Grey Sunshine is about the challenges faced by most children in our country to get any sort of education; it is a revelation of the abysmal state of our government schools and educational practices; above all it is about the children, their parents and the educators that make up the programme.
Sandeep Rai, the author, is Chief of City Operations at TFI. He started his career at Teach For America where exposure to some of the most challenging environments in that country led him to realize that his calling and future lay back home, where conditions are infinitely worse. Rai writes of the 10 years since that decision, and the beginnings of the organization in which 4,000 people have now completed their fellowships and worked with over 38,000 children.
The book makes a compelling read. Listening to children in communities where basic facilities are missing and poverty takes on a whole new meaning, it is difficult not to despair. Rai writes early on in the book that spending time in bastis ‘forced me to acknowledge, in ways that I hadn’t before, the deeply damaging effect of hopelessness on the very essence of the human spirit.’ He goes on: ‘We need real stories of success to sustain their aspirations to fuel their desire to hope.’ And that is what Grey Sunshine attempts to do— provide those success stories that sustain the children, their families, the educators and the programme itself. Students from TFI have gone on to complete their schooling; some attend prestigious colleges at home and abroad and as one young girl put it, ‘Don’t I deserve to dream too? I definitely deserve to dream!’
The real heroes of these stories though are the highly qualified individuals from reputed colleges and corporates who take on the TFI fellowship and work as full-time teachers in government schools for two years. The book traces the experiences of several of these youngsters as they stumble through their first few weeks and grapple with problems that they could not have imagined. Their doggedness and creativity lead to innovative and far-reaching solutions. If Rai claims that children’s lives are transformed, it seems evident that a greater transformation is seen in the lives of these dedicated teachers.
Despite the wonderful stories though, there are a few niggling questions and one truly baffling issue. The niggling questions are to do with methodologies that at times seem questionable (like giving Rs 5,000/- to school teachers for attending a series of workshops, or asking children to set their goal as Harvard and nothing less) or unsustainable and heavily teacher-dependent.
The truly baffling issue however is—why is there no critique of government priorities and policies that necessitate organizations like Teach For India in the first place? Rai may have reasoned that this is not the place for such an analysis, but the government is the one entity with the power to drastically change, for the better, the lives of all our children—a responsibility it is increasingly abandoning, and yet it is allowed to get off scot free!
Grey Sunshine offers much food for thought and should inspire many more to work in the field of education and that time cannot come soon enough for millions of Indian children.
Deepa Balsavar, a writer, illustrator and story teller is author of 27 books for children, has been developing educational material and teaching and conducting workshops on script writing, storytelling and illustration for children and adults for over 25 years. Her story book The Seed was chosen by White Raven, Germany as one of the outstanding books for young children for the year 2006.