Teach for India

I have been fascinated by Teach for India. So when I met a TFI fellow, and that too my age, I was keen to invite him to visit our school. In TFI all teachers are addressed as Didi or Bhaiya. His first three months at Royal Roses school were spent in understanding how the school works. For a person with an IT background, signing on the muster was a new experience. His current assignment is teaching math to 9th and 10th standard children. The challenge is these are kids who have in his own words ‘Bade Shing’, that is, they are sprouting horns. Because of No failure policy till class 8, there are quite a few students in Manoj’s class who don’t even know what is a jod-akshar. When asked about the alphabet, they stop at P. They don’t understand the concept of odd even. What has been done at Royal Roses school is that the class has been split into two sub-classes of 25, based on their capacities. Basic English and Math are taught separately to these classes.

Homework is an important element of follow up for the TFI teacher. Students are forced be consistent in their homework. However, homework follow-up can take up to 15 minutes in a 35 minute class. So specific students have been made in charge of specific homework. Work is supposed to be submitted in the form of loose sheets. These sheets are collected by the student volunteers and given to Manoj. Correction of these sheets is done by him at home. Manoj believes that instead of having Parent Teacher meet, we should have Parent Teacher Student meets. The triangle is important. These meets are best done at the level of individual students. Pressure is exerted on a student if both parent and teacher are present in this meeting.

The 9 standard class at Roses school, is particularly known for not being disciplined. The School has 500 kids. In order to encourage discipline they have announced a contest Kaun Banega Discipline Master. Manoj challenged his class that we need to win this prize at least once. The School has a student Council, which has got different kind of ministers. One of the 9th standard students, is a Minister for discipline in this Council. Manoj asked him for suggestions to improve discipline. After hearing out all the suggestions, he himself made one. What cannot be measured cannot be improved. A graph paper chart was brought to class. And a day wise plot of how many students are late, how many not wearing uniform was made. The plot started with 15 students and by the time the measurement got over it was down to 3. As a result 9th standard ended up sharing the prize with 6th standard last week.

PTP teachers had a Question and Answer session with Manoj.

Q: Are failures fair?

You cannot put fishes in a race to climb trees. We need to find out strengths and measure accordingly.

Q: How was your interview?

The interview is done by TFI. They then nominate teachers to one of the 55 schools that they support in Pune. Till 3 years ago TFI had an age limit of 30 years. Now it has been removed. However there are only two teachers who are above 40 in TFI Pune. There are 22 permanent teachers at Roses School and 6 teachers from TFI. The class which he is currently teaching, has been in TFI intervention since grade 3. Manoj is a bit disappointed with student quality in spite of such long term intervention. He liked our practice of mixed classrooms. It reminds him of Montessori schools where senior students teach junior students.

Q: What do you plan to do after your TFI stint gets over? Also, are you able to make a difference in 2 years?

The complaint that a lot of permanent teachers have is that in 2 years, TFI teachers ‘Patti padha Ke Nikal Jate Ho’ afterwards we have to jhelo-fy. It is a fact that the young TFI teachers generally tend to be friendlier. To the extent that students don’t even stand up when teachers enter their class. To be fair, students do get attached to the TFI teachers – and are disappointed when they leave. But they do get replaced by a fresh set of teachers – so in a sense it is good. Manoj himself is not sure of what he will do after his fellowship gets over.

Q: What do you plan to do with the under-performing students?

Idea for students who are weak is to make them appear in the National Institute of Open Schooling. They can do self study and they can appear subject wise. We can also get students medically checked for dyslexia at Sassoon Hospital. In case you get that certificate you can give a lower grade 10 exam.

Q: How do we handle uneducated parents in PTA meets?

More than PTA meets, we need PTS meets – Parent-Teacher-Student. This triangle is important. And the interactions need to be done at the individual level. We should ask uneducated parents to consult with neighbours who are educated. Even 15 minutes of help is ok. But we must remember that there should be no compromises on homework.

Q: Should we rethink the No-failure-till-8th-standard policy?

Absenteeism is high for underperformers – about 50%. In addition these underperformers don’t end up doing homework. Home visits help give a good context to this. In Manoj’s class there are two kids whose fathers have committed suicides. Many who are alcoholic. The reasons for not coming to school seem to be trivial. ‘I missed the school bus today.’

Manoj has done about 26 home visits so far. There is a kid in his class who sleeps in the first two periods. His father suspected his mother of having an affair. He committed suicide. Manoj is happy that this disturbed child is even attending classes. He has a very interesting attendance follow up system. If a student is absent for more than 3 days, his parents are called up immediately during the roll call itself. ‘Why has Manasi not come today?’ the mother is asked. Neelam mentioned that in her old school during admission time, the family situation was discussed for all new admissions. Manoj believes the home visits cannot be substituted by discussions with parents. He gave an example of Pira, who is from Nepal. Pira, along with the rest of his family, lives in a hundred square feet room. He has five sisters!

Q:  Kids have poor writing habits. What should teachers do about that?

