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

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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.
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  1. Tanima Banerjee

    I agree with you Shaheen. I am extremely disappointed with the state of affairs in education and the dirth of young and educated teachers. The profession of teaching is at an alarming state since very few actually opt for anything beyond an high-end jobs. A salute to your brilliant campaign to revert the scenario. I loved the latest promotional video of your campaign. Found it extremely appealing and touching. Keep up the good work.

  2. Naveenkumar m

    Prasid Sreeprakash did this because he does not want to loose his soul.He loves his soul.He is indeed on a pursuit of finding reason for his birth.I appreciate him for having taken such wise decision and a better road for his destination.

  3. Kulbir Singh

    I even agree with your thought SHAHEEN,I quited my job 1 year back and since then trying to work in the field of education. I am an Ex ICICI Employee but the Idea of entering education came to my mind when I was giving training to a bunch of MBA students from a leading college of INDORE and found their standard way below expectation. Every single one barring 1-2 in the whole batch were just THEORETICAL and in the world of FANTASY.Since then I decided to take charge if i needed to change the level and started giving lectures as a visiting faculty in some of colleges in Indore and still in Raipur where I currently reside.

    Over the past 2-3 years the biggest gap which I believe that exists in the system, which we need to focus is the approach towards our education system .The people who are entering into the stream need to be held accountable for the performance.Teaching is the only sales stream if I could say is where the COMPANY is always held responsible for product not being sold and the SALESMAN nearly escapes every blame for nonperformance . We need to stop blaming the children, his low level of understanding and various excuses which teachers make for poor performance of child and take charge of the approach and innovation into this stream.

    Most of the people entering this stream is because of the safety of job and specially for govt ones as it pays well with no focus on quality and content. I can give you hundred of example where a maths teacher might not even know simple BOD MAS , and if you ask them what does “O” stands for they are just blank .

    We need to accept that we have failed to bring real life relevance to our content and approach which is the need of hour, I remember when I was in my class 9, I was really convinced by my teacher that I was “DUFFER” in maths and I was so much afraid of this subject that i used to freeze sometime and the only reason I was afraid because nor the teacher nor the content were speaking my language to make me understand. I am a Visual and Kinesthetic person and like to see and do things to understand them, but nor my teacher nor my school was concerned about my approach the only thing they were was a good fees that too on time 🙂 , I don’t blame my teacher, its because i believe he too might have never come across any different approach than we use traditionally. My only concern is that he was not held accountable for my performance which might have pulled him back for innovating for me rather than blaming me.

    Its a TWITTER age where a message in conveyed in 120 Characters , gone are the days of long words and sentences.What we need is a “FISSION”.We need to just stop focusing TEACHING “FOR” THINKING and start teaching our Kids TEACHING “OF” THINKING if we need survive. I am currently working on a Reasoning Lab project for class 4-8, and its really exciting when children come up with reasons for their approach and actions taken by them.Seeing the thought process and approach I believe we really need to go Several several miles and that too at a greater speed to fill the gap of where the TECHNOLOGY is advancing where the WORLD is moving and where the Decision Making skills of our children are.

    We really need to work on building this aspect if we need to Improve our System. CRITICAL THINKING needs to be a necessary subject and Approach to teach every subject otherwise we just will become a manufacturing hub of a large chunk of “EDUCATED FOOLS” with no idea of what to do and why to do except always saying “YES” to anything to ask them to do.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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