bill an implementation reality, this has been a giant step in the right direction.

Coming to our state, Maharastra has also not left itself behind. In a recent sweeping change, all the unit tests have been abolished for grades I to VIII. These tests have been replaced by inventive methods of testing student learning through regular essays, projects, quizzes and innovative methods like workshops and group activities.

Locally, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has a new visionary leader in the Additional Municipal Commissioner, Ashish Kumar Singh. Ashish has a clear vision of transformed social change through the means of education and has thrown all is weight behind to making it a reality. He has formed a committee of diverse individuals and christened the project the “Mumbai Transformation Committee” with a vision to transform the entire 1400 municipal schools in Mumbai. And it is both a privilege and honor that Teach For India is a thought partner on this project.

Lastly, at the start of the year, Teach For India had to encounter numerous unanswered questions – chief amongst them will this model work in India and will we be as successful in bringing our big ideas to fruition. The immensely visible success all the TFI Fellows have been able to bring about is testimonial to our commitment to change, one child at a time. The recognition we have received from all quarters of the press and media, and the amazing success we have had in recruiting and selecting the new cohort of 165 Fellows is paving a new pathway for the development sector in India. For once it seems that we may have a scalable, mass outreach education campaign with no compromises on quality.

A lot has happened in just one year and to me it is not mere coincidence. When, so many hundreds of people are putting their positive focus and attention to a cause larger than themselves – the environment is getting motivated to support the manifestation of our thoughts and intentions. It definitely feels like the momentum is so powerful, that the idea’s time has come – education inequity needs to be addressed and the time is NOW.