x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

How one woman brought high-quality teaching to low-income communities

The programme recruits recent college graduates and professionals to teach for two years in urban and public schools.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, with Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mu’alla, Ruler of Umm Al Quwain, before a lecture at Al Bateen Palace by Wendy Kopp, chief executive of Teach For All. Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court – Abu Dhabi
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, with Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mu’alla, Ruler of Umm Al Quwain, before a lecture at Al Bateen Palace by Wendy Kopp, chief executive of Teach For All. Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court – Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI // Twenty-five years ago, Wendy Kopp had an idea that would bring high-quality teaching to low-income communities.

It all started when she was a student at Princeton University in the US.

She saw the poor education system in some areas, such as Philadelphia, and wrote a thesis that proposed college graduates taught in urban schools for two years.

This became known as Teach for America, which she founded in 1989 shortly after she graduated from the Ivy League institution.

The programme recruits recent graduates and professionals to teach for two years in urban and public schools.

Speaking at the Crown Prince’s Majlis on Wednesday, Ms Kopp said that 25 years ago no one believed the initiative would be a such a success.

In its first year, Teach for America placed just 500 teachers. But in the 2013-2014 school year, 11,000 will teach more than 750,000 pupils.

“Significant results show the positive impact that they had on students in these two years,” said Ms Kopp.

She told the majlis that an individual can make a difference. Ms Kopp said she visited a school in Mumbai, where one teacher had to deal with dozens of pupils who all spoke different languages.

“They came in speaking 16 languages. By the time I visited, all were reading and spoke fluent English.”

After visiting the school she wondered how much energy it would take to provide hundreds, posibly thousands of schools for children with the education opportunities they deserve. “Who will do all of this? Where is the people power?”

Today Ms Kopp is the chief executive of Teach For All – a growing network of 34 organisations across the globe, which includes Teach for America.

The 34 organisations recruit young leaders from a range of disciplines and provide them with training to prepare them for their two-year placement.

At the majlis, she spoke about some of the 34 partners, including the programme in India.

Ms Kopp said that sometimes teachers in India did not receive all the training that was required.

“The key to improving education was not to use technology only by distributing tablets to all students, or by finding heroic teachers who will create miracles. The key was to turn normal people into excellent teachers,” she said.

“Teach For All looks for teachers who can go back and change the people in their country.

“Teachers who have the ability to motivate others and have problem-solving skills and are willing to work hard.”

So, would it be possible to establish Teach for UAE?

“We would love to engage in the UAE. There are so many assets you have, but we won’t do it without surveying the young people and how interested and committed they are,” Ms Kopp said.

“It will take a social entrepreneur to develop a vision of how that might work here and how many young Emirati men and women are willing to sign up. It will take a local person to do it.”

hdajani@thenational.ae