Story of a young change-maker who is re-drawing India, one student at a time

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Passion took him to a place where he found the path that fueled the fire of his will to see the world he lives in, become a better place.

This story is about Apoorv, a friend I found during my internship at Teach For India.  Apoorv works as a Program Manager to help fellows in their development journey as a teacher.

As I write this, I wonder how many times have I seen slum kids? How many times have I seen laborers work in the scorching heat on a construction site, where women carry cement in a head-pan with a baby in one arm? If you’d ask me, I do sympathize, but somewhere sometimes begrudgingly, I also feel lucky I wasn’t in their position. Why should I think I would do any better than any child? These are some of the questions I had in mind before I started.

I met Apoorv, as he prepares to welcome a fresh group of fellows to Ahmedabad in June, who will teach in a low-income classroom, to ask him to share with me his story as to why he chose to teach when he could have been an excellent lawyer.

“I come from a family where both my parents work. I was born and brought up in Ahmedabad and pursued law from GNLU.”

What made him switch from studying law to working for the development sector? A thought that had been bugging me since I met him.

“My internship at RFGI (Research Foundation for Governance in India) got me to a seminar for Young Indians in Government where I heard Ms. Shaheen Mistri (CEO, Teach For India), among three panelists, addressing education crises. I knew this was my calling for that moment, as to how young people in India have the will to change the way things are, but didn’t have as many outlets for the same”

This was the first step for Apoorv, I suppose – his inspiration. He went on to tell me about another internship with Mr. Hasmukh Adhiya (Principal Secretary, Education) in “Gunotsav Project” where he observed how government schools were rated based on grading, how he saw students in a school with poor infrastructure and facilities performed better than students in schools with better facilities.

“The difference, I found, is teacher training. Even if you provide an untrained teacher with all the amenities and high salaries, the students won’t perform better. Reading material, infrastructure, technology, etc. exist only to aid the tutor”, Apoorv says. 

The decision to become a teacher was a well-informed one. Every parent wants their child to get a good job, settle down. Naturally, his parents both of whom are working had their doubts and asked him to think this through.

“I had to put some effort to explain them. But eventually, they understood and supported me” 

With the help of one of his school seniors, he even visited a classroom in Mumbai to see what he was getting into. And with this started a two-year program in Mumbai, teaching 7th and 8th-grade students English and Civics.

“My initial idea post my teaching experience was to get into educational policy making, but as I stepped into teaching I realized that there were a lot of parameters in education that I didn’t know about and lacked experience for the same. I wanted to increase the breadth and depth of my impact. From teaching 40 kids to reaching 500 kids in Ahmedabad.”

“Where do you see yourself going after say 5 years?” I asked before I could stop myself.

“I am not sure yet”, he replies giving a second’s thought,

“But in the future, I want to work with the government instead of working outside it and become a part of the decision-making process in educational policies at city or state level reaching a much larger number of kids.”

As the conversation moved from what he wants to do in the future to what could be bettered in the existing system, I ask him as to what is the one thing that he would want to change about the system at this point.

“I would want to make the process of opening new schools easier. Right now private organizations have a hard time obtaining a grant to open a new school. If this was made easier, they would fetch more qualified teachers, maybe even from different parts of the country, with better facilities to open more English medium schools.”

Giving the example of telecos he tells me how difficult it was to get a connection when BSNL was the only service provider. Now due to competition from private service providers their quality and processes have improved for the better. The problem is also in how government teachers are paid low salaries and asked to handle work apart from teaching, which also diverts them from growing as a teacher.

Suddenly I started thinking about my own city. How was it different these from other zones? Was it better or worse?

He has been working in Ahmedabad for over a year now. With the exposure that he has had in Ahmedabad so far, he gave me an idea of how the two landscapes as similar and yet so different. In Mumbai, he says, it is important for parents that their child studied in in English medium, as they thought it was the only way to secure a job to better their lives. Whereas in Ahmedabad, education is the second priority to either survival or joining their father’s line of work. Due to this, they drop out of education at some point in their life to earn a living.

When you have experienced something like this, it changes you. He recounts the story of a boy in his class, Irfan Khan, 7th grade.

“Irfan is a brilliant kid. Loves math. The only reason he couldn’t score well was because he didn’t pay enough attention while studying. One of my co-fellow took extra classes for 8th-grade math. Irfan used to try and attend these classes even after numerous attempts by my friend to make him understand that there will be time for him to learn that next year and he should focus on 7th grade for now. But Irfan used to peek through the window during these extra lessons. Fast forwarding, at the end of 7th grade we informed students that we were going to follow the NCERT curriculum in the coming year and they had to buy books for the same. On the first day of 8th grade, we saw Irfan solving the last chapter of the 8th-grade math text.”

As he took a pause, I almost swore to my disbelief. But he continued,

This is one of the kids who got me believing agar chance de and support kare to kuch bhi possible hai.”

He goes on to tell me that Irfan was also good at other subjects, debating and playing football.

Irfan has kindled in me a fire. A fire to do what? Anything at all. If he can do it, so can I.

Apoorv has recently started a website Education Reforms where he wants people to have a platform to read on changes in education landscape in one place.

“We always say there is something wrong when we observe some things and we think koi karta kyun nahi kuch iske baare mein. That has changed in me to mai hi kyu na kuch karu is baare mein. And that has become my theory of change,” he says when I ask him the reason behind starting it.

Charity begins at home. Talking to him makes me question this. I think he’s doing both, without missing out on one or the other.

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