Recently, I attended a workshop for an educational fund, which was a mentorship workshop for their portfolio of start-ups. When I introduced myself as the co-founder of my venture Unnayan Learning Hub and an ex-TFI Fellow, the person I was speaking to asked me: So tell me, what is so special about TFI Fellows? They are all so confident, passionate and entrepreneurial. I laughed and said: Yes, you are right. We indeed possess all qualities he mentioned. But the question got me thinking as to how TFI Fellows are more than the conventional definitions of being game changers, change agents and youth activists or whatever the world likes to call us?
Teach For India is largely based on the Teach For America model (started in 1989), which hires college graduates/young professionals to teach for 2 years in low income schools. Post selection, during a 5 week training, the basics of lesson planning, curriculum development and other things related to classroom teaching are taught, which claim to equip us to eliminate the education inequity. But the question arises that: Are Teach For India fellows really prepared to impart an excellent education to low income kids? I would argue that we aren't . We are just a stopgap solution for low income kids who can not access a good education. As an overview, let us do a small myth v/s reality comparison of Teach For India fellows based on my experience. Other fellows and people might disagree but this is strongly based on my own thoughts.
Realities about what TFI Fellows do/are:
TFI Fellows are really bright, diversified and passionate about what they do.
They work relentlessly hard to help improve learning outcomes and support kids to perform well in standardized assessments.
Create innovative ideas and teaching techniques to engage children in the most interesting manner.
Build and develop a strong teacher parent relationship,
Engage in impact outside the classroom and community through various initiatives.
Assumptions about what Teach For India Fellows are/do:
They are well trained. 5 weeks training isn't enough to make someone capable to be a great teacher/fully equipped to become an educational leader.
Fellows are trained to cater to every child. In my opinion, TFI Fellows are mainly equipped to handle kids who are able to grasp concepts when the fellow teaches them and some who can even do by their own sometime. In every class, there are always some kids ( range 1-10 approx) who in spite of persistent efforts and extra classes don't improve much, whom we call the EMERGENT level kids ( lowest learning level). Although in few cases, extra classes and different methods of teaching work but not for all.
TFI Fellows are transformational teachers/change makers. In any profession, one can never be transformational or excellent within just 2 years. Quoting a quote of Malcolm Gladwell: In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours."
Fellows are changing life paths of their kids. At least in my opinion, they aren't changing life path of any kid in 2 years. A good education can change somebody's life path but not always and definitely not in just 2 years. I believe there are many factors around changing someone's life path such as financial condition of the family, economic empowerment and other issues. If a kid is speaking fluent English and achieving exceptional academic outcomes in English and Math (such 3 and 2.5 years growth in 1 year) doesn't mean changing a kid's life path but yes, a constant TFI intervention in a class for 8-10 years might do that. (Read might)
People reading this article might construe, albeit wrongly, that I have an agenda against Teach For India, but honestly I am not anti-Teach For India neither I am propagating that Teach For India is doing nothing. I truly believe that Teach For India is one of the best things to happen in the education sector because without TFI, many of us wouldn't have been in education. All fellows have indeed done some considerable work but then, we should be very realistic about what we do and not elevate the status of our work claiming to be world changers. Even people who work in telecom sector are also changing the country since now almost 97% of India is connected through mobile networks. Isn't that game changing that we can speak to our friends and relatives in villages easily as compared to 7-8 years back when we just could write letters or send telegrams? How is that less than changing the country? Hence, everybody is changing India in its own sense and not just us as we are deemed to be.
Whenever my friends heap praises one me for doing a such a cool job , I tell them: I am doing nothing extra ordinary. In fact I am just doing what a teacher is expected and is supposed to do in a classroom.. Whenever my friends praised me that I am doing a great job and all, I just told them: I am doing nothing extra ordinary. In fact I am just doing what a teacher is expected and supposed to do in a classroom.