Reflections on the last two years of 3.2.1. schools and teaching children from marginalised communities

by on October 10, 2014

As I look back at the last 2 years of being associated with 3.2.1 Schools, I am reminded of how I got into teaching in the first place.

Like many engineering students, I landed myself a job in a renowned software engineering firm, right after I graduated from college. While it was a satisfying job in many ways, it was never truly fulfilling. This desire in me to play an active role in shaping the future of my country motivated me to apply for Teach For India. As I assumed my role as a TFI fellow, teaching children from marginalised communities, I got more exposed to the stark realities of our country’s education system that have been crippling the dreams and hopes of so many for generations. Since then, I have traveled across India and the world, learning about education challenges, successes and systems, and gathering them to start what today has become 3.2.1. Education Foundation.

As I look back, I find three major determinants of where I am today, as a teacher, an observer of master teachers, and as a coach.

Passion for Teaching

I discovered my passion for teaching as a TFI fellow. Working with children and learning more about our education system, each day, guided my passion to effect change at scale.

The wide education gaps my students had, got me to explore the curriculum aspects of teaching. The desire to have them catch up pushed me to research the pedagogical aspects. To create a safe environment to enable learning, I ventured into understanding aspects of behaviour management and classroom structures. The wish to make them fall in love with learning and support each other on their journey, motivated me to look into human motivation and culture design.

By the end of my fellowship, I think what I left my children with, was a belief in their potential, a reawakened love for learning and an improvement in their academic achievement. This gave me a lot of satisfaction but I also realised that what I hadn’t gotten in these two years was a more thorough understanding of the art and science of teaching.

During my TFI journey, not only was my passion for teaching born, but also the idea of founding 3.2.1, and with the end of my fellowship, I took a year to learn.

The decision: teacher or management?

In 2011, I decided to start the 3.2.1 Education Foundation with the mission to engage with the 2 fundamental questions in education:

  1. How do you help one child to realise his/her potential?
  2. How do you help every child to realise their potential?

Fully aware that I didn’t have a nuanced enough understanding of this, I took a year off to learn. I travelled across USA, Finland and India, and read about the progress in the education systems of Singapore, Shanghai, South Korea, Canada, Peru, Germany and Japan.

Through my travels in India, I tried to explore the diverse context of our nation and various approaches that educators were attempting. I also spent time studying great organisations across industries and history, and thought about how to blend all of this into the organisation I wanted to build.

In 2012, 3.2.1 began its first initiative – a school in Mumbai for some of the city’s poorest slum kids. At the core of the school were two guiding principles- first, how would we build this school if we were building it for our own children? And second, how would we build this school if it were the teachers who were fully in charge?

Through an innovative staffing model and a heavy focus on peer support and mentoring, we have managed to maintain teaching as the highest aspiration in the school. Everyone is a teacher and most of our time is spent understanding teaching and learning better. We have tried to take a very research driven and systematic approach to the profession and we devote a significant amount of our time and energy to learning from the best practices from around the world, reading the most important research and collaborating with expert educators.

3.2.1 has had nearly 800 visitors in the last 2 years. Often they come out of the classrooms with a look in their eyes as though they have seen magic. I try and explain that all they have seen is a very good teacher in action, with an honest pursuit to excel in the art of teaching.

Creating teachers of the future

With technological advancement, many argue that the role of a teacher will either diminish or become futile. Does that mean that there is no role for our teachers in the future? I hardly agree. Modern day technology holds much promise but it can never replace the sense of interconnectedness and involved learning that teaching can offer. Technology can play a role in enhancing teachers’ delivery and even bring innovation in the classroom. Our teachers of the future need to be equipped with innovative tools that can lead to better learning outcomes of our children.

3.2.1 is a vehicle for the larger dream of making quality education, a reality for all children irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds. Teachers play a central role in ensuring that our children are not just in schools, but also learning to become informed and productive citizens of our country.

My vision is for teachers to become an amalgamation of the now forgotten craftsmen and the presently admired professional. Craftsmen, for their pursuit of beauty in their work, complete devotion to their craft and their desire to create something incredible. The modern professional, for the use of research and data, authentic collaboration and a deep desire to constantly improve. That is what we are trying to create at 3.2.1 because that is what our profession and children deserve.

About Gaurav Singh:

Gaurav Singh, founder of the 3.2.1 Education Foundation, is an engineer by training who worked for Accenture before becoming the first Teach For India Fellow in its founding batch. He was then selected for the first global batch of the prestigious Fisher Fellowship with the KIPP schools in the US. He travelled for a year to countries like Finland to learn best practices in education before starting 3.2.1’s first school in Mumbai in June 2012.