My Story: The Extraordinary Impact of Great Teachers
Fifteen years ago, I got some advice that changed my life.
In the summer of 2001, my high school teacher suggested I read The Feynman Lectures in Physics
. That summer, I fell in love with physics and eventually went on to study the subject at Oxford and work on a PhD in astrophysics at Caltech, where Feynman taught and worked (and won the Nobel Prize in 1965.)
The world I grew up in, was a world apart from Caltech. In Sambalpur, a small town in eastern Odisha, I wouldn't have dreamed I had a chance to do all this, if not for that Physics teacher. If he hadn't pushed me to challenge myself, I would have never considered pursuing a career in science. And I could have certainly never dreamed of pursuing a PhD in astrophysics at one of the world’s best universities.
I realise that I was extremely lucky. I went to a school with teachers who were very passionate about teaching and conveyed the excitement and magic of science to their students. Growing up, I watched in dismay, as many of my friends not lucky enough to attend good schools would drop out or not qualify to attend good colleges.
The system wasted its potential, and failed students who could have done so much more. Ours is an education system that has failed to send good teachers to classrooms. Most schools in Sambalpur barely had teachers to teach science and math, let alone challenge and inspire students to be ambitious. The long-term consequence of such a failing system is well-known, and Sambalpur is not the only place facing a severe dearth of good teachers. It is a national problem.Every student deserves a good teacher
Six years ago, along with my friend Priya Kakkar, I founded Science Education Initiative (SEI), a program aimed at training the next generation of extraordinary science and math teachers. We are a group of scientists and educators from around the world, all committed to bringing the best in science and math teaching to India's classrooms.
Priya and I carefully identified key problems that exist in low income classrooms: lack of science content expertise in teachers and the absence of a curriculum and assessments that focus on problem-solving. To solve the problem, we designed the SEI Fellowship program through which highly motivated science undergraduates are placed as part-time subject teachers in underserved classrooms. We at SEI design all lesson plans and assessments so that the SEI Fellows can focus only on instruction in classrooms.
Our Fellows receive a generous stipend, a world-class training in science/math pedagogy, and year-long supervision and mentoring. This helps bring high quality science educators to low-income classrooms while training the next generation of science teachers. And all this at the low cost of $60 per student.
Since our inception, the SEI has been piloted in 35 classrooms teaching over 1000 students from low-income communities in Pune and trained over 40 SEI Fellows.
(SEI Fellows from the 2015 cohort: Aditya)
SEI Fellows are already making a dramatic impact in their classrooms. One of our first student, Sanket was ranked amongst the top 1% of students in Maharashtra, in the Science Olympiad. He is the first student in his school to ever qualify for the Science Olympiad. There are many more Sankets who need the right mentoring and training to flourish- SEI's goal is to make that happen.
(SEI Fellows, Class of 2015)
SEI is launching the Science for All Campaign with initial support from Central Square Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative to expand SEI to a national program over the next five years. Your support will help kickstart the expansion by helping SEI grow to 2000 students (over 70 classrooms) in 2016.
More Details About the SEI Program
India has over 50 million students, who go to school but do not learn much science and maths because there are not enough teachers in the classroom. This is one of the biggest problems facing Indian education today- education cannot improve only through more textbooks and buildings. We need great teachers.
The Science Education Initiative (SEI) Fellowship is India’s first Science and Math teacher-residency program. We identify bright undergraduates and train them to be part-time science and maths teachers in under-served government classrooms.
India's has outstanding scientific institutions. Yet, a majority of students in India don't have access to quality science and math education. This severely restricts their opportunity to thrive intellectually and economically. Over 80 million students are enrolled in secondary schools in India, assessments show that Indian students are among the worst performers internationally.
National survey shows that while 95% children are enrolled in school, more than 50% students in fifth grade do not have first grade math skills.
Our Solution: Training The Next Generation of Science Teachers
We identify the most driven science undergraduates in local colleges and train them to be world-class science teachers (“SEI Fellows”) in underserved classrooms. Our lesson plans and assessments are standardized and student performance is tracked centrally- so fellows can focus completely on instruction instead of classroom preparation.
Priya is the co-founder of SEI and leads operations in India. She holds a BSc in Physics from Fergusson College, Pune and a MBA from the University of Pune. Prior to joining SEI she worked on designing sustainable small businesses in the food industry. At SEI she led the design of the SEI Fellowship program in Pune and co-leads curriculum curriculum development at SEI. As Director of Operations at SEI, Priya is responsible for implementation of the SEI programs, impact evaluation and leads local advocacy efforts.
Since our inception, SEI has impacted over 1000 students and trained over 40 SEI Fellows.
We have accomplished this through a very small team of 10 members in Pune and US. In 2015, we started conducting a randomized control trial to test whether SEI has any real impact- SEI students performed 12% better than non-SEI students after just 5 months of intervention. The SEI program costs just Rs 4,000 per child per year making it the most cost-effective science education program in India.
Looking Ahead: The Science for All Campaign
With an initial support from the Clinton Global Initiative in the US and Central Square Foundation in India, we are launching the 'Science for All' campaign to expand our program in India. In 2016, our goal is to double our impact to 2,000 students and train over 50 SEI Fellows. Our goal is to reach 50,000 students per year by 2020.
We are raising Rs 50 lakhs to support our growth in Pune for 2016-2017. The funds will be used as follows:
Program Costs: Rs. 40 lakhs
This will support 1000 new students in 2016-2017 from low-income government schools in Pune. The cost per student is Rs 4000/- and is distributed as follows:
1. Fellowship: Rs 960/- (this is for 200 hours of in-class instruction throughout the year)
2. Resources: Rs 1120/- (includes course material, assessments, stationery)
3. Program Manager compensation: Rs 760/- (program managers are subject experts that train the SEI Fellows and provide year-long feedback by weekly classroom visits)
4. Training and Content Development: Rs 1280/- (involves six-months of pre-training for Fellows, summer training school and weekend training program and workshops for Fellows throughout the year)
Operating Costs: Rs. 10 lakhs
This will support part of the SEI operating costs/overheads for managing the SEI program.