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Vasudha Bachchan

IWB Blogger

Madhi’s Merlia Shaukath Lays Stress On Different Kind Of Schooling For Different Kind Of Backgrounds

  • IWB Post
  •  October 11, 2017


Merlia Shaukath founded Madhi with the unwavering belief that a proper education has the power to change and influence people’s lives; that a bright future for our children secures a bright future for us all.

As we discuss her eventful journey from being an impressionable young student herself to now gradually implementing new programs for the facilitation of a better education in schools.

So, to begin with, what was your school like?

I studied in a convent in North Chennai. It was a regular school and was not situated in a posh area. So, it ended up having a pretty simple and diverse environment, which I felt was terrific. The teachers there were great as well.

What is your fondest memory from school?

When I think about it that way, I don’t think I can come up with just one memory. There are too many to choose from. But what I was fond of in my school was the inclusive environment. No one was ever made to feel different or like an outcast. Children from all kinds of backgrounds were embraced and took care of.

What inspired you to begin your work at Madhi?

I think I always had a teacher’s streak in me. I have always held a firm belief that education can bring about some real change. I had seen it in my school when I was young, how much a good school environment was helpful to lead a successful life.

I had also done a Master’s in public policy, and I knew that I would eventually end up working in the social sector. Finally, when I took up several positions of work with Teach For India, I think that was the final nail in my coffin – it reinforced my belief in my calling, and I knew what I wanted to do.

Did you have a favorite teacher as a child?

Yes, a couple of them. I still keep in touch with them all these years later.

What are some of the biggest issues that you see in Indian schools?

Different kinds of schools have various issues. Madhi has been involved with the government as well as affordable private schools, which have different problems to deal with. However, if I were to point out one of the biggest challenges we encounter in schools, it would be the complex problem of teacher training. The issue is that schools are not able to pay proper attention to the quality of teacher education. This affects the kind of knowledge that the students get from their schools and therefore, is a critical problem in most schools.

How is Madhi helping with the problem of teacher training?

We have a multi-pronged program through which we want to train teachers. It focuses not only on preparing them but on overall development. It is a holistic and ongoing development program, in which we have several checkpoints to work on. We observe and facilitate classroom learning as well as provide them with new resources to utilize while teaching. We map the progress of teachers and make sure that the quality of teaching is brought up significantly.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face during your work?

Here at Madhi, every day is a battle. And we have to choose which battles to fight. I would have listed all our challenges if had more time. For now, let’s just say that we deal with everything from lack of teachers’ motivation to several other stakeholders or government policymakers not supporting our work. There is a lot of mistrust that the government has for non-profit organizations. A lot of scrutiny happens from both sides and a general lack of cooperation persists. The biggest challenge for us is to keep our work going and to balance the opinions of these different stakeholders and bring about as much good as we can.

What do you hope to accomplish?

We at Madhi believe that education can be a great leveler. We work with government schools and have several projects of a certain scale. This is a time for non-profits to grow and to get involved in an increasingly technical approach to deal with problems. We are not just volunteers any longer – we have become a more professional space. And equipped with this new methodology, I believe that we can make much more change possible.

I don’t want to sound like a self-proclaimed savior, but I hold an unshakeable belief that education is the harbinger of change. And when that wagon of change finally comes around the corner, Madhi would like to be a part of it.

What changes do you wish to see in the Indian education systems in the future?

I think the biggest change Indian education system needs is for policymakers to take context into consideration rather than making general policies that apply to all schools. Different kinds of backgrounds require a different kind of schooling. And it is this context that the policymakers can consider. We need to be going bottom up on solutions. And whatever solution we come up with or implement need to be rooted in a specific context.

Do you think that Indian schools are giving out enough practical training for kids to deal with the real world? For example, tax education or sex education?

There are some schools who do enough, but largely, no. Like I talked about context, in some local communities there might be needs of specific skills that need to be built on and this the schools in that area should facilitate. Nowadays, there’s an increasing focus on the development of life skills. But the question that needs answering is how is the government making sure that the quality of education imparted is maintained everywhere? Who is to check the uniformity of the training that teachers have?

I think a lot of these problems occur because of our society. Our teacher force needs to be strengthened. But Indian society looks down on the prospect of being a teacher. No one wants their children to take up the career of being a teacher and thus, the lowest percentile of people in our community end up as teachers, who lack the proper training required to educate our future generations.

Before we finish, is there something more you’d like to talk about?

(Chuckles) I think I have given enough gyaan for today and I won’t bore you with more.

But I will say it again – education is indispensable. It is what will take our nation forward. Madhi wants to be a part of that solution, and we will keep working towards that goal.

Merlia and her efforts at Madhi are a beacon of hope for people who wish to see a better life for our newer generations. It is with these efforts that one day, we might see every child in India getting the best education possible and lead a life of dignity and respect.

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