Meet Gaurav, Teach For India 2009

Alumni Spotlight

Meet Gaurav, Teach For India 2009

Teach For India
Teach For India
Gaurav Singh is a member of Teach For India's 2009 cohort and the founder of the 3.2.1. Education Foundation, with a mission "To create India's 1st high quality charter school network that will become a benchmark of excellence for educating underprivileged children." 3.2.1.'s first school openend its doors in 2012.  
 
Crawford Market, a popular bazaar in south Mumbai, runs full swing every morning. As you step outside of the auto rickshaw, it feels like you have been punched in the face. The crowds of people are yelling, all the while scaling fish, bargaining and carrying around the food.
 
3.2.1 School is well hidden behind the market façade, on a second floor. As you walk up the stairs, the noise and smells are left behind, giving way to a calmer corridor. The hallway is decorated with vibrant artwork from the children, lined by some corkboards and lit by a few windows adorned with rectangular patterns. Almost immediately you stumble into orderly students greeting you with a big smile and a cheerful “Good morning!”
 
Three coloured doors connect the building. A green door gives way to the first classroom and into a larger hall, where kids have lunch and their assembly. The second classroom, beyond a blue door, faces the market, where a strong smell brings back flashes of gutted fish. A final red door opens to the third classroom, which seems practically attached to a huge lifted highway, where horns blaze and tires screech most of the day.
 
The architecture is very basic, the surroundings boisterous. However, children seem unaware of it. They have fun. And they learn a lot.
 
The school
 
This building has been transformed into a powerful learning environment by a group of committed people. The 3.2.1 team, a group of 6 teachers led by Gaurav Singh, opened the school very recently, on June 15, 2012.
 
Powered by a strong and clear vision, 3.2.1’s purpose is to build a network of schools delivering a high quality educational opportunity for students in low-income communities. The organisation is currently striving to achieve a 100% proficiency in India’s ASSET standardised test, by the time the kindergarten cohort reaches third grade.
 
Most of their 80 kindergarten students come from Mumbai’s slums. They enrol them through a lottery system, thus ensuring an equitable entry opportunity for students. This also enhances diversity; the school has sixteen languages. Students at 3.2.1. have a longer school period compared to other Indian schools. In terms of curriculum, they promote a constructivist approach, encouraging learning through discovery and games.
 
The question
 
Gaurav remembers his first time in the classroom. “I started working in a classroom with no electricity and 50 students from vulnerable backgrounds. My youngest kid was six, my oldest 14. These children had few chances.” The challenge is not easy. India is the second largest country in terms of population, with 1.2 billion people, 400 million of whom are children. 40% of adults do not know how to read and write. Although most children start school, only 60% of them finish primary and a slim 10% finish secondary school. These odds are even worse for some subgroups: for example, girls in rural areas have only a one percent chance of graduating school.
 
Gaurav was not sure how to beat the overwhelming odds. But one day a thought seized him, and continues to drive his work every day. It was a simple question: “What will I do about it?” He understood what his role in the world was and settled to learn how to accomplish it.
Supported by the EdVillage/Fisher Fellowship, Gaurav visited 35 different schools in the United States. He carried his question with him and developed many more. Despite the obvious different level of resources in the American classrooms, Gaurav did not despair: “When you enter a classroom that’s very different from yours in terms of space, in terms of number of kids, you just say, ‘This is not going to work in our country’. But then you have to calm yourself down and say, ‘This is useless; excellence is excellence.’”
 
He left with important takeaways. First is the importance of vision as an absolute foundation of the school life and learning process. “If you can create an organisation where people always believe, and where people always learn,” says Gaurav, “you can create something special. That’s what we want to create.”
 
3.2.1 school is an example on how a powerful commitment and vision can change the lives of students. Above all, it is an example of how to take responsibility for changing something you are passionate about. Gaurav leaves a challenge in the air, as he describes how others can tap into their own potential:
 
First, look around you. Find something you feel passionate about. Then, identify where you can have maximum impact. Finally, ask yourself, ‘What am I going to do about it?’