For the past two weeks, I have been volunteering with Teach for India at the Kilbil School in Janwadi, a low-income neighborhood in the city of Pune in Maharashtra. I chose to volunteer with Teach for India because I had heard and read about many of their nation-wide efforts to give an excellent education to as many children as possible and to end educational inequity in India. TFI is currently working with nearly 23,000 students across India. TFI has an extremely high impact on the schools and students it works with. Teach for India strives to change the fact that four percent of children in India never start school, that fifty-eight percent do not finish primary school, and that ninety percent do not finish school, thereby significantly limiting career options and earning capabilities.
I decided to get involved in this project because I wanted to help (in whatever small way that I could) bridge the gap between those that are already receiving a solid education and those that are not getting the education that they deserve. Teach for India has been intervening at the Kilbil School with the current sixth grade (150 students) for about five years.In my two weeks at Kilbil, I helped one of the three fellows from Teach for India teach his fifty sixth graders about writing, reading, and algebra.
The day that I started volunteering at Kilbil, the students were given the prompt for a balanced essay, “Should uniforms be compulsory at school? Why or why not?” and were also told that if the essays were good enough, they would be given to the adminstration to consider. This was a question that had never crossed the students mind, they saw no other alternative to wearing a uniform. This piece gave the students a voice, that they otherwise would not have had on this issue, as students are most frequently looked to as inferior people who can be beat, yelled at, who are meant to memorize thousands of facts without giving any true thought to them, and whose somewhat controversial thoughts are not worthy of recognition by several teachers and the adminstration (this is most definitely not the case in the TFI grade). Obviously at Friends we have quite a lot of freedom with what we wear and are able to express ourselves through our clothing, so it was interesting to me that the students were having so much trouble finding one reason that not having uniform s be complusory would be a better option for them (other than the extremely valid reason of: the cost of uniforms is too much– 800INR, -$13 a year–and places a lot of stress on the Kilbil parents). It eventually came to the girls, “We could wear pretty dresses everyday!”, but it took much longer (and many thought-provoking questions) for the boys to think of why it might be beneficial not to have uniforms at school. Not only did this piece teach the kids to open their eyes to various alternatives to their way of living, but it also opened mine. Something I thought I was against, having uniforms, could actually be beneficial (I’m not suggesting we get uniforms at Friends). Uniforms give students a sense of identity, comfort, and belonging. Having a uniform eliminates the inate concerns some kids have about what to wear each day. Having a uniform might even set up a more effective learning environment for younger students who have more trouble focusing than older students. This was just one of the many things I learned while teaching at Kilbil.
Teach for India has not just established a dream, but many amazing ways to achieve that dream with the help of fellows, alumni, volunteers, and alternative ways of teaching to those of the extremely traditional schools in India.
If you are interested in learning more about Teach for India, click here http://www.teachforindia.org/?home=2.