Madhi is the Tamil word for ‘knowledge’. In 2015, Merlia Shaukath started a non-profit in Chennai, naming it ‘Madhi Foundation’.
Currently, Madhi focuses on training teachers and student learning outcomes in classrooms- mobilised with the help of technology, with an acute awareness of all the constraints that exist in under-resourced schools.
“I think the inspiration [for Madhi] was my time with Teach For India, and being in classrooms and seeing how children’s lives were being impacted. I wanted to bring the same impact in non-TFI classrooms as well,” says Merlia.
This year, Madhi will impact 150 schools.
She spent two and a half years at Teach For India, first as an operations associate, and then as a government relations manager. These roles gave her a rare opportunity: “It took me to classrooms, but it also gave me the chance to interact with people within the system. A lot of my skills today were honed during that time,” she says.
Already armed with a masters degree in governance and public policy, Merlia then joined Athena Infonomics as a policy consultant. She wanted to focus on the implementation aspect of policy and wanted to figure out how to make systemic impact possible.
“It gave me the perspective I needed to take both into consideration – how policy can trickle down to the grassroots and how ground realities can impact policy,” she explains.
Merlia combined her understanding of policy formulation and implementation, and experience in the education sector to start the Madhi Foundation.
This process was not without its fair share of challenges. Getting people to have faith in a startup non-profit is not easy, but as Merlia states, “Trust can only be gained with time.”
“If we continue doing the work we do, consistently and with an unflinching commitment to the cause we believe in, people will eventually start trusting us,” she says. “The way we see Madhi is that it’ll implement different programs addressing different pieces of the education sector puzzle. Right now we’re working with teacher capacity-building and creating content for students. In the future, we’re looking at school leadership, and capacity-building of trainers for teachers employed by the government,” she says, commenting on Madhi’s goals.
Madhi’s work is tied to interaction with the government systems currently in place.
“Working with the government is exciting, but it’s also challenging because it requires a certain temperament. There are uncertainties and ambiguities, but the government is the only machinery that you can work with if you want to create scalable impact,” says Merlia.
In one of her blog posts, she talks about the difficulty of settling on one system of education that is ‘the best’.
“At Madhi, we do not believe there ever can be one ‘best way to teach’ children. We work with the core belief that children are unique, their learning needs different and their socio-cultural backgrounds diverse,” she writes.
They work with the system that is currently in existence, slowly trying to “chip away a few rough edges at a time.”
With this goal in mind, Madhi launched the ‘Transformational Academic Program’ (TAP) in June 2015. After conducting surveys and data analysis, they identified the practical problems teachers were facing in classrooms every day and sought to develop solutions.
“The Transformational Academic Programme is the result of a lot of learning, listening and empathising with what our teachers and children had to say,” writes Merlia. TAP provides teachers with bilingual lesson-plans, a toolkit with all requirements, and simple technological assistance.
TAP was implemented across 15 primary schools under the Corporation of Chennai’s Department of Education – reaching 1600 students and 42 teachers!
“Working to change the system is frustrating and exhausting, but it’s worth it, and with the kind of dedicated and passionate team that Madhi has, it’s an exciting journey despite all the challenges” says Merlia of her long journey.”
It’s people and organisations like these, relentlessly pursuing equity, that will convert it from vision to reality.
Written by Ananya Damodaran – Communications at Teach For India.
Applications for the 2018-2020 Teach For India Fellowship program are now open. Please visit here to submit your application by October 29th, 2017.
To learn more about Teach For India, visit www.teachforindia.org.
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