Arti Qanungo

Government Girls Senior Secondary School, Delhi, India

Arti  Qanungo

At a young age, Arti was set on the path of a career in teaching. Her mother made great efforts to educate her-ensuring she never missed a day of school–because she herself had supported her family in work from a very young age. Her mother’s resilience to keep her in school paid off, because now Arti is now making it her mission to fight child labour, discrimination against women, poor health information, and abuse.

As an English language teacher for grades six through ten in government schools, her role has gone beyond merely teaching a syllabus. In India, there are over 10 million child labourers between the ages of five and fourteen, and over the last ten years, crimes against children have increased by a factor of six. The situation is more pronounced for young girls, meaning that 63% of female students drop out of school during adolescence. Where parents are daily wage labourers and would much rather their children lend a hand at work, convincing them to enrol their children in school is the first challenge. There are also many cases of physical and sexual abuse against young girls and some are forced into wedlock at an early age.

Attendance is also an issue among adolescent girls. About 40% miss school during their periods and do not have reliable information about menstruation. Some consider themselves “impure” during the menstrual cycle and think they must not interact with others trapped in a vicious circle of social taboos. There is a strong need for a space where girls can feel comfortable talking about these issues. In response, Arti has striven to connect with her students and help them feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts, experiences and feelings. This helps her ensure they are protected from any form of abuse or neglect, as well as keeping dropout cases to a minimum.

Teaching the English language to Indian students from backgrounds where basic literacy is a luxury is challenging, and students would never imagine competing with their peers from privately run schools. However, Arti’s innovative methods of immersive learning and role-play have made a huge difference, giving the students both the skills and the confidence to compete. Arti has also scripted and directed several street plays on the themes of Challenges of Adoles cence and Menstrual Hygiene that have been performed in iconic arts hubs such as Connaught Place, New Delhi.

These achievements led to Arti receiving the Teacher Innovator of the Year 2018 award from the University of Roehampton in collaboration with STIR Education;the State Teacher Award 2017 from the Directorate of Education;and the Nation Builder Award in 2016 from the Rotary India Literacy Mission. With the Global Teacher Prize funds, she would start a student exchange programme and create sustainable women entrepreneur groups.