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Applied Learning

From the ground up

Wendy Kopp, CEO of Teach For All, a network of local partners that recruit and nurture individuals into inspiring teachers and leaders, explains how community-rooted projects can inspire widescale change 

How does your organization encourage education?

We aim to develop collective leadership to ensure all children can fulfill their potential. The fact that the circumstances of a child’s birth predict its educational outcomes is very complex, and solving this will require many changes, from within education and outside of it. It will require leaders at every level of education system and policy, and across sectors, who have an understanding of what needs to change and a deep commitment to making those changes. The 49 network partners of Teach For All – from Teach For Pakistan to Teach For Nigeria to Ensina Brasil – are working to develop this leadership in their countries. They recruit and develop their nations’ most promising future leaders to teach in their under-resourced schools and communities, and, with this foundation, to work with others, inside and outside of education, to enable all children to gain the education, support and opportunity to thrive. 

How do you define “quality education”?

Our work focuses on developing students into leaders who can shape a better future for themselves and all of us. We are focused not only on raising academic proficiency levels, but on growing kids with the sensibilities and commitment to also be, for example, environmental stewards. 

Our network partners co-create visions for student success with local stakeholders: parents, educators, employers. From Haiti to Armenia, they have been engaging these stakeholders in the neighborhoods where they work to ask: given the local challenges our kids face, given our aspirations, and the opportunities, what is our contextualized vision for students to shape a better future for themselves and all of us? By the time the kids are 25, what do we want to be true? That's the starting point, then we work backwards and say, "what does that mean for the outcomes we need to work towards?" 

To what extent do partners in the network tailor the way they work to the situation in different countries?

We share a common purpose and unifying principles across Teach For All, but network organizations contextualize everything. We deeply believe in the need for local rootedness in education – for developing approaches rooted in local context, culture and history.

At the same time, there are real similarities in the roots of the issues that we are addressing. Meaning the most marginalised kids in any given country are facing many extra challenges, including poverty and discrimination. They show up at schools not designed to meet their needs. Their circumstances are more similar to each others’ than to those of the more privileged kids in their countries. The silver lining is that it means the solutions are much more transferable than we've assumed, which has led Teach For All to invest significantly in a platform that enables our network partners’ staff members, teachers and alumni leaders to learn from each other – so that they are both locally rooted and globally informed.

Aside from investing in knowledge sharing infrastructure, where else could investments make a difference?

Philanthropic investment could make a big difference to local non-state actors – organizations like the network partners of Teach For All. Right now, development aid goes to governments and international NGOs that can commit to massive scale and short-term quantifiable results. But governments and international actors can’t change things alone. The development and philanthropic communities need to get their heads around the question of how we are going to get investment into locally-led civil society organizations which are so critical in demonstrating what’s possible, in advocating for needed changes, and in developing the local capacity necessary for sustainable change. These non-governmental organizations have the freedom and flexibility to think differently, can prioritize depth over breadth, and take a long-term view. They are a vital piece of the puzzle, but right now, there is very little avenue in low-income countries for really good local leaders to gain access to the funding they need to start and scale their enterprises. 

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