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The role we play in ending educational inequity
Shyaam Subramanian, Chief Program Officer, Teach for India and Pradyumna Bhattacharya, Senior Manager, Strategy, Teach for India
The challenge of addressing the crisis of education inequity lies at the root of resolving several societal and humanitarian crises that plague nations around the world – be it poverty, injustice or inequality of various kinds.
Although the root causes of the education crisis can be diverse and numerous, the sustainable solution lies in raising the collective consciousness of the citizens of any country and making them active participants in solving the problem. The reasons for this are two-fold: firstly, at every level – be it policy, administrative, school or a classroom, the problems are complex – cultural, political and technical, and are intertwined. Secondly, while the problems of lack of attainment of quality education are similar across the world, the solutions will need to be rooted in combinations of global and local contexts. Both these factors imply a need for leadership across the board – a form of leadership that embodies grit, commitment, the skill to nurture collective aspiration, deep technical capabilities and result orientation. To sum it up, we need behaviors to change.
India has made massive strides in ensuring access to education for a majority of its children. As Urvashi Sahni notes in a Brookings Report, the enrolment rates have hovered over 96 percent since 2009, with even majority of girl children attending school.
With over 1.4 million schools, 98 percent of habitations with a primary school within a kilometer radius and 92 percent upper-primary schools within a 3 kilometer radius, the issue of access appears to have been solved for. However, in the same past decade when we’ve had such growth, we’ve also realised that placing a child in school doesn’t lead to quality learning. In India where high drop-outs and abysmal learning levels mean that only 42 percent children complete high school, Goal 4 of the SDGs holds a lot of promise. While there are several promising elements in the SDGs – such as acknowledgement of the importance of early childhood education and vocational education, its inclusion of the need for ‘quality’ education, especially towards sustainable development – deserves special mention. Ensuring these are delivered by stakeholders through the entire length of the education system in fact, is probably one of the most ambitious goals set by the SDGs.
The kind of leadership required to reach these ambitious goals can be built through people immersing themselves in the relevant contexts and creating lasting impact and reflecting on what such immersive experiences teach them. Such experiences anchored in the on-the-ground reality build a level of understanding and commitment that is hard to replicate otherwise. In addition, because in experiences such as teaching children, human lives are affected every day, the commitment to sustaining the energy and focus to solve the education problem also rises over time.
The other aspect of such leadership is building a sense of community and collectiveness. Complex problems such as education require buy-in and action from all stakeholders starting with the children being educated who will be the citizens of tomorrow. For the belief (that as many people in the country and around the world as possible need to be a part of this and that everyone does have a role to play) to set in, shared experiences such as Fellowship play a pivotal role. Collaborative problem solving and shared visioning are hard to practise and so experiences that promote these capabilities and attitudes will build the kind of leadership that the society needs.
According to technology research firm Gartner, a third of the jobs in the world are set to be automated by 2035. In that context, the leadership that will make a difference is the one that combines emotional intelligence with cognitive abilities. Experiences such as the Teach For India Fellowship teach our youth the value of emotional labour and the kind of skills and attitudes required to be highly emotional intelligent, and deeply committed to a cause such as educational equity.
Lastly, Fellowship like experiences pass on the responsibility and the freedom to solve problems such as educational inequity to where they truly belong – the youth and the children of the country. By bringing together highly capable and committed people and the children being educated in an intense experience of deep personal growth, we are setting the stage for true democratisation of education – of children and adults alike. That in turn would start to build a movement of leaders comprising children, communities, people who serve them, the policy makers and citizens – which is the true lasting solution to building an equitable society for the future.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
Shyaam oversees the city operations and expansion into new cities. He joined Teach For India from PwC India’s Management Consulting division, where he worked for close to six years. He graduated from the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad in 2008 and prior to that was with Cognizant Technology Solutions for almost four years. Shyaam was drawn by the Teach For India model and the challenge of making possible our vision of education for all children in the country.
Pradyumna Bhattacharya is the Senior Manager for Strategy and Learning at Teach for India. He leads organisational initiatives for monitoring and learning. He also co-leads and supports primary research in Teach For India sites, conducts research on education systems and impact measurement and supports strategy for student assessments.