Finding out that the teacher in question was teaching KG, Manoj thought that her worry was very premature. The problem in writing is that our students don’t end up forming sentences. The solution is to use more English in class, more speaking, more listening. An interesting idea is use of audio books.

Q: What activities do you use in your classes?

Unfortunately 10th grade is an important one – only cramming – no space for activities. In Math of grade 9, an example of an activity was to actually take them to lamppost and ask them to measure the shadow.

Enquired with Manoj about how PTP can get enrolled in the TFI program. He said that it would be easier to get TFI alumni to teach. Manoj Joshi invited me to his TFI school, Royal Roses English Medium School. A few months after his visit to PTP, I visited his school. Earlier, the school was in the village – but shifted to the hilltop about 15 years ago. The school runs in two shifts – the morning one is the unaided English medium – and the afternoon one is the aided Marathi medium. The aided school is called the Dangat Patil school – and has about 800 students. The unaided school was also called the same name – but with admissions running low at the start – the management decided that it needs a more English sounding name. They first came up with Royal Stone – and subsequently changed it to Royal Roses.

Got into Manoj’s history class for Grade 10. The syllabus this year has changed – and there is an interesting study of how history is written – histography. We discussed three periods in history – the ancient (pre 6th century), Medieval (6th to 15th) and modern history – and how history was written differently in those periods. Well, modern history tends to be more critical and medieval more hagiographical. He had one interesting assignment for students – read up the Babarnama. Manoj informed the class that an English translation is available on the web. One of the students asked for a link – and was promptly rebuked and asked to build up his googling skills. I found the class participation to be amazing – more than 50% of the class was involved. Probably had to with Manoj Bhaiya’s awesome energy levels. One interesting kaizen was that once a student had finished answering a question posed by Manoj, he would tag another student in order to answer the next question.

The gender ratio was heavily skewed towards boys. There were about 6 girls to 30 boys in the class. There were a few slackers – and Manoj had to use quite some energy in trying to ensure that they did not disturb the class. My suggestion to Manoj still remains that he should experiment with group work. He has a valid point – of being in a rush to finish the syllabus. And then of course there is pressure to repeat last year’s SSC results. The highest was 92% – more than 10 students got more than 80% – and except for one student who flunked math – the rest of the batch all cleared the SSC in the first attempt.

The interesting part about the class students was that all of them had been part of a TFI intervention – since their second grade. About 30 were originally from the school itself – and 15 got added in eighth grade – after having finished the first 7 years at a PMC run school – which is also part of the TFI program. Manoj has been a wee bit disappointed with the slackers – given this background. My point is that the law of averages always comes to play in any sample of population. In fact, the percentage – which is significantly less than 10% – is nothing too much to worry about. However, what worries me is that most of the experiments are evolutionary – Manoj agreed with the group work philosophy – but he may not get the political support to try it in the higher classes. As with Peepal Tree, the budgetary constraints also come in to play – alongside the fact that the trustees are mostly from a political background.

Chatted up with the Principal. She does a good balancing act – in managing academics and politics. Was a witness to that one of the Dangat Patils barged into her room, demanding a free seat for someone who seemed to be working with him. She skillfully directed the gentleman to the trust chairman. She joined the school about 13 years ago – when the strength was 180. About 10 years ago the TFI involvement started. The good joint work has resulted in the strength tripling to 500+ now. The school can expand further – but is limited by infrastructure – and a policy decision of not taking more than 50 students in a class. They have only one division per grade.

The KG admissions are low – because of the distance from the village – and the climb involved. Rest assured, no mom is going to do the climb twice a day. In order to get the admissions increase in KG, they have kept the KG fee at Rs. 6,000. The logic is that KG is a loss leader, which will ensure that the first standard gets filled for sure. The school reserves 25% of seats for RTE students. They do that even in the KG, even though they don’ get remimbursed for RTE before grade 1. This is in keeping with the loss leader strategy.  The fees for the higher grades is about 10-11 K per year – almost at par with what we charge at PTP. The parent profile is also quite similar to what we have. A fair number of North Indians – who usually end up joining the school late as vacation home gets extended.

One significant difference is that most of the students come from relatively far off places like Kirkitwadi – and have to be bussed in. I guess, the immediate neighborhood has become a little richer – and prefers sending kids to higher priced schools. This is one of the challenges that we also face. We will need to think about how we can continue to attract a mix of students as the neighborhood income profile changes. The Principal’s advice to our student attrition problem was to ensure that we take mostly lower income family kids into the kindergarten. Combining this with a price hike for higher income kids will ensure that even if we get kids from higher income families, they will end up subsidizing the lower income kids.

Ended the visit with a chat with one of the students. He comes from a Paithan based farmer’s family. For a few years the family had shifted base to Pune, where the father tried running a scrap business. But things didn’t work out – and they had to shift back. The student stayed back – and is currently hostelling at one of the TFI  volunteer’s house. He is planning to take up arts in grade 11. He was the most curious guy in the class – and during my short autobiographical talk – had pestered me a lot about the career choices that I had made. He is looking at applying to the Mahindra United World College for his grade 11. I hope he gets in!

