Shaheen Mistri: ‘If We Have Teachers Like These, The Future Will Definitely Be A Lot Better’

Posted on November 7, 2013 in Education

By Shaheen Mistri & Tomos Davies:

Prasid Sreeprakash (25) is from a middle class family in Kerala. He scored 99.86 percent in the highly competitive Common Admission Test of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) and graduated from the premier Indian Institute of Management-Indore. Typically with this prized qualification, Sreeprakash could have picked a job in a company of his choice with a six figure monthly salary as most of his batch mates at IIM-Indore did. Instead, Sreeprakash signed up with Teach For India (TFI) which paid Rs. 16,000 (USD 245) per month, to teach children full- time as a Teach For India Fellow.

Twelve-year-old Asira Sheikh’s father earns less than Rs.1 lakh (USD 1500) in an entire year. Asira is a class IV student of the under-resourced Varsha Nagar Government School in Vikhroli, Mumbai, which draws its student body from neighbouring slums. Normally, attending this government school would have entailed an aimless, rote memorisation-driven education delivered in the vernacular Marathi or Urdu languages by inadequately trained teachers followed by dropping off studies altogether. Instead, Asira and her 30 classmates study a joyful, holistic, practical, and skills-based curriculum taught in English by Prasid Sreeprakash.

Education is a powerful tool but it is only as powerful as those who wield it. Great teachers have the ability to change the life paths of those they teach. In 2009, India passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act which, for the first time in India’s history, guarantees free elementary education to every child up to the age of 14. This historic legislation, along with other government initiatives and the work of many education non-profits in the sector, has helped India significantly increase primary school enrolment rates. However, with the increasing number of children in schools there is a huge need for additional teachers and some estimates indicate that the requirement may be as great as 1 million new teachers to meet the shortfall.

More than 770,000 untrained teachers are working in India’s state schools, according to government figures, with education experts suggesting that one in five teaching positions is vacant. To deal with the problem, ministers have allocated USD 4.53 billion over the next five years to get more qualified teachers into the system. The sheer number of teachers required to support the changing education system in India is daunting, however, it creates an opportunity to seek out alternative methods of finding, training, supporting and developing new and existing teachers across the Indian education system. This is especially true given the traditional methods are, at present, not meeting the needs of the nation.

Beyond the numbers, it is critical that we concentrate on providing an excellent education to every child and not just basic schooling. India cannot reach its potential on the global stage without the majority of its population being skilled, educated and equipped to compete in the global knowledge economy. Infrastructure, innovation and technology all have an important role to play as catalysts to improving the educational outcomes of children but these are no substitute to a quality teacher.

The RTE Act is a great first step for the Government which will definitely benefit thousands of children; however, it is imperative we focus not only on creating a place in school for every child but also on providing each one with a capable, motivated and effective teacher.

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Shaheen_smallShaheen Mistri is the CEO and one of the founding board members of Teach For India, a nationwide movement with the mission to build a movement of leaders who will eliminate inequity in education. She has been working on the idea of Teach For India since 2007, and in 2008 formally established the batch of 87 Teach For India Fellows (exceptional college graduates and young professionals from across the country) began teaching in June 2009, and committed to teach full-time for two years in under-resourced schools and to become life-long leaders, across sectors, advocating for educational equity. Today Teach For India Fellows teach in over a 1000 classrooms across the country impacting over 23,000 children.

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TomosAfter graduating from the University of Cambridge, Tomos joined the Teach First program, where he proudly taught Science for two years in a Government school in London. This transformative experience instilled the deep belief in him that every child can succeed when given access to an excellent education. Tomos came to Teach for India from the Teach for All Network where he worked as a Partner Engagement Director since early 2010. He remains an active Teach First Ambassador.