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A collection of posts relevant to agricultural and environmental matters such as farming, agribusiness, water, sanitation, natural resource management, and sustainability.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guest Post: Why My Classroom is a Startup

By Devanik Saha

I have always dreamt of starting my own chain of low cost affordable schools.

That dream motivated me to join the Teach For India Fellowship immediately after my graduation. This two-year fellowship hires the graduates and working professionals to help eliminate educational inequity in India. It's a simulation of the very successful Teach For America model, which is around 20 years old.

Based out of Pune and Mumbai, where Fellows teach in municipal and low income private schools, Teach For India started its operations in Delhi this year. According to a Centre for Civil Society report, 69 percent of kids drop out of primary school in Delhi and only 4 percent who enroll in class 10 manage to pass. I started teaching in first week of July at a low income municipal school in New Delhi.

For me, the classroom has become a startup venture. The CEO has the onus to lead the whole startup team. Similarly, as a teacher with a new class and unknown students, my incentive is to lead my kids to achievement. Sound similar?

But that was only half of the battle. When I first started teaching, my classroom was in a pathetic state: no fans, no lights, etc. So I raised funds from the general public - similar to the concept of crowd funding for startups. I used social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and my own blog to put forward my concerns, and raise funds through friends and relatives.

In any startup, especially social enterprises, first you start a pilot and then scale it up as your clientele/operations increase. I did the same for my class. I started with six to seven kids in my first days in the classroom and I applied my rules, techniques, behaviour management systems, etc with them. Today, my attendance has increased to 26-27 kids. So, I scaled those techniques to make the whole class (or my startup) improve. And I keep looking for new innovative models to keep the kids interested as team members in a startup do - or should do.

In BoP enterprises, the principle of co-developing solutions really helped me. My classroom didn't have a door initially. So I sat with principal, explained my ideas and convinced him to provide me a class with a door and lock to put my behaviour management systems, charts, trackers etc. into practice.

Also, startups have products/services with which they create credibility and make their name in the market. My product would my kids' achievements so that Teach For India creates its credibility and again pitches to government agencies for expanding their presence.

Like Silicon Valley, which has a unmatched startup ecosystem,  I want to build a startup ecosystem in low-income schools where every teacher takes his/her responsibility to lead his or her class as their own venture.

But apart from the teaching and learning activities, issues such as family conflicts, community problems, financial conditions and the readiness of kids to learn also take a lot of my attention. But I have embraced the challenges with full devotion - developing relationships with the parents to know more about their hopes, frustrations, aspirations, helplessness, so that I can better work to teach and creating a culture for them to learn accordingly.

As every startup aims for sustainability, the same is true in my class. I have to sustain the culture I am trying to create, such as speaking in English, following discipline, rules, etc - all of which has to be self sustainable. As a startup aims to operate without any funding after a certain time, I'm hoping to do the same for students when I complete my Fellowship, i.e. that they follow the lessons and imbibe them for a lifetime. 

When all is said and done, all the principles, models, experiences behind my classroom startup will certainly build the base for me to start my own chain of low-cost affordable private schools. For me, the students are not only the product, but also the customer.

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