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Home »Company News » Pakistan » ‘The commitment of current government to education is impressive’ an interview with Wendy Kopp, Co-founder Teach For All
Wendy Kopp is the CEO and Co-founder of Teach For All (TFA). The TFA is a global network comprising of partner organisations in 48 countries. Wendy started off by founding Teach for America in 1989, and later the UK's Teach First. She is the author of several books on education and holds honorary degrees from prestigious universities such as Boston University, Georgetown University, Harvard and Princeton. Wendy is also a member of the influential Council on Foreign Relations. She holds a bachelor's degree from Princeton University.

The TFA co-founder was in Pakistan recently when BR Research sat down with her in Islamabad and discussed the nature and scale of Pakistan's education-sector challenges and her prescription to crack this inter-generational issue. Selected excerpts are produced below:

BR Research: Starting off, what was the big idea behind establishing Teach For America and then scaling it to what is now Teach For All (TFA)?

Wendy Kopp: It was 1989 when I was a senior at Princeton University. Our generation was known as the me generation - it was assumed that most of us just wanted to go and make a lot of money on Wall Street. That just didn't ring true to me. I felt the problem was not our generation; we were searching to make a real difference in the world but could not find ways to.

The problem lay with the recruiters, at least at that time, as they were looking for liberal arts graduates such as myself to commit two years or so to investment banks and management consultancies. We chose from the options available; figuring out how to change the world became secondary.

During college, I had become focused on inequities in the United States. While we really aspired to be a place of equal opportunity, we were not one any longer. And all this came together in my head one day as I wondered why are we not being recruited as aggressively to commit two years to teach in low-income communities instead.

I became very obsessed by the immediate impact that it could have in classroom and communities. And the long-term impact of taking this generation of leaders and having their first experience out of college to teach in urban and rural areas as opposed to just working in the banks. I just thought that would re-shape the priorities of a generation. So that was the idea; the timing was perfect.

I needed a thesis topic; so I chose this idea for my thesis and then I became all the more determined to make it happen. That's how Teach for America came about.

BRR: What kind of opportunities and challenges has the TFA encountered in scaling this idea to dozens of more countries?

WK: Teach For All was launched just 11 years ago. Prior to that, I had my head down focusing on the massive issues in our own country (the United States). We were also in liaison with Teach First (UK) who had their heads down as well. In a particular year, some 12 to 13 years ago, we heard from 13 people from 13 different countries who were just determined to do something similar in their countries. And that is what led to the launch of Teach For All as a network of independent, locally-led and governed organisations that all share a common purpose around developing collective leadership so that all children fulfill their potential.

An incredible amount of localised social entrepreneurship has been the key to expanding this initiative from two partner organisations to having a network of partners in 48 countries a decade later. They have built capacity and a common approach through public and private sector support. Each of them face significant challenges in realising potential in the realms of figuring out how they scale, how they govern, how they recruit and train teachers and leaders, how they raise funds, and then how they build a strong and growing organisation. We are there to help them build their capacity in those areas.

BRR: Was this model scaled based on empirical evidence, or was it an aspiration that seemed to be working at the time?

WK: We (Teach For America and Teach First UK) didn't drive the global expansion of TFA at all. It was all driven by people in their own countries independently led and governed by national organisations, like Teach For Pakistan here. There is empirical evidence that this initiative has had immediate and long-term impact on learning outcomes and career trajectories. We have learnt that fewer than 15 percent of the folks who teach in our organisations would have taught if it were not for this program. Some 70 percent of the leaders stayed afterwards in improving education or quality of life in low-income communities. Beyond the fact that they are still engaged, it is remarkable the degree to which they are assuming real leadership at a young age.

BRR: What brings you to Pakistan on this trip? If you have been here before, have you noticed any qualitative and/or quantitative progress this time, based on your interactions with the relevant stakeholders here?

