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.

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