It's almost dusk as the first day of Teach For India's (TFI) annual training programme for new Fellows comes to an end. As he jaunts up the stairs, a chant of "Mishraaa...Mishraaa!" rises from a corner. Meet the quiet and humble Jai Mishra -- a 2013-15 TFI Fellow and now Program Manager -- who brought change to Pune's educational landscape.
Jai was born and brought up in the small town of Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh. "We stayed in a slum area and my family always struggled to fulfil basic needs like food, clothing and shelter. My father, who is a gold medallist in math, worked relentlessly to provide me with the right kind of education. He is my role model - I have seen him going from being a peon in the Public Works Department to becoming the bank manager of Gramin Bank today," he says with pride reflecting in his eyes.
"[E]ven though he started out being almost five grade levels behind in school, he went on to become a Mechanical Engineer with a score of 89%"
Jai's own academic journey, however, was full of challenges. But even though he started out being almost five grade levels behind in school, he went on to become a Mechanical Engineer with a score of 89%. It was in his final year of engineering, as he was preparing for the Civil Services examinations, that Jai came across Teach For India's vision -- One Day All Children Will Attain An Excellent Education. He shares: "It got me thinking. Having lived in an underprivileged community myself, I wanted to empower children like myself to rise to their potential. As an Indian citizen, it's my responsibility to contribute to my country's development."
Jai's first application to the Teach For India Fellowship in 2012 didn't go through but his belief in educational equity brought him back in 2013. "The Fellowship was extremely challenging. Even the five weeks of rigorous training didn't prepare me for the realities of the classroom. I learnt to work with limited time, I learnt the importance of resourcefulness, I learnt to empathise with my children and think from their perspective. Most of all, I understood the urgency of the need for quality education -- it's what helped me stay focused throughout."
During his time at Shevantabai Dangat Patil PMC School in Pune as a TFI Fellow, Jai taught 32 sixth graders who depended on the midday meal scheme, shared their one-room homes with six-10 family members and could barely read their grade text. "I started with the basics. For example, math lessons began with an instruction on identifying numbers. The school principal actually gave me the keys to the building so I could hold extra classes." In his first year, Jai ended up teaching his class from 7am-7pm for 280 days as against the PMC norm of 220 days!
"Jai was awarded the PMC Teacher of the Year Award and has now been approached by TISS to help them chart out a plan to extend his initiative to the entire state of Maharashtra."
Under Jai's tutelage, the kids began to blossom. "Some of the rowdiest kids became the most disciplined and those who used to score a 0 in math went on to win a gold medal in the International Maths Olympiad!"
Jai soon started to work on Parivartan - his "be the change" project. "My kids inspired me to look for ways to make an impact outside the TFI classrooms as well. I sat with my school principal to brainstorm on potential need gaps and we came across Section 21 of the RTE, which mandates the formation of School Management Committees (SMCs) to facilitate the involvement of all the stakeholders to a quality education. I decided to refresh the SMC process for my school and called a meeting. To my shock, only 6 out of the 15 members turned up."
As Jai tried to highlight the importance of the role of SMC members, he initially faced outright objection on grounds of need and time commitment but his steady dedication finally won them over. Together they decided to involve the parents of all the school students in an attempt to vest them in their children's education. "We organised monthly conferences called Samvaad with a purpose to engage, educate and empower parents and to involve them as partners. We conducted sessions around the RTE, child development, girls' education, cleanliness and shared vision for education. Across the five Samvaads we conducted, we got an average attendance of 280 out of 350. I also saw the SMC members prepare a full-fledged School Development Plan which helped the school admin team to start seventh and eighth grades in the school." For this project, Jai was awarded the PMC Teacher of the Year Award and has now been approached by TISS to help them chart out a plan to extend his initiative to the entire state of Maharashtra.
But there are still miles to go. "As a nation, our actions and words are not aligned," says Jai. "Problems like inequity in education will automatically resolve once we start taking ownership of them instead of blaming someone else. Instead of discussing never-ending issues, let's start working towards finding a solution. Let's make a change today."
Jai hopes to open his own school one day so that no child faces the hardships he has himself seen. "I'm also open to joining politics to bring about some systematic change in the state of education in our country," he says.
People like Jai are our hope for the world. I hope my time sees many more such heroes who will prioritise the needs of others over everything else.
Applications to the 2016-18 Teach For India Fellowship program are now open. Apply now at http://apply.teachforindia.org/user/register
Written By Alankrita Khera - Manager, Communications - Teach For India