How Teach for Change is transforming the lives of children across India by focusing on literacy and life skillsRoshni Balaji
Started in 2014, the Teach for Change initiative runs four programmes at government schools across India to help children realise their full potential.
Sneha was sitting on a grimy wooden bench and flipping through her English textbook, trying to read a poem. At that very moment, Nizamuddin entered the classroom and helped her comprehend all the verses.
“Nizamuddin bhaiya used to stay back with me after school to help me in grasping new concepts. His classes were fun. While he taught us English, he made us play games and participate in extracurricular activities. I found a lot of difference in myself and got many opportunities because of Teach for Change. I even got the second prize for being the best student in the school,” Sneha says.
At the Government High School at NBT Nagar, Hyderabad, Class 5 students were unable to identify simple English words. The school did not have sufficient number of teachers. “After teaching for nine months as part of Teach for Change, I could see a significant improvement in their literary skills. They were able to read complete sentences," says Neelakanta Rao, volunteer, Teach for Change.
Started by Chaitanya MRSK and Lakshmi Manchu in 2014, the Teach for Change (TFC) initiative focuses on improving literacy and life skills among primary school children in government schools. The movement has transformed the lives of numerous children over the last few years. As of today, TFC has reached out to 21,107 children after roping in 1,200 volunteers.
The dawn of the movement
Chaitanya says he was in Class 12 when he got an opportunity to work towards the betterment of people at Toopran village in Telangana as part of his school’s community work project. He helped organise medical camps for the underprivileged, and also pushed for the refurbishment of infrastructure at government schools. Chaitanya was recognised with the ‘Youth Excellence Award’ at the UN Youth Assembly in 2007 for his efforts.
In 2008, he set up a non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Passionate Foundation, with the aim of providing quality infrastructure for government schools. During this time, Chaitanya says he met an ex-Microsoft employee who wanted to teach English at government schools. That set the ball rolling for the Teach for Change initiative.
“The quality of education at government schools in India is not up to the mark. They lack basic infrastructure and experienced faculty. Due to this, students passing out of these schools are unable to stand as equals to their private counterparts,” says Chaitanya MRSK, Founder and CEO, Teach for Change.
According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) of 2018, nearly 50 percent of students in Class 5 were not able to read a Class 2 textbook. The report also shows that 1.3 crore students moved from government to private schools in the last five years.
“The Teach for Change movement aims to bridge this gap by roping in the required resources for government schools to function on par with private ones,” Chaitanya says.
Myriad set of programmes
Teach for Change runs four programmes across India to inculcate literacy skills among students at government schools, and help them realise their full potential. The programmes are:
- The Literacy Programme
The Literacy Programme was launched in 2014 to enhance the literacy skills of primary school students (Class 3 to 5) at government schools. The motive of this initiative was to help children from low income communities read and write English with ease. A set of committed citizens who wish to volunteer for one academic year are roped in to teach at government schools in their neighbourhood.
“The Literacy Programme is our flagship project wherein we are aspiring to achieve the fourth goal as listed in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which is quality education. We have partnered with Pegasystems Inc., a leading software firm, to support us in this endeavor,” Chaitanya says.
The citizens who volunteer to teach as part of this programme are screened and trained before they are allocated to a neighbourhood school.
“We get together experts from different fields to teach the children. They are sensitised about classroom management, and given modules specially designed to improve the speaking, reading, writing and listening skills of students. The progress made by volunteers is reviewed periodically to ensure there is no drop in the quality of education,” Chaitanya says.
The programme is currently active across Mumbai, Delhi, Lucknow, and Chennai. Four more cities – Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, and Visakhapatnam – are now part of the initiative. The state governments of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Teach for Change.
- Rural Teacher Programme
About 68.84 percent of Indians live in rural areas where quality and accessibility to education are a major concern. There are very few committed teachers at government schools and the students are not exposed to good learning material.
In 2013, the reportage of a government school teacher teaching students in rural Bihar popped up across social media. The video showed every single spelling of the days of the week spelt wrong - Wednesday was being taught as ‘Wenday’.
The Rural Teacher Programme was launched in 2017 to address these issues and to appoint qualified and well-trained teachers at rural schools.
“We pick out young and talented people from the rural community and train them to be teachers. As of now, the initiative is active across 12 schools in Khammam district, and two schools in Vanaparthy district of Telangana,” Chaitanya says.
The teachers for this programme are recruited from the local community and trained before they start working at schools. The rural teacher is an agent of change; they addresses the need of quality learning and builds the leadership competencies of children in rural schools. The Rural Teacher programme is currently active in Telangana.
- Digital Literacy Programme
According to a study conducted by ASSOCHAM and Delloitte Research in 2017, around 95 crore Indians do not have access to the internet, and only a meagre 2.3 percent of the country’s workforce has received professional training.
Hence, Teach for Change collaborated with Pegasystems and started the Digital Literacy Programme to teach children to use the computer and tap into the world of the internet. They have established 10 digital centres with full-time paid trainers in Hyderabad and Bengaluru.
- Model School Programme
Several government schools across rural areas of the country lack basic infrastructure facilities like playgrounds, toilets, clean drinking water, and other teaching equipment. Hence, students dropping out of these schools has become a common phenomenon. The Model School Programme partners with corporations and individuals to fix infrastructural lacunae in government schools.
“One of the programme’s most successful initiatives was the collaboration with Marriott Hotels to provide an egg, banana, and vegetable curry to students of Goinpalli school in Hyderabad for their mid-day meals. The school’s enrolment and retention went up after this intervention,” says Chaitanya with a broad smile.
Making quality education accessible
“The Teach for Change teachers are very good. My teachers’ names are Anna ma’am and Shoba ma’am. They come to our school every Saturday. They show us stories on their laptops so that we can understand well. After that, they ask us questions to test our knowledge,” says Pooja, a Teach for Change student.
Like Pooja, the Teach for Change movement has brought about a wave of positive change in the lives of over 21,000 children across India, and the number is expected to increase over time.
With the expansion of its literacy programme, the count is expected to touch 1,50,000 children across 1,000 schools in the next one year. This shows that the programme is definitely on the road to narrow down educational inequality in the country by empowering children to be the leaders of tomorrow. Vacancies for volunteers for the batch starting June 2019 are already open on the Teach for Change website.