Sunday May 29, 2011
By KANG SOON CHEN
ANKIT Saraf does not believe that the high dropout rate in rural India is caused by parents who send their children to work.
“It is not true that these parents only value a pair of hands that can feed the family. They do see the importance of education,” said the Teach For India (TFI) fellow.
However, many of them stopped sending their children to school because they don’t see any academic progress in the youngsters,” he said.
An engineering graduate, Ankit has witnessed first-hand how schools in the villages function with absentee teachers and dilapidated conditions during a microfinance internship in Uttar Pradesh state.
“Some of the students have to go to the villages nearby to study,” he said.
Moved by the disparity in educational opportunities he saw, Ankit applied to join TFI.
He is now an English teacher in a low-income private school in a Mumbai slum area.
“There are two categories of private schools in India, the pupils from the school I’m teaching at come from families with a monthly income of between RM270 – RM350,” said Ankit.
He said that parents sent children to private schools to learn English as there were few government-run English medium schools for the low-income communities.
Even then, most of the 62 pupils in Ankit’s class have a very poor grasp of English.“The other teachers in the school are also not proficient in the language and are paid low wages,” said Ankit.
Apart from huge class sizes and low academic standards, hygiene is a serious problem as the school is located between public toilets with no water and a huge garbage dump. Malaria is a disease that is rampant among the schoolchildren.
For Teach First alumni Pablo Casasbuenas, it was a different scenario teaching in a secondary school at a London borough.
Refugees students, those with special education needs and disciplinary issues were the type of students he taught.
“The students are wonderful and have the potential to excel and live out their dreams,” said Casasbuenas who graduated from the London School of Economics.
Gaining good academic results he said was “a long, intense and tough” process.
“Students who don’t have the support, stability and resources fall behind their more fortunate peers, I think they need outstanding teachers to overcome the challenges and narrow the education gap,” he added.
Having gone through other graduate programmes in top consulting firms, Casasbuenas said that Teach First provided a better opportunity for growth.
Fellows are trained to convince and influence stakeholders who included students and teachers, when participating in classroom initiatives.
These were the fundamental soft skills required to succeed as leaders in any organisation, added Casasbuenas.
“Often, outstanding graduates who embark on the scheme will not be accustomed to experiencing failure.
“I think the scheme pushes them to their limits … intellectually, psychologically and emotionally… to overcome the challenges presented to them in the classroom. Personally, I found it a really transformational experience,” said Casasbuenas.
Ankit concurred, saying that the scheme prepared the fellows to be better at social policy planning considering that 65% of TFI alumni entered the social sector.
“The graduates are brilliant, have good degrees and intentions to make the world a better place, but many of them have not seen what is happening at the grassroot levels and the problems low-income households are facing,” said Ankit.
He stressed that the fellows did more than just teaching during their two-year stint.
“It’s a steep learning curve as we are exposed to things that we never imagined we would see,” Ankit added.
“Another TFI alumni I know had said that the two years of growth in the scheme was equivalent to three years in the corporate sector,” said Ankit.
Casasbuenas ventured into consulting after completing his fellowship at Teach First. After spending four years in the corporate sector, Casasbuenas joined the Teach for All, an organisation set up to assist social entrepreneurs around the world who were inspired by the Teach For America and Teach First model, and wanted to adapt the programme in their respective countries.
Asked on whether he would return to teaching one day, Casasbuenas said that “my heart said yes”.
“At the same time I think the big question for all alumni of Teach For All programmes is how they can have the biggest impact in ending education inequity.”
Soon to be following in Ankit and Casasbuenas footsteps are the first batch of successful Teach For Malaysia applicants, who will be placed in secondary schools in January.
Final-year Harvard University undergraduate Jacintha Tagal, 23, is especially excited about teaching.
“As a Malaysian citizen, I believe that I have a responsibility, to understand and play a part in shaping our education system.”
Movement for change