Helping kids realize their full potential.

RED LORRY YELLOW LORRY

http://www.redlorryyellowlorry.in/

The idea of red lorry yellow lorry perhaps started before we were placed in our school at Teach For India, but it really grew in the time we spent away from the classroom after the Fellowship.

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Sree (Shomasree Majumdar) and I (Safdar Rahman) were two Fellows in Seelampur in the cohort of  ’12 and had known each other well before. However, we collaborated on a play called ‘haroun ki dilchasp kahaani’ which we performed with kids from various schools at the end of our Fellowship. Special mention goes to Ghazal Gulati, who basically put things in place for the play. When we spent time doing our own things after the Fellowship (Sree travelled and volunteered at various places, I was working on a feature film in Bangalore), we realized we were missing what we really wanted to do – which was basically to have fun with kids.  And watch them grow in a space which they owned, where they set their own rules and wrote their own script. Social inclusion was something that we both passionately believed in, and there in we formed our crux.

We are a small organization with small dreams. We look forward to doing more workshops, reaching out to more kids and letting more kids find their own voice. What they choose to do with that voice, is up to them.

We’d love to unearth a future film maker, or a Pulitzer winning author or a talented architect, but that’s not our aim. 🙂

At red lorry yellow lorry, we like to call ourselves a spark. A spark that believes that children should have a voice and like any other voice, one that needs to be nurtured, protected and allowed to flourish.

We are just starting off on two projects currently. The first, (not very imaginatively) called the Pilot Project, is a six month program where we run simultaneous workshops in high-income schools and in shelters, focusing on six different facts of the arts. These workshops are facilitated by young talented professional artists, thus also providing mentorship to students who may wish to engage with the arts at a deeper level. We then try and facilitate interactions between the two groups of students and exhibit their work collectively.

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The second project is called the Film Lorry Project where we train four young adults from the shelters that we’re working with in the art of using a camera. This is a year long project divided into two halves. The first where the students study the camera and know the living daylights out of it. The second where we organize paid gigs, weddings, events for them to shoot with the support of our training team. We also hope to be able to raise enough revenue to help our students shoot a documentary film, thus giving them an opportunity to express themselves in ways unprecedented. The aim is that students are professionally skilled by the end of the year to be able to atleast find jobs at local videography stores/assist wedding photographers/work in the audio visual industry as camera assistants.

PROJECT AWAAZ

https://www.facebook.com/projectaawaaz

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While working in the education sector, we had been noticing that school curriculum was gravely lacking. Somehow “educated” didn’t equal “knowledgeable”, “aware” or “smart”.  Children were becoming mute spectators of information and machines of rote-learning.  We knew that we had to start working to supplement existing school curriculum to make students more aware and more critical thinking individuals. Furthermore, seeing how disconnected curriculum was from real world developments, we realized that it became important to educate students about important things that concern their day-to-day lives, such as politics, religion and the environment, gender sensitivity, society, rights etc. Most importantly, we wanted to make coming to school and attending school more fun than it was. So we started Project Awaaz.

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It was started as Teach For India Fellows’ initiative by us – Two 2013 Fellows – Tarang Tripathi and Puneet Prakash, along with Vibhor Mathur, a Hindu College graduate who has worked with various NGOs, and in collaboration with Teach for India since 2012(Project Leap). It was subsequently joined by another 2013 Fellow Pooja Pal. Currently our core team consists of Tarang Tripathi, Pooja Pal, Vibhor Mathur and two 2014 fellows, Juhi Kumari and Jatin Ahuja.

Our work is aimed at building a platform where students can explore themselves and give voice to their thoughts. We want to work towards making our students more confident, better decision makers and well informed.           Through our activities, we seek to ensure that students become more participative and responsive. We train students in:

  • General Awareness
  • Public speaking
  • Critical thinking

In our previous phase, we worked with 25 TFI classrooms in over 20 schools. The phase culminated with a showcase where over 80 children expressed their views on diverse topics in the field of politics, religion and environmental concerns. We saw students who would not interact in class get up on stage and confidently talk about issues which even most adults shy away from. The success of the showcase made us realize that even we hadn’t properly understood the magnitude of problems in the current education system, and how much more there is to student than his academic brilliance. Currently we are preparing for our second phase with TFI and MCD classes and are also starting our work with private schools.