WK: This is my first visit to Islamabad - I have previously been to Karachi and Lahore. The Teach for Pakistan pilot was in Karachi and now they have launched as an independent organisation with the aim to scale the program nationwide and deepen its impact in communities across Pakistan. I have been impressed by the commitment of the government in Islamabad to improve both the equity and excellence in education. Clearly there is a lot happening in that regard. I feel that TFP has a very strong foundation to build upon, thanks to support from the stakeholders.

BRR: What, in your view, is the root-cause of the state of education in Pakistan, where more than 20 million eligible children are reportedly out-of-school; and the millions more who are in school but won't likely achieve a reasonable level of educational attainment?

WK: I think this is a very complex issue in the sense that so many kids are not in school and those who are in school are not learning.

The root causes are numerous, because these issues don't begin in classrooms but far outside where whole groups of children are facing extra challenges such as poverty. They never go to schools because schools don't meet the extra needs of those kids.

In order to make full progress, we need to take on those issues with their full complexity. This raises the question: who is going to do all of this? We need to change so many things; we need to better leverage technology; change the curriculum; better train the teachers; better recruit and develop school principals; among many other things.

This is especially challenging in countries such as Pakistan where some of the most promising individuals are typically channeling their energies into companies and other pursuits but probably not education in low-income communities. This is where TFP can play a role in developing a long-term commitment to better education. TFP can become a huge ally to people in positions of influence who share a similar approach to addressing some of the issues that I mentioned earlier. Leadership can drive real systemic changes.

Every discussion I have had so far in Pakistan has shown to me that a truly deep commitment to address these issues exists but there is a clear lack of capacity to affect all the changes that need to happen.

BRR: How can TFP help in building a social momentum for education reforms and implementation?

WK: I know that the scale of the challenge in Pakistan is massive, and improving educational outcomes for all children is something that is very important to all stakeholders. Teach For Pakistan's contribution to the reform process is very specific. It is working to provide the human resource that can lead the design and implementation of reform. To foster this leadership, TFP recruits exceptionally talented young people from diverse backgrounds into a two-year fellowship during which they teach in low-income schools and communities.

During these two years, they mobilize students, other teachers and parents to work towards transforming learning and life outcomes

for the children in that community

It is in this work that 'fellows' develop their understanding of what needs to change in the education system, and the broader social, economic and political systems, and how that change can be made possible. As alumni, they go on to apply these learning's as life-long leaders for education reform, working from key points in the system to affect large-scale change.

For instance, many TFP alumni have been working to design merit-based teacher recruitment systems in Sindh, write engaging and relevant textbooks for Punjab public schools, transform adopted schools into real drivers of learning, and amplify the efforts of committed organisations like The Citizens Foundation. There really is no reform without the people who can imagine a different reality and mobilize others to work alongside them to realise that change. Enabling those people is TFP's true contribution. And soon, we know we will see many of the students joining this effort as the next generation of leaders, using their own talent in pursuit of an equitable and excellent education for all children.

BRR: Earlier you mentioned leveraging technology for education. What role can online education platforms such as Khan Academy play in a country like Pakistan?

WK: First of all, the education sector around the world is not leveraging technology and platforms such as the Khan Academy as we should have.

On the other hand, we need to get the foundations right and then we can leverage the technology as well. I had this conversation with Steve Jobs where he said that without a strong foundation, technology in education can backfire. And the foundation for tech in education rests on teachers who can utilise it well.

BRR: Lastly, there is an impression that the formal system of training students mostly to take up white-collar, office-based, managerial jobs.

Meanwhile, technical education - how to build and fix basic stuff - is going more and more into the background in the curriculum. What is your view on this subject?

WK: We created our educations systems so many decades ago when economic realities and people's aspirations were different. One of our beliefs at Teach For All is that we need to step back from the current system and really consider our aspirations for kids given the changing economy and the increasingly complex social problems.

Across our partner organisations, we are raising the question that by the time kids are 25 years old, what are the potential pathways for them to fulfill their aspirations? If today's students are not growing as leaders, there is no pathway to reaching rest of our aspirations. That's why we are focusing on a broader set of outcomes across our network. We need to build their skills and knowledge and capacities but also their mindsets and awareness and their sense of agency.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019


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