No place for educational inequality in India

Shaheen Mistri
Walking through socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Mumbai made the incredible change that was evident, if all children were given the opportunity to unleash their potential.
Shaheen Mistri, CEO and Founder Trustee, Teach For India visited Mumbai every summer, despite wherever in the world they were living at the time. She spent every summer volunteering at a school for children with special needs, an orphanage or any place that needed some extra help. She saw that the inequality around was alarming.

Teach For India was started in 2007 after realizing that we need change on a much larger scale to address educational inequity in India. The idea solidified into a plan in 2006 when she met Wendy Kopp, CEO and Founder of Teach For America, to discuss how Teach For America’s model could be adapted to address the challenges in India.

With a vision that one day, all children will attain an excellent education, they are marching with strong strides with a mission to build a movement of leaders towards eliminating educational inequity.

Through cultivating leadership qualities and equipping young, passionate individuals with skills, knowledge and insights to serve as full-time teachers for two years in under-resourced classrooms, they hope that these individuals will continue to work on this problem in their own capacity even beyond the Fellowship when they become alumni. Several Teach For India alumni are currently working with the government, or the corporate sector and approximately 71% are retained in the education sector to work on different pieces of the puzzle.

What is the USP of Teach For India?

At Teach For India, our culture and attitude with regards to educational equity defines us. We strive to be guided by five core values that guide our everyday work, regardless of whether we are staff, Fellows or alumni: reflection, integrity, sense of possibility, excellence and love.

How has Teach For India become a global movement?

In 2009, we welcomed our first cohort to the Fellowship. We hoped the 87 determined young individuals would be the start of what would become a nationwide movement of diverse leaders. In 2011, they 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 equity. Our first cohort of Alumni went into teaching, teacher training, school leadership, and government policy.
As the years have passed, we have seen a tremendous increase in the number of applicants to the Fellowship. Currently, 67% of our alumni work with marginalized communities and 62% work in the not-for-profit space. Teach For India has grown a lot in ten years, we have expanded to seven cities and are impacting almost 38000 children today.

What were/are the challenges you face? How do you cope up?

I have witnessed some of them go through things that no child should have to go through – academic gaps that were glaringly big, kids who had no belief in themselves, kids who were mistreated and were witness to the appalling tragedy. We need to find ways to bridge this gap to give children a quality education. Another challenge is changing people’s perception of education being about marks and competition. We need to re-define what is important so that we are able to make education holistic.

My journey has had its ups and downs but the vision of all children attaining an excellent education propels me through the challenges and moments of struggle. It reminds me why we do the work we do when I visit Teach For India classrooms across the country, observing the dedication and care with which Fellows engage with the students. Listening to the challenges and aspirations of these children roots me in my purpose.


Why do you think India needs Teach for India?

Through Teach For India’s Fellowship program, we are hoping to continue developing an army of committed young people to spread education to a million children in the country by 2021. The dream is that we each play our part in relieving the crisis.

We are working in the existing education system to create change. It aims to build capabilities in young leaders to lead classrooms, to identify solutions to problems that exist in their students’ communities and gain the skills and mindsets they require to continue working in the education sector. Through our Fellowship, we are bridging this gap by building leaders who can advocate for educational equity.

Tell us about your future goals and what is the driving force keeping Teach for India moving.

I am always thinking about how to improve the quality of our work at Teach For India, how to expand our scope, how to form stronger and more strategic partnerships and alliances that would take our work even further.

I believe that the biggest thing we need to do is infuse high-quality talent into the system. We do have new technology and developments, but it is people who make the change. We need to inspire more people to come and work for our children, and then use the other things to reform the curriculum.

My hope is for as many people to get on board for the movement towards educational equity. Our Fellows have acted as change makers through their determination to support their students and upon completion, many of our Fellows join the education sector to create a difference. The awareness and willingness to create this change comes from first-hand experience of the challenges that Indian classrooms face, and my hope is many such young leaders come to the fore to play their part in the education movement.

Innovative practices in Teach for India

Our organization is centred around and fuelled by a culture of innovation. Our InnovatED program is Teach For India’s national incubator for early-stage entrepreneurs looking to build impactful organizations in the education space. The support they have is year-round, through a series of boot camps and a summit that just took place in Bangalore that witnessed their work being presented to potential investors.

TFIx is a year-long incubation program that is a lifelong learning circle for entrepreneurs who want to adopt the Fellowship model into their context. In collaboration with other partner organizations and institutions, our Kids Education Revolution (KER) initiative aims to re-imagine a transformed education through the partnership between students and educators.

We also have Firki, a teacher training portal that is an open-source, blended material portal for teachers around India to use engaging material to transform their teaching methods.

Teach For India is a part of the Teach For All Network, a growing group of independent organizations that are working to expand educational opportunity in their nations.

Success stories

  • Anurag Kundu, an alumnus from Delhi, currently works with the Delhi government to influence policy, where he tracks and implements the RTA across 6000 schools in Delhi.
  •  As Founder and CEO of Umoya Sports and one of the entrepreneurs under Teach For India’s InnovatED program, Aditya KV, an alumnus from Mumbai, is working on propagating an inclusive culture that empowers the lives of people with disabilities through a sports program.
  •  Gauri Mahendra, an alumna from Hyderabad, leads CSR efforts at Genpact, affecting community leadership for Genpact’s school-centred community. Our alumni are working on so many different puzzle pieces of the education crisis to continue to create an impact on students. Our hope is to continue to mobilize these leaders who are so passionate about the cause, to enable and support them through their Fellowship so that they accelerate the progress towards the mission of reaching every child in the nation.
  •  One of our Teach For India students in Delhi, Sumera, who was also present at the Kids Education Revolution summit, started a “Safai” project which involved promoting the awareness of segregating biodegradable waste from non-biodegradable waste. This project spanned 50 families who now reduce polythene usage and use environment-friendly methods.

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