The 'Teach for India' program is one of 18 global offshoots of a Teach for America affiliate called Teach for All. It aims to reach more students in a country where about 1 in 3 fifth-graders can't read or write.
In a crumbling, cement-block public school hidden within the sprawling slums of this megacity, recent college graduate Rohita Kilachand instructs 45 fidgety second-graders to put on their "magic glasses."
Together they "step" into a white room, a pink room, through a big door, and out a small window. This imaginary journey is actually a lesson in English vocabulary.
Ms. Kilachand's co-teacher, Ruhi Marne, gently keeps the young students on task from the back of the classroom.
Both of them work with an organization modeled off of the US-based organization Teach for America, and the methods the women use here are unconventional in a country where learning by rote remains the norm in all but the most progressive – and expensive – private schools.
The challenges faced by the novice teachers are as enormous as India's newfound global ambitions. Of the 220 million Indian children in Grades 1 through 8 (compared with 55 million children in US primary and secondary schools combined), about 16 percent of them will pass 10th grade, according to the Azim Premji Foundation, an education nonprofit based in Bangalore. Among fifth-graders in India, about 1 in 3 cannot read or write.
"How do you fix a problem like that?" asks Ashok Kamath, chairman of the Akshara Foundation, an education nongovernmental organization based in Bangalore. "If you don't fix it, your dropouts start to increase from the fifth or sixth grade onward. Then you're in a demographic disaster zone. If 100-plus million kids are not able to read, how will you ever gainfully employ them?"