About the Author: Paras Arora, a student of Hindu College, shares his views on the education system of India and how his enriching internship experience at Teach For India helped him gain a new perspective.
In words of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, “Education is the only way to liberation.”
I mugged up this quote in class 8th social studies without actually understanding the meaning of the word, liberation. It was not that I didn’t want to know the meaning of the word but it was the fear of asking. The fear of poking a sleeping lion aka my teacher. My mind used to be filled with questions like, “What if she shouts at me for interrupting the class?” or “What if my fellow classmates consider me dumb?” and the most common being, “Why to ask when I can just ‘ratta-fy’ (the great Indian strategy) it?”
It has been more than 6 years and I’m still stuck on ‘liberation’- the only difference being that I have moved from ‘what’ to ‘where’. Where is liberation? Certainly, not what we call as education today. In retrospect, my mind is shunted once again at the grim reality of our education system. Ambedkar would have cringed to see this parrot training being venerated as education.
It was this deplorable condition of Indian education that I was thinking about when I saw Teach for India’s (TFI) new notification about an opening. It was a Google Doc form for a ‘Classroom Subordinate Internship Program 2016’. The internship entailed working in a government run (or low-income private school) for a month (June 2016) as a teaching assistant. I had seen a few of my college seniors posting pictures with a group of young students surrounding them in shabby classrooms. That was the moment when I gave up being an armchair critic of the education system and applied for the internship hoping to contribute to a large-scale change in the system. Soon after filling the form, I got an email confirming that my application was accepted. I was invited for a group discussion. Before going for the same, I did exactly what everyone is supposed to do- stalking the whole organization online. As I went through their website, I made sure that I knew the basics of TFI: who is who of TFI, in which cities TFI operates, the aims and objectives of TFI, etc. I reached the mentioned address and was welcomed with a vibrant, joyous, and informal workplace where everyone was laughing, having fun, wearing pajamas, and discussing ideas to ensure that every child gets equal education opportunities.
Amidst this vibrant workplace, I was given a sheet with situation based questions like ‘What would you do if this was to happen in school/first day of internship’. Basically, a question paper filled with situational crises that TFI teachers face regularly. I tried to not answer them in a CBSE manner i.e. by writing as much as I could. Instead, I made crisp and concise pointers without any unneeded facts or jargon. The half-hour long test was followed by a group discussion about the very answers we had written. Thankfully, my group was small enough for me to talk at length about my prospective responses to such classroom crises without boring my interviewer.
While giving an interview, one must be up to date with the current affairs. That really helped in discussing the interplay of economic background and education in my interview as my interview was being taken at a time when CBSE results had proved how terribly underprivileged our government schools were. The interview ended with a small discussion on what TFI expected from a classroom subordinate intern. Listening to my interviewer talk about the ordeals of interning at a government school in scorching summers with no stipend did discourage me, but I was determined to do something productive, socially and personally, by the end of the first year of my college. Soon, I got an acceptance email by TFI asking me to attend a workshop that would equip me for the one month of rigorous work.
My excitement for an arduous internship was met with its equally demanding forerunner- the training session. The session was few hours long and was a compressed version of what a trained fellow gets before starting his/her fellowship. (TFI fellows are graduate students or professionals who take up a two-year fellowship where they are given a classroom in the schools which are working with TFI. The fellowship is supposed to be extremely demanding and classroom subordinate interns are supposed to be assistants to these fellows for a month). The training session had experienced fellows, staff members, and former interns talking about tips, tricks, and situational crises that almost all classroom subordinate interns end up facing. From the dress code of a government school teacher to befriending the non-teaching staff of the school, all elements required to be aware of the forthcoming internship were included in that session.
And then came the big day- my first day of school. Reaching 5 minutes late, I entered a school which was in shambles. With broken windows and desolated ground, it looked more like a construction site. A few students dressed in white uniforms smiled at me with big eyes. The TFI fellow introduced me to the vice principal and all my students. I could feel the rising sense of responsibility within me. The next whole month was all about understanding this responsibility along with realizing how difficult it was to be a teacher, especially a government school teacher. Managing 90 students in a small room with barely functional fans and no ventilation, were some of the many challenges that I faced.
I was not the only one teaching; many times, those innocent children also taught me few lessons. For instance, we had given an activity to children to design a flag of an imaginary country that they would rule. One of the students designed his flag meticulously. His hands moved slowly in all directions with continuous attempts at redrawing the boundaries. Whenever he tried to make new boundaries his hand smudged the older ones. When I asked him about his country, he explained, “The mast is in the shape of a loudspeaker symbolizing the importance of expression. There won’t be any fear stopping the citizens from speaking their mind and sharing their worries. The circle is symbolic of land and opportunities in my country. The lines, on the other hand, are symbolic of their just distribution. Many people don’t have land and opportunities in our real country but in ‘my’ country this won’t be the scenario.”
Teach for India soon transitioned into Learn from India for me. And this was the last and the most important part of my internship- experience. No matter how prestigious an internship might be, what stays with us intangibly and perpetually is the experience. For me, TFI was an opportunity to be much more than an armchair critic. It provided me a chance to be an activist who, with help of others, can assist in bringing a revolution which would ensure that every child gets the quality education and opportunities. This hope to make a difference, coupled with a shining CV, kept me going.
Editor’s note – If you also have an interesting story to share, you can now participate in Your Internship Story Contest 2017 and win cash prizes and goodies worth INR 1 Lac!