ALOHOMORA

https://www.facebook.com/UnlockMyPotential?fref=ts

https://alohomoraworkshops.wordpress.com/

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We started Alohomora in December 2014 with the objective to help children, across income segments, realize their potential through experiential workshops, meaningful interactions and live projects with partner social organizations. We want to enable entrepreneurial mindsets like taking initiative, perseverance, inter-personal skills, creativity, resourcefulness and taking charge to turn children into problem solvers of future.

We have designed 3 different modules to impart key entrepreneurial skills.

  1. Children for Change – A design thinking workshop which focuses on skills of taking initiative, problem solving, understanding perspectives and project management for grades 4 to 12.
  2. Talk Up – An expression building workshop encompassing various forms of communication – theatre, role plays, discussions, debates, negotiations and on-stage presentations for grades 4 to 7.
  3. LifeSkills – A workshop to teach values and life skills to children through games and activities. Each exciting activity focuses on 1 skill and builds on the learning’ through the workshop.

11130234_819921004767372_7518225439490151877_nOur flagship event, ‘Children for Change’ focuses on problem solving skills and citizenship by getting children to learn ‘Design Thinking Framework’ and apply their learning to a live challenge presented by a social organization. We are also designing an entrepreneurship development construct for students at-risk of dropping out of formal education system. The first edition of ‘Children for Change’ in May’15 saw participation from 3 NGOs – Raahgiri Foundation, Indus Action and Khel Khel Main and 9 top schools of NCR including The Heritage School, Pathways World School, Mothers International etc.

DivakarWe, Parinita Jain and Divakar Sankhla, are Fellows of 2012 cohort. Divakar, with about 5 years of corporate experience, also supports some NGOs and is passionate about involving children in the process of societal change. Parinita, a graduate from Univ. of Michigan, is passionate about deriving learning experiences out of games and activities. We are a small and energetic team of people with a healthy mix of experience and exposure. Our facilitators have studied in renowned institutions like IIT, IIM, Univ. of Michigan and have substantial corporate experience with organizations like Citibank and PepsiCo.

We definitely are elated!

pic3 (1)The feeling of getting the students through the board exams and into college is quite inexplicable. When we look back today, it brings a flash of memories…every single one carved so well in our minds. This school is indeed unique- totally one of its kind!

8 hours in school, seemed unimaginable. Not just for students, but even teachers. It all started with putting down procedures, school values, uniforms and schedules. Even then it was a daunting task. But we worked as a TEAM.

The school has been functioning keeping in mind certain crucial pointers to provide a holistic learning experience. These questions have guided the team at every stage of the design – investing the parents in the mission through an orientation program, choosing a long eight-hour-day of instruction (as opposed to five-six hours in most other schools), spending break-time with students building personal relationships, doing remedial classes before and after school and even on holidays, having a daily reading slot, choosing to focus on theme-based units in languages despite the pressure to finish the textbooks, giving career awareness and exposure to students, offering career guidance and counselling support through a structured advisory program – where each teacher acts as a parent for a group of students, guiding them through day to day challenges.

The school values are what we see most of our students living by. Not just the students, many teachers, at different points in time have exemplified these values.pic1

Challenges? A zillion. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that every passing week brought a fresh challenge. As our Advisories (Counselling sessions) with the students progressed, we began to come to terms with the harsh realities of our kids. Some lived without electricity; some woke up at 4 am, cleaning cars to gather money for daily expenses. Some faced the brutalities of being a girl child, while others traveled for more than an hour and a half to get to and from school. Each student gave it their best shot. As teachers, the challenges spanned from catering to mixed learning levels to using eight hours in the best possible manner. Being at the top of our planning and keeping in mind the big picture. Working together to mentor students who struggled the most, as well as creating rigorous activities for the high performing students. Enveloping values with every class while being very strict about behaviour expectations. Making students ready for life, while not losing the sense of their day-to-day difficulties. Addressing student needs while keeping in mind the parent expectations.

