4% of children never start school and of the 96% who do, only 10% complete school (Teach For India website).With a vision to positively impact the lives of children coming from low-income communities, to help them maximize their potential and change their lives for the better, Shaheen Mistri started working in the education sector in 1991. She started by founding the Akanksha Foundation which now has 40 centers and 13 schools in Mumbai & Pune and works towards providing a strong educational foundation, recreation, self-esteem and values to underprivileged children. Building on this, Shaheen started Teach for India (TFI) in 2008. Currently, TFI has more than 500 Fellows working in under-resourced schools, who have transformed the lives of over 16,000 underprivileged kids to date.
Even after two decades, Shaheen still has the same concern and an unaltered commitment to tackle the issue of education. She spoke at TEDxIIMB recently which is an event at IIM-Bangalore, organised everywhere in the spirit of encouraging discussions, ideas and interactions. There, YS had an opportunity to interact with her exclusively. Excerpts from the conversation:
YourStory: What are the major challenges in the field of primary education in India?
Shaheen: There are multiple concerns surrounding education in Indian schools which are rooted in the quality of education. But if one has to point out, then the ones that stand out are –
a) Quality of teachers & classrooms. Lack of training & support to the teachers.
b) Education policies not being able to cater to the needs of the system.
c) Lack of infrastructure (Primary/Secondary schools).
d) High dropout rates which again are due to the poor quality of education
YourStory: How has your vision of the Akanksha Foundation evolved in the last two decades? How far have you come?
Shaheen: From the beginning, the primary goal at Akanksha which has been replicated at TFI as well, has been to give quality education to every child & provide him/her with all possible opportunities. With the efforts of our fellows at TFI, we’re not only imparting education but building leaders of tomorrow. We believe in working towards bridging the gap between truth & destination. Truth without hope is failure, hope without truth is fantasy.
YourStory: What motivated you to work in the field of education?
Shaheen: I see lack of education as the root cause of a lot of problems in our country. But that’s not the reason why I started Akanksha & TFI. It’s more of a personal instinct to be with kids that has inspired me to do my bit. Once I started working with children, I saw that they are extraordinarily capable of doing a lot. I feel an overwhelming responsibility to provide these kids with opportunities to conquer their dreams.
YourStory: To what level do you think are education policies in India are in sync with the real picture?
Shaheen: There is a massive disconnect between requirements of our education system & the framed policies. Education policies in our country are not thought through enough.
YourStory: What is your advice to entrepreneurs in the education sector (for profit & not-for-profit)?
Shaheen: I believe that irrespective of profit or not-for-profit, entrepreneurs should be driven by motives beyond just money. No matter, whom you’re serving, always remember why you started up and stay true to it!
You can apply to the Teach For India Fellowship program by January 30th, 2013!