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Axes of change

Mainak Roy


The public education system in India has often been categorized as a hopeless place to work in. The government is apparently apathetic and the teachers incompetent. The education datasets that are widely available attest to the truth behind these statements.

My experience has been starkly different. I have seen great teachers, interested bureaucrats and students who are on par with their peers, studying in fancy private schools. The big question is what enabled such a different experience for me inside a system which consistently fails to show any promise. What have I done differently and is there anything that I have learned from my own unconscious approach?

I have learned that while true change needs to be plotted on a multi axis graph, the actual change is largely dependent on 2 axes — the time and the belief axis. At Simple Education Foundation, we have learned that it takes time to see change and it happens only if you believe that it is possible through stakeholders who are already a part of the system. Introducing new stakeholders and more importantly eliminating old stakeholders can have a massive impact over the sustainability of change. This fact is more true for education change interventions than in any other change interventions.

Sneh Ma’am (in picture), is a Nursery teacher in one of our government partnership schools in New Delhi. She was very apprehensive about our work and intent, often expressing her disapproval while struggling to welcome us wholeheartedly. In the beginning, we would struggle to get past her and understand her. Being one of the most celebrated and decorated Nursery teachers in the Municipal Education Department, she felt our intervention was unnecessary. And to top it all she was unsure of our purpose inside the school, even though we tried explaining ourselves through conversations and actions but it was difficult for her to engage with our narrative. She had seen organisation like ours come and go, without positively adding to the system. She had engaged with organisations who did not give her due respect. She had experiences while probably justified her actions towards our team and intervention.

We were at a difficult place, while we wanted to ensure that we worked with her and learned from her, we were unsure of how to do it in the most effective way. While we had some very radical suggestions, we chose to give it time and continue creating spaces for her to learn and share. I must say that there were several points over the last 15 months where we were on the verge of giving up hope but, somehow our deepest intentions came through, our belief in the system and its stakeholders, and time helped us hang on hopefully.

My team member shared this picture with me a couple of days ago. Sneh Maam was using manipulatives and various strategies that we had shared with the school team over the year, inside her classroom. When I walked into her classroom today, I saw her co-teaching with one of our teachers and positively engaging with all the students. I found her sitting inside the staff room and engaging with the entire team during lunch. I saw a hope turn into truth. I walked away happy.

Everyday I am surrounded by leaders of other organisations who have lost belief in the system that they are working to improve, this dichotomy although stark is difficult for many to observe. I hope this small note brings back hope and the belief that with time and right intent, no change is impossible. #changeistheonlyconstant

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