By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Saturday, November 2nd 2013
When I was invited to join the Teach for All conference held on Oct. 18-24 in Shanghai and then Tenchong in Yunnan province by Teach for the Philippines founders and top officials Margarita Delgado, Lizzie Zobel, and Clarissa Delgado, I thought my only involvement would be to interview two former Beijing political exiles—my brother and former ABC News Beijing bureau chief Chito Sta. Romana and Jaime FlorCruz, the current CNN Beijing bureau chief. Their unusual experiences and life journeys were to acquaint the participants with the China mystique and, more important, inspire them on how challenges and hardships can be opportunities for unimaginable worlds awaiting to be explored.
However, two prominent names stood out in the conference program that provided the greatest incentive for all participants: Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, and Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist, recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes, and internationally renowned author best known for “The World is Flat,” “Hot, Flat, and Crowded,” and “The Lexus and the Olive Tree.” With such a roster of speakers, how can one not find time for a seven-day gathering?
Kopp, as cofounder and CEO of the Teach for All network, played official host. Teach for All is the global version of Teach for America, an education-reform program that was the subject of Kopp’s undergraduate thesis at Princeton University. She was fired up with the idea of providing educational equity to all students, no matter their background. She also knew that there must be many college graduates and career-switchers in search of more meaningful jobs than what the predictable Wall Street and big corporations route offered.
Through its advocacy of hiring these individuals to teach for two years in poor public schools across the United States, Teach for All now has a roster of 11,000 teachers.
What Kopp discovered as the inadequacies of American public education—schools with limited funding, poorly trained teachers, a “disconnect between private-sector needs and public-sector performance,” and skills not adequate for gainful employment—were no different from those elsewhere in the world.
Teach for America has gained such a high degree of credibility over the years that with its acceptance rate of 14 percent, it is said to be tougher to enter than Georgetown and Cornell.
It was inevitable for the 24-year-old Teach for America model to turn global, and for Teach for All to happen. It began as a response to like-minded and concerned individuals from India to Chile to Lebanon, as detailed in the Oct. 28, 2013, issue of Fortune featuring Kopp among the business world’s “50 most powerful women.”
There were others similarly concerned about improving the quality of public education in their countries. At about the same time, Brett Wigdortz, chief strategy adviser and cofounder of Teach for All, was drawing similar inquiries from European neighbors. Wigdortz had also initiated an education-reform program in England called Teach First. It has emerged as the No. 1 recruiter of university graduates in England this year.
It is to the Teach for All network that Teach for the Philippines (TFP) proudly belongs. The obsession with educational equity for all students and the desire for transformative changes in our public school system are much in evidence. As one of the newer members, TFP presently has its first cohort of 53 fellows assigned by the Department of Education in 10 Quezon City public schools where they teach Grade 3 classes. It is the grade level that the DepEd has identified as critical, where the highest number of dropouts take place. Truly, this initiative has only been realized with the tremendous support of the Quezon City government and the DepEd, which has always considered TFP from its previous life as the 11-year-old Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation as a partner.
Teach for All has been present though TFP’s baby steps, though it runs independently, as do all 32 members of the network across six continents. The TFP fellows, who live in the neighborhood of their schools and make frequent home visits, have just completed a first semester of their two-year teaching contracts. They are neither discouraged that many of their students cannot as yet read nor intimidated by the large class sizes they have. This crop of teachers, for whom education degrees are not a prerequisite, were recruited for the kind of leadership they offer and their desire to truly leave a mark, as the TFP mantra goes.
From 2,000+ applicants last year, only 53 were selected. As TFP prepares to recruit its second cohort for schoolyear 2014-15, we smile at the story that Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala was initially aghast but later amused and rather pleased that a keen rival for new graduates is TFP, his wife Lizzie’s organization. Apparently, more and more graduates are interested in teaching instead of corporate jobs.
And this is just to put the Teach for All conference in proper context—with more stories to come.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.