Of the gladdest moments, methinks in human life, is the departing upon a distant journey into unknown lands…
-- Richard F. Burton

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03 December 2010


I know I have not written in forever, but I must admit these last few weeks have been a little hairy in terms of work. I finished all of those papers--and am most proud of my 45 page,  "Educational access and attitudes in Dandekar Pool; analyzing the effects of micro-health insurance and micro-education loans" written after my 9 week internship with my microfinance organization, Parvati Swayamrojgaar. Here is my abstract and if you want more, email me for a copy.

The pride of this family comes from sending her to private school!

       This study aimed to assess benefits of a targeted health micro insurance (MHI) program and micro loans on youth educational access and community attitudes regarding education. Because current studies lack evaluative research on the effectiveness of similar programs on educational attainment in slum populations, a structured study to determine possible correlation between programs run by Parvati Swayamrojgarr, a local NGO committed to strengthening livelihood among the poor, and educational access was conducted. Twelve Hindu lower to lower-middle class families with average monthly income at about Rs. 9400 comprised the target population. Each family had a least one child, ranging from six months in age to 19, with an average age of 9 years. Satisfaction from participants in the schemes is high, though some gaps in awareness related to making health claims was evident. Increasing preference for both MHI and loans explains the positive community attitudes for these programs. Researchers originally believed MHI participants would show greater protection from health cost-related shock and loan participants would have better financial security, enhancing positive attitudes towards education. However a comparison sample of non-participants revealed Dandekar Pool residents highly value education for their children as a community. In-depth interviews conducted in and around family dwellings found access to public and private schooling is high, with few health limitations and increasing relief of financial burden through rising economic status and loan availability. Supplemental interviews with NGO workers and school officials revealed lingering barriers to educational access as financial constraints, cultural constructions of gender, child labor, teacher abuse, and some poor parental attitudes towards education. Because of the clear preference for private schools, the researcher suggests Parvati Swayamrojgaar examine ways it can improve access to private schools for the poorest of the poor to meet this growing demand.

So I just got to visit my third school in India, this time unrelated to research. Through a few connections developed by students in my program, I was introduced to Ron Howard, a devout Catholic from Bangalore teaching through Teach for India. Using the same model as Teach for America, TFI recruits young graduates to teach in underprivileged schools (of which the demand exceeds supply).  Teach For India, a project of Teach To Lead, a nonprofit organization that brainstormed with Wendy Kopp of TFA, placed its first cohort of Fellows in low-income municipal and private schools in Pune and Mumbai in 2009 only! With only about ½ of Indians making it to secondary school and well-documented corruption in government and private schools alike, the need is significant.

After a few coffees discussing teaching and inequity I’ve encountered in my research, I was invited to teach the second standard on my first Friday morning without class—this Friday the 3rd. I came in not anticipating much from these kids in second standard, ranging in age from 6 to 7. I prepared a simple lesson of action verbs with a stoplight idea of using colored paper for “go” and “stop” performing of the actions. But Ron and his co-teacher have really made progress. The kids know adjectives, can speak in sentences, and can even read my handwriting on the chalkboard (I have Dr. script). More than the intense grammar and speaking skills his kids have learned in just a few months, Ron hopes to instill trust and honesty as values in his kids. The way Ron speaks about his purpose is jaw-droppingly sincere and I felt the energy as soon as I sat down for our first meeting.  Their class name is “Superstars”, every student participates, the “Thumbs-up” signals being finished with a problem, and the confidence and enjoyment of the students is as bright as their sort-of toothless smiles. Both him and his co-teacher were extremely patient and kind, affectionately tousling the kids’ hair or even holding the little second graders in their laps while they explained triple-digit addition.

Indians today feel so much competitive pressure to join these emerging markets of information technology and the like. Did you know the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) have a 3% acceptance rate?  People literally spend their life savings putting their kids in intensive preparatory schools just to do well on the exam.  Of the 384,977 candidates who appeared in the examination conducted in 2009, only 10,035 candidates passed and then even less were selected. Ronald expressed how important it was to change the education system—and how the smartest Indians should be in educational sectors.
We also talked a lot about American comparisons. He was under the impression that most Americans go to college. I explained how only 85 percent of Americans complete high school and 27 percent graduate from college. He was shocked, especially when I shared info about education in low-income America I read about on TFA’s website.
  • By the time they reach fourth grade, children living in low-income communities are already two to three grades behind their higher-income peers.
  • Just half of students in low-income communities will graduate high school by age 18. Those who do graduate will perform on average at an eighth-grade level.
  • Overall, only 1 in 10 students growing up in poverty will graduate from college.
I am so proud of my friends who are serving or who were recently recruited…I hope to join your ranks next year if accepted.

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