By Abbas Dadla:
I have always believed that instead of looking for jobs, we must look for problems to solve. If the one you’re trying to solve is meaningful enough, then everything else will fall into place. But contrary to this, most of us are inclined towards coveted corporate jobs, primarily due to the brand, and not the problem they are solving.
I was fortunate to have the privilege of studying at IIT Bombay, one of India’s finest engineering institutes. I observed, though, that most of my batchmates at IIT, came from affluent CBSE schools in Tier 1 cities. I felt there was a deep need to address this disparity, and by the end of four years, I was aware of the problem I was keen to solve.
And so, I did not sit for placements. Instead, I joined Avanti Learning Centres, a social enterprise, which teaches Science and Math to students from low-income backgrounds, enabling them to compete for opportunities at the best universities. After all, scholarships alone cannot make academics a level-playing field. A quality education is just as key.
The organisation was not new to me; I joined as a student volunteer, teaching four students and eventually grew into the role of a student team head. On graduating, I joined as a full-time teacher and became involved with curriculum creation. This year I have settled into the role of Curriculum Head, in charge of all content from Class 9 to 12. But in my experience, the greatest job has been teaching.
The first structured batch I ever taught as a full-time professional was a group of 35 students in Grade 11 at our Bhandup centre. Every student had come in through a rigorous rote learning education. However, as we strongly believe in peer learning, I would essentially remain mute in the classroom for 70% of the time, encouraging them to read the textbook, have a small discussion with their friends, and attempt to solve problems by themselves.
Initially, students and parents were all befuddled as to why an IIT graduate would not “teach” them Math and Science because, clearly, subject knowledge was not an issue. But I encouraged them to trust the process. Ultimately, they had no other choice but to learn by themselves, and this made them actually take ownership of their studies for the first time.
And they started enjoying it!
Every child merely needs a facilitator who does not limit the child to the knowledge she possesses and instead trains the child to take ownership of her education using appropriate channels, such as books, the internet, and a strong peer group. This is the first quality of a good teacher.
Additionally, the child needs a motivator, who never gives up on him/her, and is always available for the child, however silly the issue. Lastly, the child needs a role model, someone who is disciplined, organised, punctual, and well-mannered, to imbibe the right qualities.
In the context of Avanti, Math and Science knowledge is an additional requirement, but in the order of priority, the above three qualities are more critical than subject knowledge.
Having taught for almost six years now, I have several great memories of teaching students, but the ones I hold dearest are when students share their successes. Recently, some of them bagged internships at prestigious companies. Some have been appointed as team leaders in their college student bodies, and they reached out to discuss situations where they need to take decisions, or trade-offs.
What amazes me is the kind of maturity they have developed at such a young age. I feel glad to be able to attribute some part of it to the fact that we encouraged them to take ownership and make decisions from a young age – and all this, through our teaching style.
Today, I invite others to join me in this journey of transforming education. Passionate teachers who want to be changemakers, who, when equipped with the latest technology, curriculum, and inspirational leadership, can provide a high-quality education in every district of India. I truly believe that when this happens, parents across India will no longer have to send their children to their nearest cities in the pursuit of a good education, and this is what keeps me excited me about the problem I am trying to solve.