The focus was never only the board exams. We did tend towards this goal, but were always mindful of becoming better humans, making our little contributions to the society and eventually being happy.

Today, when we look at the kids seeking admissions to the allotted colleges, cheering each other for making it to some of the top colleges, supporting each other to make choices, volunteering with us to help out in the art class or simply being around in school, convincing their parents of their choices and making such crucial life decisions, we are filled with immense pride, joy and hope.

Our school leader often spoke of Truth and Hope. And we have not only witnessed but also been active participants- both producers and consumers- of this play of Truth and Hope.

Chinmaya Potnis teaches literacy at the Acharya Vinoba Bhave School and was a 2012 Teach For India Fellow.

 

iTeach – A Collective Action Story.

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iTeach is an organization that started in Pune through the collective efforts of two 2013 Fellows – Soumya Jain and Prashant Mehrishi . I teach has two parts to it – the iTeach Fellowship and the iTeach Schools. The general idea is to try capture best practices by creating excellence in the iTeach schools and distribute it out to other teachers, schools and kids through the iTeach Fellowship.

Soumya Jain tells us more about iTeach and talks about the efforts of various people within Teach For India who helped with the setup of the iTeach Schools and in training teachers for the iTeach Fellowship.

The iTeach Schools

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iTeach schools are two grade 8 to 10 schools started with the objective to provide quality secondary education to students since Government Schools end at grade 7 in the Maharashtra Schooling System and there is a huge dropout rate.

In Pune alone there are 330 PMC schools but only 26 of them go all the way to grade 10. There are 50 English Medium Schools and only 2 of them go up till grade 10.

For now, Sweta Sarkar and I TFI’13 are leading the two schools with around 120 kids in each school spread across 8th and 9th grade.  Both the schools are running in Public Private Partnership (PPP) where the Government is providing the infrastructure to us. Both the school has 8 teachers and supporting staff members.

The iTeach Fellowship

The main focus here is to provide high quality new teachers to high need schools. We work to recruit teachers who graduate out of B.Ed colleges with a high theoretical knowledge base and we put them in low income private schools and train them on the job for  the first year, and it’s a paid Fellowship.  These teachers are to stay in the system in the long term and we started the program with an attempt in giving them strong start. We hope we can flood the system eventually with great teachers in all schools.

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It all started because during our Fellowship our hearts went out to teachers.  Prashant and I, met at the Entrepreneurship Club which the Pune Staff Team had started, during our Fellowship. We got talking about the many issues plaguing the education sector, but we realized soon that we both agreed that teachers were blamed for the low student outcomes but they did not have enough support to do better.  The way we saw it, it wasn’t the teachers failing the kids, it was the system failing the teachers despite the best efforts of the teacher. It wasn’t an issue of the lack of hard work or not knowing what to teach, but of not knowing the best way to teach and lack of support and motivation.

Last year we piloted our teacher training program with around 50 existing teachers across two schools as our Be The Change Project (BTCP). Through reflections and learning, we decided to switch our model a bit and now we hire the teachers ourselves, assign them to schools and train them for the first year.  Ours is a social enterprise instead of a non-profit organization, as we expect the schools to pay for the teachers we provide for them and provide a premium since we are working to select high quality teachers and train them.

Who are the people that made this possible?

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The unique thing about our Teacher Training Program was that we didn’t want to duplicate efforts to create our own . We knew there was so much expertise already out there . We created partnerships, with Arvind Gupta to get science resources, with Teach For India, for English and Math training, with Firki for General Pedagogy and with Bhartiya Jain Sangathan for value education. In total we tied up with  6 organizations.  Just like Flipkart is the aggregator platform for different brands and products ours is an aggregator platform for training. In addition to the support from the above mentioned organizations, we  went through an accelerator program for 3 months that was sponsored by Teach For All, and it really helped us define our business model so by the beginning of this academic year we were all set to start.

