In India, Teachers Like Pooja Are Making Sure No Students Fall Behind

This month, at the United Nations General Assembly, leaders from around the world will adopt the Sustainable Development Goals -- which will make an important shift from focusing on school access to quality learning for all. This is a crucial evolution but the magnitude of the challenge in front of us is immense. Success will require the collective effort of talented and committed individuals -- leaders from every sector.

At Teach For All, we see firsthand what is required to ensure educational progress for our most vulnerable children through the experiences of educators all around the world. In Delhi, Teach For India fellow Pooja Chopra taught 30 fourth-grade girls in a poor settlement. As she visited with her students and their families, she learned that, far too often, girls in the community were not expected to reach the highest levels of education.

Pooja oriented her teaching toward helping her students realize their dreams through education. She set out to foster their personal leadership and to ensure they would always be able to learn, regardless of circumstances. Pooja broke the class up into groups, allowing each group to choose its leader and set its rules. Within each group, every girl was assigned a buddy, whose learning she was also responsible for. Pooja guided the students through their lessons, made sure that no group or pair fell behind, and gave them the agency to debate questions and determine their answers independently.

As Pooja developed relationships with the girls' parents, she discovered that many of the mothers had no financial means to support their daughters' educations. To enable them to partner in their daughters' schooling, she helped them launch a small tailoring business. Inside and outside of her classroom, Pooja's leadership is setting her students on new life paths. By the end of the school year, her students showed an incredible 1.7 years of growth and were exhibiting new confidence, initiative, and independence.

Fifteen-hundred kilometers away in Pune, a group of Teach For India alumni, shaped by the same experience Pooja had, are working to create the fundamental changes necessary to ensure quality learning is happening community-wide. Teach For India launched in Pune just six years ago and has since placed 500 fellows there.

One of these alumni, Madhukar Banuri, is running a collective action initiative called Pune City Connect to unite corporations, government officials and non-profits around a common vision of educational reform for Pune. Within its first six months, they've already managed to ensure the government institutionalizes a massive teacher training -- impacting more than 2,500 government teachers. Other Teach For India alumni are joining in the effort to improve teacher training: Prashant Mehrishi launched the I-Teach fellowship to recruit top new bachelors of education graduates and invest in their development. His colleague Chaitra Murlidhar started LIFT, which uses Teach For India's training approach to provide mid-career professional development to government teachers. Teach For India is supporting two other alumni to build Firki, an online system for teacher development that will ultimately be utilized across these teacher-training initiatives.

Meanwhile, alumni in Pune have crafted a five-year plan to expand English-medium schools past the seventh grade -- where they currently end -- by creating 20-25 schools serving grades eight to 10. This year, they launched the first two. When completed, the effort will create pathways to give all children who begin English-medium education in Pune an opportunity to complete a secondary education.

These leaders show just how much it will take to make a meaningful difference for the most-marginalized children. Success will require more than single interventions like giving children tablets, or providing teachers with better curriculums -- these steps may be part of the solution, but they are just one piece of what must be a holistic approach. Instead, realizing our goals will take building strong local leadership capacity so that we can take the issues on in their full complexity. We need more leaders like Pooja in the classroom, we need more leaders like Madhukar leading schools and communities, we need more leaders like Prashant pioneering innovations to meet these students' needs.

Coming out of the General Assembly, there will be a renewed call to channel more financial resources into education toward reaching the ambitious quality-learning goal. We must also carefully consider how we'll channel more of our most valuable resource -- our human resources -- toward this end. Teach For All is aiming to do our part as we work with our national partners to foster the recruitment and development of more local leaders like Pooja, Madhukar, and Prashant. If we are going to meet the education goals, we need to build similar leadership capacity in every community and country. We can realize a world that provides quality education for all. The only question -- and the question that motivates us to redouble our efforts every day -- is whether enough of our world's leaders will step up and channel their energy toward making it happen.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 4.

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