Chaitra Murlidhar

What are you leading?

A bit about the work at LIFT: From 2012-17, I was involved in the establishing and leading Leadership Institute of Teachers (LIFT). LIFT was a year long in-service teacher development program run by Thermax Foundation in public private partnership with the government.

How did your experiences as a fellow inspire or prepare you for what you’re doing now?

As a 24-year-old, in 2008, I took a life-altering decision to give up my job as an engineer in a multi-national corporation to begin a new life – to teach Grade 2 children in an under-resourced, low-cost school in Pune city in Western India.  What led me to this decision was the unease I felt about not responding to the many issues facing our society, and an urge to do something meaningful. From my schooling years I was aware of poverty, as my army officer father’s frequent postings took us to some of the most desolate parts of the country. During my two-year stint in a plush office building that shared a wall with one of Pune’s largest slums, the disparities of the world I lived in became disturbingly clear. Instead of being an armchair analyst and critic of Indian reality, I decided to be part of the solution.  

During those two years as a school teacher spent with little children from the neighboring slums, I experienced the terrible reality of educational inequity in India: in a system where the quality of education depends on how much the parent can afford to pay, in most cases, a child’s background unfortunately dictates what she should become.

These two years also opened my eyes to the enormous potential in every child. It was a revelation when we could help children with almost zero reading fluency, read Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and eventually get them to stage an 80-minute musical based on the book. That event, and our year-long theatre, dance and arts clubs for which resources were raised through crowdsourcing platforms also taught me the immense power of collaboration – with parents of students and colleagues, with distant well- wishers over the Internet, and local bureaucrats.

These two years made me think that if my work touched the lives of 36 children in a class, it was exciting to imagine the ripples of change we could set off in a chain of schools in a city or the entire country.  My grass-root experience told me that any relevant educational reform depends on teachers and their development. Equity in education can be achieved only when public education system delivers high quality. So, in 2012, I joined Thermax Foundation (TF), which had been running a few schools in partnership with the government since 2007 and was seriously exploring ways to raise the level of education for Pune city. The job description – to establish a teacher training program for public school educators – mirrored my own desire to influence capacity building of teachers at the city level.

What's next?

My exposure to public education in India has reinforced my commitment to work within the government system and on existing structures at the central, state and district levels to build capacity in government functionaries handling teacher training portfolios.  Over the next few decades, I wish to work with state level institutions like State Council of Education Research and Training (SCERT) to rewire and strengthen the District Teacher Training Institutes (DIET) set up by the government of India in the 1980s to make regular, effective and contextual in-service training available to government teachers. With that reassuring clarity about my long-term goals came the realization that I needed academic grounding in this field as I am an engineer by education.

Also, opportunities to share LIFT’s story of building a teacher development model within the public education system, took me to Teach For All conferences in India, Chile, China and UK. This exposure helped me explore the roots of educational inequity in different countries and understand just how deep and wide they ranThe valuable on-ground experience I have gained has to be fortified with theoretical knowledge and academic research so that I can validate and substantiate my understanding from the field. This is what brought me to Harvard Graduate School of Education this year for pursuing a Masters program in International Education Policy. I’ve handed over the baton of LIFT to my capable team at Thermax Foundation, currently being by a Teach For India alumni.

I hope to combine my experience and the academic and research rigour that I expect to gain, to work for and drive systemic reform in the quality of teacher education in India.

Alumni info

Partner

Alumni Cohort

2010-2012

Current Home

Cambridge, MA, USA

Subject(s) Taught

English, Math, Social Studies, Science

Connect on Social Media

Leadership Journey

2010-12

Transition from engineering to education.

2012

Establishing LIFT in partnership with Pune municipal government

2013

Teach For All Global Conference in China (Exposure to education on a global platform)

2014

Teach For All Conference in Chile on ‘Systemic Reform’

2016

Community of Practice on Teacher Development

2017

Ed. M candidate at Harvard Graduate School of Education

Support

2010-12

Had it not been for an engaging, meaningful and inspiring fellowship experience provided by Teach For India, I would probably not have been working in education for the past 7 years.

2012

I received tremendous support and mentoring from Shaheen (CEO, TFI) through all stages of setting up LIFT – from the concept paper to team hiring and signing the final partnership with the government. Additionally, I received a lot of thought-partnering with TFI alumni working in education across India and the TFI city staff team (especially the City Director, Sandeep Rai). TFI proved to be an immense education network that I could tap into for support, resources and inspiration from time to time.

2013

(Year 1 of LIFT) The conference in China was an eye-opening experience for me. This was the year we had started LIFT and I was focused about thinking about my country and its education system. This conference opened my thinking to several countries and partners engaged in the fight for educational equity. It was tremendously inspiring for me.

2014

(Year 2 of LIFT) Again, in Chile I met leaders from various countries engaged in working with governments in their home countries. We shared our challenges, successes, tips and tricks to negotiate government hallways across different contexts. This strengthened my belief that educational equity can be achieved by strengthen the public education system. It may be slow and difficult, but it certainly is possible. In the year after this conference, LIFT partnered with two government partners (one at Pune city level) and another at the state level, expanding its reach to more teachers.

2016

(Year 3 of LIFT) In January 2016 I was selected for Community of Practice, a global fellowship program that has brought together twenty-five teacher development professionals from ten countries. My dialogues on education reform with practitioners from both developed and developing nations have helped me realize that our problems are the same, ergo, there is hope for shared solutions. In fact, this is what pushed me towards going to graduate school and pursue a degree in international education policy.

2017

Being here at Harvard, I have seen the presence of Teach For- programs more strongly than ever. There’s a shared language amongst fellows from different countries. I have in my own program many students from Teach For- programs. I also share my house on campus with a former Ensena Chile fellow (Which we discovered after moving in). Teach For All has created a network of educators from various countries, who speak different languages and may have different ideas of how excellent education will be achieved but are all united in their dream of attaining educational equity for all children. To me, that network is invaluable as I go forward in my work.