Technology In The Classroom: How Teach A Class Foundation Is Driving Change
If Teach A Class Foundation has its way, both schools and teachers will be transformed by technology. We speak to Joel Pannikot, CEO, Zaya Learning Labs and Head of Fundraising at Teachaclass.org to find out how this not-for-profit funding platform is changing the face of education in our country.
Tell us about Teach A Class Foundation.
Teach A Class Foundation (TAC) is a not-for-profit organisation. It is 80g-eligible in India and has a 501c3 certification in the United States. Teachaclass.org is India’s first funding platform for teachers. Today, TAC is on a mission to connect 50,000 teachers and 50 million students to donors by providing them access to curated teacher-support tools, which are tracked digitally with regularity, diligence and transparency. We exist to help teachers achieve their dreams for their classrooms. TAC started in 2012 post founder Neil D’Souza’s sabbatical in Mongolia. He was a Silicon Valley engineer at the time and was moved by the lack of access to modern learning resources in schools and orphanages. This led him to build what is now called ClassCloud, a personalised learning platform that can help computers and tablets access digital content even where there is no internet. The desire to bring this solution to the world led to TAC being set up in San Francisco, and then in India in 2013.
What is the status of the education system in India in rural areas currently, and where does your platform fit in here?
Even more starkly than across the urban and rural divide, the problem with India’s education system is seen across the gap between high and low-income schools. India has over 8,00,000 schools, and close to half of them fall in the low-income category. There are 1.5 million teachers in our country and the biggest problem they face is access to funds. Many of these teachers from the low-income schools are paid meagre wages — sometimes as low as Rs. 500 a month — and have to grapple with low motivation and lack of respect and support in the community. These teachers are the biggest influencers of the communities with the ability to shape the futures of the new generation, but with the poor quality of resources, the children in these communities are unable to get access to quality education. At TAC, we aim to change this situation by helping these teachers get access to funding and high-quality tools and technology at affordable costs. We also found that people are inherently inclined to help their fellow beings, particularly when there is a convenient channel to do so. They, however, want to know that the money they spend is truly going to benefit those in need.
Having started in 2012 as an offline process, how has the move to a digital platform been?
We started through offline funding with a bunch of volunteers and successfully funded about 10 projects (primarily Teach For India (TFI) and Children In Progress (CHIP) schools). Today, we operate as an online funding platform for individual and corporate donors. So far, we have successfully funded about six projects through individual donors and also received a grant of 150,000 USD from a large donor to help chalk out a robust Monitoring and Evaluation framework to support the platform. The teachers and schools in several rural/ urban belts have benefitted as they now have access to tools that they could never have purchased on their own. The donors have benefitted by having access to near-real-time data reporting on their donations.
What were the difficulties that you faced initially in terms of inspiration and operation?
Our early projects presented a number of challenges that gave us key insights—Ed-tech problems are 25 percent tech, 75 percent human. It is not sufficient to just introduce tools into an ecosystem. Teachers too need to be guided in the usage of the tools, so that they accept them, and don’t fear being displaced. The success of any initiative is inherently dependent on the motivation of teachers. This has inspired TAC’s decision to find individuals who are already committed to bringing innovation and help them find funders. The second biggest challenge was building awareness among corporates for the need to donate towards digital technology in these low-income schools. Most of the donations go towards government schools while the low-cost affordable private schools get very little or no funding and face bigger challenges in comparison.
Which schools are currently under the purview of Teach a Class Foundation?
We currently have 16 funded schools, 30 more listed in the site, and a pipeline of 450 schools that will be brought onto the site as the listed ones are funded. These schools are from across India, both in metros like New Delhi and Mumbai, to villages in the vicinity of Lucknow and Hyderabad. We also engage with the CSR departments of a number of Indian companies who are keen to support schools in the neighbourhood of their plants and factories across the country.
Tell us how the foundation sustains itself and how people/companies can help your cause.
We sustain ourselves through individual and corporate donations in addition to partnerships with NGOs and foundations. We also have a few low-income schools that have managed to raise funds for themselves. From the funds raised through teachaclass.org, five percent will go towards the administrative costs of the respective projects. There are three key ways in which we can be aided:
Donations: Corporates and people can help fund the 450+ projects listed on our platform either through CSR funds or through individual donations. All funds will directly go to the schools/ projects listed on the platform. They can choose to donate to schools of their preference or as recommended by our algorithms.
Voluntary Fundraising: We have also met with motivated individuals who are keen to not only donate but also help raise funds for schools and teachers in whom they see merit.
Social Visibility: Our dream is to make it easy for schools to find donors and vice versa. Therefore, the more that people spread the word about our efforts, the higher the likelihood of success. Tell your friends, family, colleagues — especially CSR head of your company!
What are your plans for the future?
We have secured a grant to build an advanced Monitoring and Evaluation system that will provide donors with dashboards and analytics on exactly how their donations are impacting teachers and students. In its current version, the site showcases the requests of teachers, and provides donors with a mechanism to fund them. The 80g certification, reporting, logistics and other key operational processes are done manually. The next version of the site will automate all these processes.
Five years from now, we envision teachaclass.org to be a platform for policy and decision makers of both, the government and corporations. They will be able to see exactly how effective different tools are in different parts of the country. Analytics will help them understand which parts of the country need specific kinds of interventions.
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