Face to face with the founder of Teach for Bangladesh
Mehrab Al Islam

Aware of disparity limiting educational opportunity for children in Dhaka, Maimuna Ahmad found resonance in Teach for America to end educational inequity while in college

  • Maimuna Ahmed, the founder of Teach for Bangladesh 
    Photo- Wikimedia

Tell us a little bit about your career.

I grew up between Bangladesh and United States. As a child in Dhaka, I was very cognisant of the disparity between my own privileged education and opportunities compared to other children. When I was a senior at Mount Holyoke College I met a recruiter from Teach for America (TFA) who spoke to me about the same issue of educational disparity in the United States. TFA is an organisation that recruits top graduates and takes them to teach in low-income schools across the United States. After much soul-searching, I applied to and was accepted to TFA, becoming a secondary-school math teacher in Washington D.C. My experience in the classroom changed me profoundly. When I finished teaching, I returned to Bangladesh, and began the journey that led me to founding what is now Teach for Bangladesh.

Could you explain the model of Teach for Bangladesh (TFB)?

TFB has a short-term vision to create impact in the classroom, and a long-term vision to train leaders to take it further. TFB recruits top graduates and young professionals from diverse backgrounds who demonstrate leadership potential. Applicants go through a month long three-step recruitment process. Accepted Fellows begin a six-week course, receiving international standard training on teaching and personal leadership.

Creating future leaders is the heart of our programme. After training, we place Fellows in low-income schools, government and non-government, to work side-by-side with regular teachers. During the two years of their Fellowship, participants teach English, Math and Science, working full-time as additional teachers at low-income schools. Their objective is to close achievement gap between children of low-income and children of high-income communities. Throughout the course of the Fellowship, TFB continues to give them ongoing training and support. Every small group of Fellows will have one teacher-coach, who we call Leadership Development Officer, designated to work as a mentor and a trainer by observing their lessons, giving them feedback, running different training and activities to help them be as effective as they can be. Once they finish their two-year tenure with TFB, Fellows go on to pursue their own career as leaders in a various sectors.

TFB works to build relationships with universities and employers to create opportunities for our alumni, and gives Fellows career and academic counselling to help them take advantage of these opportunities so that they may maximise their impact even after they leave the classroom.

What inspired you to start Teach for Bangladesh?

Over 20 years ago Wendy Kopp wrote about her thesis at Princeton about her idea for TFA. Since then, nearly 33,000 participants have reached more than 3 million children nationwide during their two-year teaching commitments. About 20% of Harvard Graduates apply at TFA each year.

Throughout my own experience in TFA, I constantly thought of my childhood growing up in Bangladesh, and whether there were lessons that could be learned and adapted from TFA to the context of Bangladesh, where educational disparity is even bleaker.

I moved back to Bangladesh when I finished my Masters and TFA fellowship, spent some time trying to reconnect, understand and address problems, seeking probable solutions and ended up visiting Teach for India. Ultimately, I realised that TFB needed to happen, and I needed to be a part of making it happen!

How does TFB go about grooming leaders?

TFB Fellows are trained through a framework called ‘Teaching as Leadership’ that has several key components. They set ambitious goals for students, investing and motivating students, planning effectively, executing the plan, reflection and analysis and continuous improvement. Fellows receive rigorous pre-service and ongoing in-service training by professional coaches to ensure that they maximise their effectiveness in the classroom.

What is the response from the masses?

People have been very encouraging. Certainly, there are many questions as it is a new concept here. But I wouldn’t say they are negative, rather they are curious about it.

Any advice to aspirers who share the same passion for change, impact or the fellowship?

Being successful and having a social impact are not mutually exclusive things. It is possible to do both. It is important for young people to realise that a person can be incredibly ambitious and driven personally, and still have a very deep professional impact on society. Work hard, take risks, and don’t take shortcuts. Seek out new opportunities to push yourself to try new things.

What are your hobbies and interests?

I enjoy the arts, music and dance. I do not get much time to do it myself anymore but I watch dance and theatre performance. I love to read.

Any favourite quotations?

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.” César Chávez.

Where do you see Teach for Bangladesh in the next 5 years?

I see TFB as a place of preference for top graduates from Bangladesh and abroad to want to work for two years. I see the very best applying for TFB from across our country around the world. I see a demonstrated track record of success in our classroom where the students read, write and do math at the same level as their high-income peers.

I see our alumni as entrepreneurs, businesspersons, and policy-makers, doctors, engineers, lawyers and of course, teachers, all working to build a more equitable Bangladesh. I see phenomenal teaching happening in the classroom, TFB expanding beyond Dhaka with more and more incredible Fellows and alumni joining our movement.

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