We all have been mildly aware of the fact that an increasing number of MBA graduates are choosing to work for the non-profit sector, either as entrepreneurs or employees of organizations driven more by the need for social good and not commercial profit. We came across one such rather unique and refreshing instance of a venture that has employed graduates from some of the better-known business schools as primary school teachers at government schools in low-income group areas. At Teach For India, watching MBA graduates apply their management skills to teach a class of third-graders can make you question stereotypical notions about products of business schools.
A bunch of MBAs have taken to teaching through an organization known as Teach For India or TFI, a ‘movement’ (based on a similar movement in the USA called Teach For America, and not to be confused with the Times Group’s Teach India) to harness people who in future, are likely to rise up to become leaders in their domain and hence will be able to help improve the state of primary education in India by influencing those around them. Started by Shaheen Mistry in 2006, TFI has adopted a number of government schools in the Mumbai and Pune area and is empowering them with the promise of highly-qualified, young and energetic teachers, known in TFI-ese as ‘fellows’.
The TFI website reads, “Teach For India recruits the most outstanding college graduates and young professionals to teach in low-income schools for two years. Fellows go through a rigorous selection process in which TFI evaluates them for academic excellence, demonstrated leadership, a commitment to the community, critical thinking and perseverance, among other qualities.”
The fellows are hired for a two-year fulltime fellowship in teaching where they teach kids up-till the third standard in the many low-level schools of the society. At the end of two years, they are expected to have a grasp over the education scene in India (or the lack of it, some might say) and work further towards improving it. The National Manager for fellowship recruitment, Shveta Raina says, “For long-term impact, we need people who are likely to make it to corporate CEO roles, to high levels of leadership in the government, or to influential positions in the education and social sectors, so that they can change the system and transform education in this nation.” Many TFI fellows are on a sabbatical from their fulltime jobs in a corporate and are often assured re-employment at the end of the fellowship. As TFI fellows, they receive a salary that is enough for a respectable sustenance.
Although all fellows receive basic training in teaching, they are free to experiment and improvise once they are inside the classroom, making for a number of creative teaching methods in TFI-adopted schools. For instance Ashish Bansal, an MBA from the KJ Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research, Mumbai, who joined TFI right after he graduated from b-school, has a ‘big goal’ for his class and ’secondary goals’ that lead to the big goal. The ‘big goal’ is a book, which the students wthreeill write and present at the end of the program. Knowledge of say, English grammar, which is essential for writing a book, will become the ’secondary goal’.
Bansal draws a parallel between his work and financial investment. The low-income locality in which he teaches, parents would rather send their kids to work than to school. He thus considers having regular meetings with parents and providing updates about their children’s progress in class as investment. When students come to school regularly and with a packed lunch box, he counts the success as his return on investment.
The idea at TFI is, that after two years of teaching experience, a fellow will become a leader, with his class of 20-30 third graders as his organization. The teacher has to lead the students (his organization) towards a goal and therefore, every minute is an earning opportunity.
For students, Bansal has created role models such as Lal Bahadur Shastri and APJ Abdul Kalam whose stories of success despite their modest backgrounds inspire the students to see their immediate situation in school as something constructive that will lead to a better life.
Siddharth Agarwal, another fellow at TFI and an MBA from SP Jain Center of Management, Dubai & Singapore works on a slightly different principle though. He treats his students as his customers and applies his knowledge of ‘customer centricity’ to bring the best out of them. His knowledge of business acumen helps him make decisions for his class that make learning more profitable.
Veena Verma, HR Manager at Godrej, who is on a sabbatical to work for TFI and is an MBA from Symbiosis Center of Management and Human Resource Development (SCMHRD), Pune considers students as a part of an organization and uses her HR and Organizational Behaviour skills to understand and thus, work with them
Not all TFI fellows are MBAs, though. Nor is being an MBA a prerequisite to become a TFI fellow. Take for instance Girish Sharma and Vipul Shaha, both of whom graduated with BBA from the Symbiosis University are making use of what they learned during BBA for teaching. For example, According to Sharma, the Japanese ‘5S system’ which defines cleanliness, efficiency and discipline standards can be as much applied in a class as in a company. For Shaha, critical thinking helps him find tackle daily situations in the class and data tracking helps him use the student data effectively.
TFI might be a great opportunity for a lot of you who wish to break into the non-profit education sector but aren’t quite sure how to. Their Admissions webpage details how they recruit, in case you are interested.