India is currently facing one of the worst educational crises in the world. 30% of our population today is below the age of 14 with 12 million young adults joining the workforce every year. However, only 48% of 5th grade children can read a grade 2 text. 32% of grade 2 children cannot recognize numbers and 50% of grade 5 children cannot do basic subtraction.
level up. We need to equip our youth with the experience in ground reality as well as the training and support to seek solutions and fuel the movement.
Meet Soumya Jain. Born and brought up in Pune, he studied engineering at NIT Nagpur followed by a masters at Penn State University. This path led him to work as a software engineer with a home automation company in the US for the next 4 years. At this point in his life, Soumya felt fairly well settled – both professionally and personally. He loved what he did and it rewarded him in equal measure as well.
“I just didn’t feel like I was doing anything to serve our country,” he remembers. “I saw educational inequity as the biggest barrier to our country’s progress and to the development and economic mobility of our people and felt like being a part of the solution. This started as a small nagging thought in my mind which over a few months kept bothering me until I finally decided to act on it & applied for the Teach For India Fellowship program. It was a huge risk to divert from my career path but the fact that it was a global organization affiliated to Teach For All and the immense progress they seemed to already have made in such a short period of time gave me faith.”
Teach For India started as a revolutionary movement in 2007 – when Shaheen Mistri (Founder, Akanksha Foundation & CEO – Teach For India) realized that something on a much larger scale was required to eradicate educational inequity from our country. Today, it is a nationwide movement of the country’s most promising minds who commit two-years to teaching full-time in low-income & under-resourced schools with 1100 Fellows impacting over 38000 children across 7 cities. Armed with his commitment to making a difference, Soumya was accepted as a part of the 2013-15 Fellow cohort – unaware of the dramatic shift in his perspective that was soon to take place.
“I knew within a month of joining the Fellowship that this was it. My calling – the platform I needed to do something substantial with my knowledge & skills. But it wasn’t an easy journey.” It took 6 months for him to develop empathy towards his school and begin to manage those relationships in a way that was constructive to his vision for his classroom. Along the way, the Fellowship experience also taught him people management skills and trained him to manage his time and priorities effectively in a way that benefited his students. “Our city director – Sandeep Rai – really helped me bring this paradigm shift within myself and my program manager was always there with all the backend support I needed. But my kids were the most powerful driving force. I couldn’t let them down.”
It was when his Fellowship approached completion in 2015 that Soumya was able to clearly visualize his long term path. “I decided to remain in the education sector and continue my fight against inequity in education. Once that was settled, it was just a question of how best to I could leverage my strengths towards that end. That’s how iTeach was born.”
iTeach was an initiative that came to life when Soumya & Prashant Mehrishi, another Teach For India 2013-15 Fellow, came together to create a wheel and spokes approach to solving the education crisis. “We’ve experimented with the idea of running two secondary schools in a ‘public private partnership’ model with the government since municipal schools in Pune are only till grade 7 and most Teach For India kids have no school to go post that point. The second aspect to our brainchild became the iTeach Fellowship. This seeks to recruit motivated teachers straight from B.Ed colleges and put them in a rigorous 1 year in-service training program to bridge the gap between what they’ve learnt so far and what they need to be in order to be able to provide an excellent education for their children” he elaborates.
The problem of inequity in education is massive and complex and, as Soumya puts it, will take an entire generation of young Indians devoting themselves to this cause to make change happen. Over the past couple of years, organizations like Teach For India have expanded to impact an increasing number of children. But it’ll take a movement of citizens to redefine the education system in our country. Imagine a million astronauts or a million scientists. Imagine a million change-makers driving India forward. Imagine a day when we have succeeded in empowering every human being with choice and opportunity. Because that’s what every child deserves. That’s what India deserves.
Application to the Teach For India Fellowship are still open until March 8th. Go to http://apply.teachforindia.org/