With respect to the schools, we are a lot of people from the 2013 cohort, plus the Teach For India Staff in Pune. Sandeep (the City Director of Teach For India Pune) and Dhwani Thakkar (the Development Manager )helped us raise most of the funds. Sandeep had a very clear vision around having two schools for our kids going to secondary since the start and he was the one who pitched the idea to the board and then to second year Fellows last year, inviting them to take up the responsibility of setting schools us post the Fellowship which is where I came in. The Aspiring School Leader Committee started by Sandeep and Adhishree Parasnis (the Alumni Impact Manager), made me really interested in the idea of School Leadership especially on the day when we went through story of KIPP schools in the US. Anil Borkar (the Community Liason Officer) and Ashwath Bharat (the Governement Relations Manager) helped  us to get permissions and get everything down on paper, they supported us through spending  more or less every afternoon with the Shikshan Mandal pushing this process to getting the school building.

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In the list of 2013 Fellows, like I mentioned before  – Prashant and I were the Cofounders – while I lead the iTeach schools, Prashant is responsible for the iTeach Fellowship. It’s a 70-30 split for the both of us where we support each other.  I am also serving as the School Leader for one of the School and Sweta Sarkar is heading the other school.  Shreyas Vatsa and Mohini Pandey have joined as teachers with us, which is essentially something like their 3rd year of the Fellowship and they have supported us immensely in aspects other than teaching. They are helping to really define what excellent teaching could be for Secondary School. Shreyas works a lot on team building and the set up for the school while Mohini works on things relating to curriculum and parterning with the Akanksha Foundation, Kendriya Vidyalaya and Avsara Academy to learn more about what 9th and 10th curriculum looks like. We also have three, 2014 Fellows and one 2015 Fellow who will be completing their Fellowship at the iTeach Schools now. From getting quotes from Vendors for Benches, to finalizing what kind of uniforms the kids will have the team has worked immensely on every aspect. We had 2 other 2014 fellows who helped us  in getting students by going to the community and informing the parents about our schools, and investing in them to enroll their kids. It is with this strong team and the support that we have received that it has been possible to run iTeach successfully so far.

Raman’s Reflections from the Transformative School Leaders Workshop in London

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I head Shanti Niketan English School, which is situated in Village Areri, in a small town called Mahemdavad in Gujarat. The mission of my school is to bridge the quality of education offered in bigcities in villages. It is a partner school of Leadership Boulevard Private Limited. My work as the School Leader is to coach teachers, students and parents towards a better life path and to look after the smooth functioning of the school in all other areas – operations and enrolments.

I got the golden opportunity to be a part of Transformative School Leaders Workshop along with two other TFI Alums who are School Leaders currently – Rahul Gupta and Jayeeta Saha. The workshop was held in London in the month of March. It was a fantastic week of learning, where I got a chance to even reflect on my own journey as a School Leader and also got to interact with School Leaders from across the Teach For All Network (there were 8 other School Leaders/Vice Principal from different countries). We spent the first day getting to know each others’ life stories, having a discussion about what makes a school transformative and what are the important characteristics for our contexts. The second and third day were spent in observing different schools, and getting to talk to the School Leaders of those schools. The last day comprised of several brainstorming and knowledge giving sessions where we decided the top 3 priorities for our schools and what qualities do we (as School Leaders) need to be having to be able to accomplish those priorities.

I saw three different schools – Reach Academy (http://www.reachacademyfeltham.com/), King Solomon (http://kingsolomonacademy.org/), and Oak Hill Academy (http://www.aatoakhill.org/). All the three schools were great examples of academic excellence and had clear core values to make sure that students get there. Each person I saw and interacted with in each of these schools seemed really passionate about what they were doing and every person knew the end goal – providing an excellent education to all the children in their schools.

11079612_10204440482231976_2574206173902743986_nHowever, one thing that I missed out in this trip was asking one question – “How has been the journey of the teachers there and whether the work that they are doing in those schools havechanged their way of thinking (towards children’s education) in anyway? What are the things that they believed will never happen, but have happened with the children? And what has caused that shift in the mindset?” I shall surely keep this question in mind for future trainings!