Manoj’s Comments

“… but he may not get the political support to try it in the higher classes.”:

Not quite. In fact, Mrs. Deshpande or my ‘supervisor’ Dias ma’m does not even know what or how I teach in the class. In fact, I won’t be surprised if they didn’tknow what I subjects I teach :). When I made that comment, I was looking at Mrs. Deshpande as a part of the system. I feel that it is the system that puts some restrictions on me. More so in the 10th grade.

I took more liberties in the 9th grade by teaching entire chapters through project work, group work, etc. I also prioritized the teaching objectives from the chapter and left a few of them un-taught knowing well that it will not impact ‘the boards’**. I think I told you about the ‘Financial Planning’ project where I conducted a reality-show like game in the class which was based on events that unfolded every week. The related textbook chapter talked about complex tax calculations and percentages and proportions. I ignored all that making way for basics – risks and rewards, predictable and unpredictable expenses, etc. in order to orient the kids for basic financial decision making.

I don’t think I can take such liberties in the 10th grade. I can certainly not ignore any objectives. I have to ‘cover’ the entire ‘syllabus’. One more example: In Social Studies, given that the English text is more than what my students can comprehend on their own at home, I make sure that the entire chapter gets read in the class at least once. This consumes time.

 

2018 Feb, Manoj Joshi Visit

Manoj Joshi landed up at 10:15. He is a Teach For India fellow, who is currently teaching in his first year of the two year fellowship at Royal Roses English Medium School in Vadgaon, close to Sinhgad College (you can find the school on Google Maps). His wife has finished her Masters in social work. His daughter is studying at National Law University Bangalore. In TFI all teachers are addressed as Didi or Bhaiya. I realised that yours truly been called Kaka is an anachronism. We already use tai for our  female teachers. Dada is much better for Kaka for our male teachers!

Took him around the school. Explained the challenges that we face. He took a class on fractions for our senior students. I was out buying Vada Pav so I missed that part of the action. On my return back we assembled for a teacher meet. We started with introductions. Everybody spoke about their hobbies. Manoj’s hobbies are sketching and woodcarving. He likes to teach Social Studies because you can include anything in Social Studies.

We asked Manoj to discuss what he does at the school, especially his experiments. His first three months at Roses school were spent in understanding how the school works. For a person with an IT background, signing on the muster was a new experience. His current assignment is teaching math to 9th and 10th standard children. The challenge is these are kids who have in his own words ‘Bade Sing’, that is they are sprouting horns. There are issues in tackling them. His 9th standard has 49 children and 10th standard has 36.

Old kids remember whatever you say, so you have to be careful what you say to them.

Because of No failure policy till class 8, there are quite a few students in Manoj’s class who don’t even no what is a jodakshar. When asked about the alphabet, they stop at P. They don’t understand the concept of odd even. What has been done at Roses school is that the class has been split into two subclasses of 25, based on their capacities. Basic English and Math are taught separately to these classes.

 

Appendix:

Notes by Manoj

Manoj is teaching financial literacy through an interesting investing experiment. Student groups have been given notional salaries – and an option of financial instruments. Groups end up making investment decisions. Month-wise data is given every day – and they can reallocate resources then. Here are his notes on this experiment.

Team, I have made the following charts based on the data given by  your teams (Shradhali team’s chart is missing because I dont have their March data yet). These chart shows how each team is allocating their money into various options at the beginning of every month. Note that MF was introduced in Feb (so it was not available in Jan) and NewAge was introduced in March (so it was not available in Jan and Feb)

 

I am reading articles online to understand the facility of Form 17. Here’s what I have understood:

1) If a student fails class IX (for example in RREMS), then that student has an option to repeat class IX in the same school and then enter X grade in a normal way. If the student chooses this path, then he will lose 1 year.

2) However, if the student does NOT wish to lose 1 year, then he can get an LC from the school and appear for SSC externally by filling up Form 17. Studying and passing the examination will be totally his responsibility if he choses this path.

 

PROVISIONS GRANTED BY THE MAHARASHTRA STATE BOARD OF SECONDARY AND HIGHER SECONDARY EDUCATION IN THE STATE OF MAHARASHTRA, INDIA

25% Extra time

Oral Test along with the written examination for Standard I to IX

Promotion to next class on the basis of the Average

Writer/ typewriter

Question papers to be read out

Exemption from the Second and Third Language

Physiology-Hygiene and Home Science in place of Science

Arithmetic

Standard I to IV – errors of interchanging of computation signs and number reversal to be ignored

Arithmetic of Standard V in Standard V & VI

Arithmetic of Standard VI in Standard VII & VIII

Arithmetic of Standard VII in Standard IX & X

Use of Calculator at Class X Examination

Spelling errors and incorrect sentence construction to be ignored.

Errors in respect of showing directions in Geography to be ignored.

Students between Standard I & IX exempted from drawing diagrams, graphs, and charts.

Marks for such questions proportionately distributed to the other questions or students to be provided with supplementary questions.

20% consolidated grace marks in one or more subjects

Students are permitted to write in ordinary print

Exempted from having to write answers in detail during exams