CEO Speaks on Education

The Akanksha Foundation’s chief executive Vandana Goyal stressed the importance of creativity and student participation in the classroom—teaching methods her nonprofit uses in educating children living in the slums of India—yesterday afternoon at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Speaking to a crowd of two dozen graduate students, Goyal, who joined the nonprofit in 2006, shared her experience expanding the organization and negotiating with government officials in India.

“She has a unique perspective on public-private partnerships, and that seems to be a trend that comes up a lot, especially in the [Graduate School of Education’s International Education Policy] program,” said Serenity D. Clerk, a master’s student who coordinated the event and worked for the foundation for two years starting in 2007.

Founded in 1990, the Akanksha Foundation began as an after-school program to supplement the education of 15 children living in low-income neighborhoods. The organization now serves 3,500 children in 58 after-school centers and six of its own schools.

About 180 teachers—many of whom were placed through Teach for India, which Akanksha’s founder Shaheen Mistri established in 2008—work with students to help them attend and stay in school, Goyal said. Goyal estimated that 80 percent of students who went to Akanksha centers are now attending college.

While very few of the teachers have professional degrees in education, Goyal said she believes the foundation’s staff has been effective in directing the energy of the children to continue their learning.

Jonathan P. Newton, a master’s student in the audience who volunteered for Akanksha for two months in 2008, agreed.

“They were wild,” Newton said. “But they really wanted to learn.”

Newton said he hopes the Akanksha method is adopted in other countries.

“It would be awesome if people modeled their own ideas after Akanksha,” he said.

Going forward, Goyal highlighted the need for education professionals and leaders coming from education schools like Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

“Finding people in the leadership level of education is really hard, so if any of you want to come, that’s my pitch.”