Overall, the trip helped me in a lot of ways. Soon after I got back, I introduced the system of“Coaching Hours” for the students in my school (I saw remedial classes happening there for students every day, so I thought of doing something similar in my school) where all teachers spend time on remediating specific subjects every 1st and 3rd Saturdays to all students in school. I created a Teacher Development Plan wherein I specified vision for all my teachers in general and I am working on it currently. The trip gave me the time out to reflect on what my strengths and weaknesses are, and ofcourse the motivation to do more each day. I have a 100 children in school now (I started with 50 when I started), and I look forward to reaching out to more in the near future!

Raman Bahl was a 2012 Teach For India Fellow

Finding Myself.

If I were to describe ‘me’ 2 years ago, it would be a traveler lost in a dessert and surrounded by dunes of low self-esteem. I would get extremely good marks, yet, just like any other girl I saw myself walking towards this cycle of life that has been passed on for ages.

School – 12th grade – Marriage – Family – Kids – Death

I had a lot of questions for my teachers, mother and my relatives but they always remained locked within the bars of respect, faith and discipline. This was ‘my’ world but whenever I would peep out of my window, I would see 16 years old girls getting married, being beaten up by their so called life partners who think marriage is a deal and nothing more.

I was preparing myself mentally and emotionally to tolerate all this because I was aware I had to live in the same kind of world. I would be embarrassed to tell people that I live in the narrowest lanes of the most infamous slum area called Lohiyanagar and then one small decision started to change everything.

I was doing well academically, but God blessed me with another talent called ‘Acting’. I would act out different problems in our society in various school programs and this became my only way to express my caged thoughts and emotions. Luckily, this was noticed by one of the Teach For India Fellows, Ahona didi, who took me to audition for the ‘Maya’. Without much knowledge of what it meant or what it is about, I agreed.

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At that very moment, while stepping outside of my house, my uncle and cousins disapprovingly said ‘Don’t go! This is not the time for all this. Remember that you are a girl’.

At this juncture, I mustered the courage, silently listened to my heart and took that step which has got me so far. With ‘Maya’ my life changed, new paths ushered and the magic of love was unraveled.

Rehearsals at Institute - Kill a Dragon

Whether it was learning to help each other or giving random hugs on the streets that didn’t cost us anything but was worth a lot for others or understanding he values of courage, compassion and wisdom and the influence of head, heart and hand in our lives. Maya was a life changing experience through which I learnt that there is so much to learn and so much more to give, receive and change. Every single class became a priceless gift that gave me laughter, joy, love, a reason to reflect and moment to cherish and share.

Suddenly, all unanswered questions seemed to be rising with courage against the conventional irrational beliefs and everything changed.

My dreams, my hopes, my religion, my address, my family and my purpose.

We would sing a song, discuss values, play games and learn new words; all at the same time without realizing it was actually the integration of academics, values and mindsets, exposure and access.

Kids singing at old age home in Mahalaxmi

My dreams before: To get married and have a happy family and to be a promising home maker.  Today I dream of bringing back joy and laughter to the young girls and women trapped in the brothels.

My hope was to never go on the wrong path. My hope today is that every girl breaks the glass ceiling that is limiting them and to breath I freedom.

My address was limited to a small slum called Lohiyanagar and today I feel the entire Earth is my home and every single human being is a part of my family and I belong to religion called Humanity.

My purpose was to keep my family happy and today I want to give, I want to live for others, unconditionally.

This article is written by Priyanka Patil – a 10th standard student of Epiphany English Medium School in Pune, who was a part of the Maya Musical.

Using Assessments for School Reform

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The buzz about the budget so far has been whether Arun Jaitley has delivered a big-bang or a low key budget, about the increases in tax exemption, the type of goods that will be more or less expensive and the possibility of the goods and services tax. Hidden in these details is a small glimmer of hope for the education sector and signs that the government may be prepared to adopt a more nuanced and refined outlook as far as schooling is concerned. Budgetary allocations for education this year delineated approximately INR 27 crore for a new activity labeled ‘school assessments’, though the document does not provide clarity on what these assessments could entail. We draw upon our experience of conducting these exercises and highlight two types of assessments – a need assessment for schools and a performance assessment of the school. For either of the two, the aim should be moving beyond the input driven RTE norms to focus on outcomes.

