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.
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.