Happy teachers make happy students who make a happy nation – iTeach is motivating and rewarding teachers to go beyond in the classrooms

22nd Aug 2015
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Sohini Purohit, graduated in 1999, following which she picked up a job as an accountant. Soon after, she was married and gave up her job because household duties came beckoning. 12 years passed and her desire to study B.Ed. rose again, this time, stronger than before. “My passion was to become a teacher since childhood. But my family was hit by financial problems and so I couldn’t pursue B.Ed. After all this time, I told my husband that I want to study and he said – if you want to do it, I’ll support you fully.” Sohini completed her B.Ed. in 2014 and is now working as an iTeach fellow teaching Hindi at the Babu Jagjivan Ram Secondary English Medium School in Yerawada, Pune.

What’s the most important part of the education system? Most would obviously say the students. If we rethink the question, the answer is clear – good teachers are the most important part of a great education system. Most of the time, a child spends more productive waking hours with his/her teacher than she/he does with his parents. Hence, a large part of excellent education is the onus of excellent teachers. iTeach is a social enterprise that aims at flooding the education system (focusing on the low income group school) with better teachers who are highly motivated and can be right role models to their students.

Isn’t B.Ed. itself enough?

But why should a teacher who has a degree to validate the teaching prowess take a module related to teaching? Sohini tells us why. “During the B.Ed. course, we interned at a school for 2 weeks. In those 2 weeks, you don’t understand anything, you don’t even understand how to make a lesson plan or meet the students. The degree also doesn’t prepare you for the children who are going to be your students – how to deal with children who might be exceptionally rude is taught to us in one of the modules by iTeach. Some of these children act out because they aren’t given enough love and attention at home, this is something I learnt during the modules and workshops. The modules at iTeach prepares us in a way that the curricula at B.Ed. can’t.”

The story of the founders

Prashant Mehrishi, with the students he taught at TFI
Prashant Mehrishi, with the students he taught at TFI

iTeach is India’s first in-service Teaching Fellowship. It is a two year programme for existing school teachers, providing them with professional development opportunities, rewards and recognition. iTeach is focused on low-income schools, where the lack of both on-the-job training and meaningful incentives has created widespread disinvestment among teachers, leading to poor student learning outcomes.

iTeach is founded by Prashant Mehrishi, an MBA, with over 15 years of corporate experience in the IT and Insurance sector and Soumya Jain, an M.S. from Penn State University, with 4 years of experience working in an electronics company in the US. Despite a successful career, Prashant felt something was amiss and found the answer in teaching. For the last two years, Prashant was working as a Fellow with Teach For India in Pune, teaching Grades 4 and 5 in a PMC school.

Soumya with students
Soumya with students

Soumya pretty much had a ‘Swades’ moment and decided to give back to his roots. Like Prashant, he too became a fellow with TFI and taught grades 6 and 7 in an affordable private school (APS). The duos two year immersion gave them deep insight into the education system in government schools, especially in understanding the teachers’ psyche and needs. It also exposed them to how APS schools work, including aspects such as teacher requirement, deployment, and training approaches.

Birds of a feather flock together

The TFI Fellowship has a component in its second year called the Be The Change Project (BTCP), where Fellows are expected to attempt solving a social problem outside the classroom. It is a space for Fellows to attempt to increase their sphere of influence, test their personal theory of change as well as pilot any projects that they might want to take up post their Fellowship. Soumya says, “Prashant and I were both inclined towards entrepreneurship and it is here that we met. Both of us were looking for two things – a co-founder who would be like a soulmate in this entrepreneurial journey and a business opportunity which would align with our understanding of the problems in education space”.


 

Also Read: Varthana is lending to make affordable private schools bigger and better


 

A

well thought out problem

Realising that a teacher is the single most important factor in determining a student’s learning outcomes, they narrowed down the focus area to making better and happier teachers. Their own research and experience had made them aware of the fact that there are many new teachers entering the system every year, but an unstructured on-boarding process leads to these teachers getting disinvested very quickly, and eventually losing their motivation to become great teachers. There are other problems plaguing the affordable private school circuit as well – recruitment, training, and retention. On the other hand, there are fresh teaching graduates out of jobs. “We believe that a combination of professional development opportunities (helping teachers get mastery) and rewards and recognition (helping teachers feel valued) will drive higher investment in their work, and consequently better teaching and learning”, expresses the duo.


Pilot, learning and final model

They piloted a one-year training programme for existing teachers in the system, punctuated with periodic rewards and recognition to drive motivation. Owing to problems of interference, iTeach tweaked their model to focus on fresh teaching graduates who work as Fellows with iTeach. During the Fellowship, they are placed with iTeach’s partner schools where they teach along with in-service training and rewards and recognition.

Training Session in progress
Training Session in progress

The Fellowship requires teachers to attend two workshops every month, mostly conducted in their school itself. These workshops cover integral components such as basic pedagogy, value education, culture building and hands-on learning. Post the workshop, the teachers are expected to implement the learning in their classrooms – with active guidance from a Teacher Coach.

As part of rewards and recognition, iTeach has launched “Star Club”. This is a monthly contest tied with an annual convention for the fellows to qualify for performance based incentives. Apart from this, the teachers are offered a mid-year retreat and other field trips to provide them with appropriate exposure and access. The teachers receive a monthly stipend. Villgro has invested seed money in iTeach.

Competitor analysis

iTeach on a field trip to a model school
iTeach on a field trip to a model school

The duo have done their homework well and have positioned iTeach to fill in the gaps its competitors might have overlooked. They tell us, “While TFI has exceptionally qualified teachers, the focus is strong on the leadership aspect and Fellows don’t stay in the system for more than 2 years with majority of the focus limited to the classroom. There are several teacher training organizations doing excellent work – and we partner with many of them. In general though we have found that teacher training is a nice to have service for most schools, but teachers are obviously indispensable.”

They dream of making iTeach’s programme an aspiration for every fresh B.Ed. graduate in India and flood the system with better and happier teachers. The duo is thinking big,

We plan to scale and envision our penetration in 10 ‘A’ tier cities by 2020. In the next 3 years, we plan to add 200 fellows. Our mission of creating better & happier teachers will surely result in creating better and happier and smarter kids and ultimately resulting in a better and happier nation.

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