Shaheen Mistri was 18 years old when she founded Akanksha Foundation, a non-profit, to provide quality education to the underprivileged children in Mumbai and Pune.
In 2008, Mistri founded Teach For India (TFI) and expanded the vision to include all children across India by building a team of committed leaders. Under the leadership of Mistri, 50, the organisation runs a two-year fellowship programme that provides an opportunity for India’s brightest minds to serve as full-time teachers or TFI Fellows.
Over 600 Fellows will join TFI in September to teach children in some of the nation’s most under-resourced schools. Tackling the current situation, Mistri along with her team is focusing on methods to bridge the digital divide after education shifted to online mode.
Also, the aim is to make education accessible to children, who are deprived of learning because of closure of schools after Covid outbreak. Abhik Bhattacherji, director of communications of TFI, says, “The closure of schools has affected kids who are stuck at home for almost 18 months figuring out how to access any format of learning. We have seen a lot of kids drop out from schools, get engaged in earning a living, return to child labour or get married in the past one and a half years."
“TFI Fellows have taken up a blended approach wherein they are meeting a few kids in small groups wearing masks and maintaining Covid protocols while continuing online teaching-learning through various platforms, electronic gadgets and formats suitable to the children. The aim is to ensure learning continues so that kids do not drop out from school.” According to Mistri, they will face a major challenge after schools reopen. It will require bridging the gap of 18 months of different formats of learning and creating an inclusive environment for all children.
TFI has started a dialogue with experts from the medical fraternity, epidemiologists, scientists, teachers, parents, other NGOs, students and fellows.
Some of the discussions are — What do we teach kids after we reopen schools?; What does reimagined education look like?; Do we need to incorporate a few things such as teaching foundation literacy, conversational skills and values and bring in a concept of emotional learning because students have experienced trauma due to the pandemic; How can we sensitise kids?, etc. TFI believes that the blended mode of education is here to stay as schools will not reopen offline with full capacity anytime soon.
Bhattacherji says, “With only 20 students in a classroom because of social distancing norms, we need to understand that the teaching mode is here to stay. We need to provide a kid access to online education and access to a teacher depending on the child’s level of education. We have to reach out to kids wherever they are through whatever possible formats and mediums.”
In Mumbai, TFI caters to 3,000 children with 143 Fellows. Over Rs 90 lakh of relief was raised in Mumbai and around 1,300 learning devices distributed in the city. Over 69 per cent of students are engaging in synchronous learning against 18 per cent nationally. Teach For India students have 18 weekly instructional hours against 0-9.5 hours nationally.
TFI students receive teaching materials and engage in activities regularly against 41 per cent nationally. The training that TFI imparts to its Fellows is available at Firki, an online teacher training platform.
TFI is open to work with anyone — the government, policy makers, civil society organisation, media house or educationists — to get the right content, right message and right conversation out to the people keeping children at the centre of learning.
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