inspirEd: Sharing Teach for India’s movement to end education inequality

Posted By: Karen Woodin|Dated: January 24, 2014

On Jan. 11th and 12th, Teach for India, an organization that places teaching fellows in under resourced schools, hosted its education-exclusive conference inspirED Mumbai, where nearly 750 educators, administrators, academics and professionals convened to discuss and ideate how to end education inequality in India. With a presence in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, and Delhi by November, inspirED focused on addressing India’s education crisis, and on bringing world-class education standards to the country.

The reason behind inspirED

“We are the movement that will eliminate education inequality.”
-Opening Ceremonies of inspirED Mumbai

Teach for India’s mission is to provide excellent education to all of India’s children, thereby ending education inequality. They do this by placing college graduates and young professionals as teaching fellows in under resourced classrooms across India. In addition to running the fellowship, Teach for India seeks to “generate a national focus on educational equity”, said Shaheen Mistri, CEO. What better way to do this than by bringing together diverse stakeholders in education—including corporates, the media, and educational institutions—to raise awareness and create a shared dialogue about the issue than a common platform? That is precisely the objective of inspirED, which is one of India’s only exclusively education-based forums.

 children MUST USE

Teach for India Students at inspirED Mumbai

Key differentiator: focus on the children 

“Kindness will be all we can leave behind.”
-Theme of song performed by Teach for India students during inspirED

With a presence in four cities, including Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, and Delhi, a key differentiator of inspirED from other education conferences is the strong focus it places on children, Teach for India’s students. As a case in point, the 2-day conference began with Opening Ceremonies that included multiple performances by the students, including a hip hop song titled “Kindness will be all we can leave behind”—the students had the audience raising their hands and singing along; there was also an exhibit where students showcased their work; impromptu singing during the lunch break; and even a Model United Nations demonstration!

Partnerships to end education inequality

“Education in India is one of the most important agenda items for the 21st century; the Indian culture reveres education deeper than any culture in the world.”
–Craig Johnson, American School of Bombay, Superintendent


inspirED Mumbai was hosted at the American School of Bombay

inspirED Mumbai was hosted at the American School of Bombay (ASB). Craig Johnson, the Superintendent of ASB remarked that it was humbling for the school to partner with an organization that has such an “inspirational and visionary mission to bring about equality in education”. This type of collaboration is a great example of the types of partnerships that are necessary to end education inequality and bring world-class standards to education in India. In Mr. Johnson’s words: “the way to accelerate and to create momentum towards that equity is in networking, in partnerships, and alignment of vision”.

Sessions to bring world-class standards to the classroom

“Trying new things is a must to create effective learning environments, but at the end of the day, the question that educators must ask themselves is: did this really impact the students?”
–Notes from Ritu Khoda’s inspirED workshop


Participants at inspirED Mumbai

With over 30 sessions spread across the 2-day conference, participants could choose up to 3 events per day. From pedagogical shifts in teaching to governance and leadership in schools, the sessions provided an opportunity for participants to gain critical insights that will help them enhance their classroom experience. One of the sessions, which I was able to attend, “Pedagogical Shift in Teaching and Learning Through Art”, taught participants, who were mostly educators, to focus not on the end product but on the process. What does this look like?

Class Notes: guidelines for creating an optimal learning space

  • The focus is the process, not the outcome. Classrooms are what you define.
  • Create a challenge and a space where the child feels open to doing things
  • The role of an educator as a mentor, not a giver of knowledge
  • For example, if a student produces a piece in an art class, do not say “this is lovely” but rather ask a pertinent question about the artwork

Another key insight from the session was a shift in the defined role of an educator: whereas traditionally an educator is seen as a given of knowledge, the panelist, Ritu Khoda from Art1st, proposed instead that educators view themselves as mentors: creating challenges and spaces for learning, and guiding students in their own learning journey. This all sounds great, but how can educators implement this? The main principle she gave was to not resist change, but rather engage with it: she noted that most educators, especially art teachers, feel insecure about their knowledge levels and thus do not want to steer away into what they don’t know fully well. Ritu encouraged educators to “experiment with their thoughts, ideas and feelings”, to keep a diary where they note down the new things they are trying, so that they can introduce change systematically. Perhaps the biggest insight from this session was the presenter’s insistence on focusing on the child’s learning journey: trying new things is a must to create effective learning environments, but at the end of the day, the question that educators must ask themselves is: did this really impact the students? And continue to innovate in that direction.

The Road Ahead


inspirED will continue its tour across India. With inspirED Mumbai as the first conference of 2014, and with two other editions behind them (inspirED Pune and inspirED Hyderabad) at the end of 2013, the conference is here to stay. The next one is scheduled to be in Delhi in the month of November. If you are interested in the future of education in India, this is one conference you do not want to miss. You can learn more about inspirED here, and about Teach for India here.

Thank you to Karan Lohan from the Communications Team at Teach for India and the rest of the inspirED team for welcoming me at the conference!

About the Author

Born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, Karen moved to Bombay in June 2011 to join Mahindra as a Global Recruit.  As a member of the Corporate Brand Council, she works on internal and external brand engagement campaigns, such as Spark the Rise. She graduated from Columbia University in the City of New York with a B.A. in Political Science.

The views expressed above are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of the views of the Mahindra Group.

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