Assessing the needs of the school to steer away from one size fits all approach

Schools do not operate in isolation – each school is a microcosm of different circumstances, culture, attitudes etc. Our experience of assessing schools indicates that many schools have needs that the government is unable to provide for because they have not identified the gaps and even more importantly the root causes behind the same. Conducting a needs assessment therefore helps to understand the requirements of different schools across the country. Many might argue that through the National Achievement Survey conducted by the SSA, the government does measure the learning outcomes of students. However, a needs assessment ideally is different from a mere ‘student’ assessment. Any assessment that does not take into account the community, circumstances and conditions of the schools is likely to be incomplete. A comprehensive needs assessment will take into account all the stakeholders within the education system including the school principals, teachers, students, parents, influential community members, School management Committee and the government. In many cases, the assessment might identify that there are conflicting views between these different stakeholders and conducting assessment that incorporates these varied views is an acknowledgement that the school does not exist in isolation from the community. For example, the student learning outcomes might be low and the teachers might highlight lack of parental participation and support as a reason. However, parents might feel that they cannot participate either because of their livelihood situation or in many cases simply do not know how to get involved. Through an assessment, these stakeholders can be meaningfully engaged in a dialogue to unearth root causes and secure buy-in from everyone.

Assessing school’s performance in a standardized and comprehensive way

There is substantial evidence from both government and non-government sources to suggest that while India has made tremendous progress in ensuring that more children enroll in school, performance across output based indicators such as reading skills, numeracy skills has generally been low. One of the reasons suggested for this perceived lack of progress in improving the quality of education is that we currently do not have any standardized way of defining and measuring the performance of schools (not just students) across the country and doing so at a disaggregated level. Very little or no information is available that can help us understand the performance of different schools and obtain nuanced information in terms of geographies (urban, rural, hilly terrains etc.), different systems of management (government, private, government aided etc.), different types of governments’ involvement (local government, ashram shalas, special centre run schools etc) among others. Having this kind of information can be extremely useful in identifying trends and common features of schools that perform well and schools that are not performing as well. It also affords the opportunity to take targeted interventions that address specific needs groups that are weak.

Assessments are not just an academic research exercise

The education sector seems to abound in different types of assessments and there is wariness around introducing more such exercises. It is important to realize that while we may not need ‘more’ of these, we definitely need ‘standardized and consistent’ ones. School assessments are not just a platform to understand the missing portions but also emphasize positive experiences and best practices. It then becomes even more imperative to share these success stories and positive actions. Some examples include assessing cluster wise performance of schools and having high performing schools mentor their counterparts from low performing schools (as done in Shanghai). Perhaps the biggest benefit that could stem from this initiative is the possibility of greater levels of transparency and accountability among not just the government but all school administrators, principals and any organizations providing support schools in India.

The way forward

Going forward, it is extremely important for the Ministry of HRD and other concerned government machineries to work with external agencies such as consultants, experts, social organizations and all other stakeholders to come up with a holistic measurement standard that incorporates both quantitative (input measures such as infrastructure, availability of teaching aid etc) and qualitative (pedagogy, school leadership, aspiration levels among students, extent of extracurricular activities etc.) aspects. There has been a lot of research on these issues and therefore leveraging the existing knowledge and creating a collaborative set up to initiate the school assessments is absolutely crucial. This small step offers an exciting opportunity but the usefulness of it all will depend on how it is executed. We hope that the idea does get translated into action well and ultimately helps to accelerate the reform process that the education system in India truly needs.

Poorvaja was formerly a member of Teach For India’s National Alumni Impact team and is currently a Research Associate at Samhita Social Ventures, a leading social sector consulting firm based out of Mumbai. Prior to her role at Teach For India, she completed her Master’s degree in International Development from the London School of Economics and Political Science. You can reach out to her at poorvaja@samhita.org.

*This article is adapted from

http://samhita.org/budget-allocations-for-school-assessment-the-first-signs-of-an-evidenced-based-process/