I was always aware of the problems in the educational sector but never imagined I’d come face to face with them. Teach For India gave me that opportunity. It is structured in a way that allows you to explore human potential at an emotional and academic level. As Fellows, we learn to empathize with the problems our Students face and at the same time push them towards learning by overcoming them. Striking this balance, is key to obtaining excellent Student outcomes.
An already challenging journey became even more difficult with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown and subsequent school closures increased my worry about the already present equity gap widening even further. However, the silver lining in this very dark cloud was the digitization of our school records, a project I had started last year, where my school team and I collected student information including phone numbers of all students, which came in handy. Due to these records, we were able to provide food relief to 34% of the families in our community. The second time we relied on this database was when we started virtual classes in June 2020 as I was able to reach almost 70% of my class and onboard Students in the first month itself. To maximize Student outreach, and ensure that all are able to continue learning, I also collected data to understand mobile recharges and device needs in our community.
This helped me understand what our Students and their parents needed to keep learning going.
In addition, I distributed a survey among 100 parents, which led to an initiative called ‘Project Soch’. The aim of this project is to understand the needs of the community during the pandemic and to take stock of what more is required. Due to our findings from the survey we are conducting digital literacy, financial literacy and skill development sessions for our Student’s parents.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the support of my amazing school team. Hailing from different cities and from different backgrounds, we found our common ground in the belief that every child deserves an excellent education. During this time, we embraced our physical limitations and expanded our virtual boundaries as a team. This enabled us to not only start conducting classes online but also plan some fun and much needed extracurricular activities.
We celebrated Rakhi and Eid, held several competitions as part of ‘KLVS Ganeshotsav’ in school, all conducted asynchronously. Both the events of Independence Day and the Ganeshotsav were mammoth tasks that could not have been done without the TEAM. The love, respect, and mutual admiration that we share for each other is evident in our #WhatAYerwada moments.
From driving Student leadership to increasing parental involvement and encouraging Student voice, this Fellowship has reinforced my belief that income does not limit talent, only lack of exposure does.
While I came to terms with Student growth, I also saw how bureaucracy can cripple education. I saw how teacher shortages, poor infrastructure, lack of mental health awareness and not having the right support structure to deal with learning disabilities can make a school a negative space. It is extremely hard to push for academic excellence when you encounter such problems. But, not impossible! I extend my empathy to all those teachers who have to function within their limits but who are also grappling with social pressures. As a woman, I see their problems manifesting not only because of professional incapacities but also because of social inequality.
The biggest roadblock I saw was hesitation in adopting technology to solve classroom problems. But how does a teacher who is worried about cooking food at home find the time to learn new things? Can a contract teacher who gets paid a pittance be held accountable for quality teaching? When the State ignores their needs and fails to acknowledge their problems, you can only expect an angry resource, who does not see any career prospects in this domain and therefore does not put any effort into teaching.
At the policy level these are some real issues that need to be fixed, how do we motivate teachers to be leaders in their classrooms? With the Fellowship, I am now part of the problem and the solution to educational inequity. My belief is stronger than before. This problem can be dealt with. We just need disruptive change at the ground level in educational policy.
However, till that time my hope is that these young Students grow into independent learners who have choices and that their socio-economic background does not dictate their future.