The ABC of Indian Education System

Anugraha Rao
Saturday, 12 October 2019

Sandeep Rai, Chief of City Operations, Teach For India, gives an overview of his book, Grey Sunshine. The book is a collection of powerful stories from the organisation's 10 year journey

Grey Sunshine — Stories from Teach for India authored by Sandeep Rai, Chief of City Operations, Teach for India, tells us many stories of youngsters who struggle to get an education. We are battling an educational crisis, an alarming reality, that we choose to ignore. Grey Sunshine sheds light on that reality – in which half of the country’s Std V students can’t read the Std II level text in their local language. The book, published by Aleph Book Company, was launched in the city on Friday. Ahead of the launch, we chatted with Rai, who has been a part of Teach for India (TFI) movement for more than a decade now. 

Journey of hope
Talking about the rich experiences that he has garnered at TFI, Rai says, “It has been an incredible journey filled with a tremendous amount of challenges, conviction and hope. I’ve experienced a lot in the past 13-14 years and I would say that it’s been a journey of growth.” 

Rai started his career as a teacher with Teach For America, teaching junior school kids. As a corp member for TFA, he taught 120 students, seventh and eighth grade science. Coming from a family that always wanted him to become a doctor or a businessman, Rai never thought that he would become a teacher one day. But he realised that if he had to make a difference, he had to become a teacher.
 
To understand the problems in detail, Rai had to spend more time with people from low-income background and thus he ended up teaching for Teach For America in Washington DC for two years. He was placed in a low-income government school there. The kids coming to the class had faced poverty, violence, drugs and abuse. But those same kids showed Rai that they were capable of achieving anything that they wanted.

“My kids surpassed all of my expectations. They achieved things that I never thought they would and they also filled me with a lot of hope. The experience of those two years helped me a lot and has kept me going for the past 13-14 years,” he says.

To teach is to serve the country 
Establishing an organisation that works for a social cause and running it successfully is not easy. Challenges become a part of your everyday life. The same goes for Teach For India. Compared to America, poverty is much more deeper and wider in India. We have 320 million kids in the country and 76 per cent of these children drop out of school before Std X. Fiftythree per cent can’t perform simple division when they are in Std V. The statistics are unheard of anywhere else in the world at the level they are present in India.

“At the same time we have kids, across India, who have more potential than I have ever seen. They are smart and they have the potential to do anything they want. But they are in an education system that is unable to deliver,” says Rai. 

“In the initial years of the organisation, we faced a lot of challenges. But there was lot of excitement too. In those days, we worked at getting young Indians to believe that teaching is a part of developing leadership and service is the best thing they could offer to the country. Those challenges still exist. However, I’ve also seen parents who want their kids to learn and grow. Teachers, principals and administration are trying their best to give the kids an education they need and deserve,” he adds.

People in the book
The stories of such kids, parents and teachers are featured in Grey Sunshine. To get people to share their stories, Rai took time to befriend them. He knew some of the kids through TFI programme and others he got to know once he started to communicate in the community. “We lack in formulating a combination of policy design and policy implementation. I think we have many officials with really good intentions for kids. I also agree that we face a lot of issues in the implementation of laws made with good intentions like the Right to Education. Over the last two decades, we have made a lot of progress in this country. We have solved the issue of access to education for a large number of kids. We have enrolled children in mass number, but now that we have got them to the classroom, we need to figure out how to make sure they are learning at the levels that are high. We need policies that focus on outcome more,” points out Rai.

When asked if these kids too become a part of the movement, he says, “The kids are not old enough yet. The oldest ones are in college and we hope that they come back and join us. We do have a few kids from Akanksha Foundation who have joined the fellowship and are doing very well.” 

Hoping to change the grey sunshine into happy and dappled sunshine very soon, Rai says, “The reality is that we have a long way ahead of us because of the enormity of the challenges that we face. I would love to see the shift within my lifetime. We need a lot of people to figure out things to make this process faster.”

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