Guiding Star

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Jennifer Star’s NGO Tara.Ed works with 21 schools in rural India, training 250 teachers and helping educate more than 6,500 underprivileged children

 

Since first deciding to start an NGO while watching a little girl wading through a sewage canal to collect recyclables to sell in Jaipur, Jennifer Star has come a long way.

She realised then that a better education would give this girl a brighter future. And better education would only come with better quality teaching.

Jennifer founded her NGO Tara.Ed when she was only 21.

Today it works with 21 schools in rural India, training 250 teachers and helping provide quality education to more than 6,500 underprivileged children.

This October, Jennifer’s efforts in India were recognised back home in Australia on 22 October when she received the Westpac 100 Women of Influence Award, in the Young Leaders category.

She answered a few quick questions for The Indian Sun.

 

What does it mean to you to receive this Award?

The award highlights the significant contribution that women are making in Australia and beyond. It is a huge honour to be counted in such illustrious company.

I work in contexts that often do not afford women the opportunities and freedoms we have in Australia, and it has made me realise what a privilege it is to be an Australian woman. I hope this award will highlight the plight of those less fortunate than us.

 

Tara.Ed runs teacher exchanges, where Australians work in rural Indian schools—what are benefits of cross-cultural exchanges like this?

Our world is getting smaller, and as a consequence the skills people need to live fulfilling lives are changing. Being able to understand and communicate across different cultures is an important skill set.

Tara.Ed takes Australian teachers and trainee teachers and places them in rural Indian schools for a professional exchange, allowing for the development of friendship, cultural understanding and tolerance in both the Australian and Indian teachers, an impact that will then flow on to the children in their care.

The relationship between Australia and India is going from strength to strength, and consequently opportunities for cross-cultural exchanges between the two countries are increasing…although more work is needed, especially in the education sector.

 

How is Tara.Ed strengthening the Australia-India relationship as an NGO?

As well as the Tara.Ed Teacher Tours, Tara.Ed runs a sister school program, connecting various Australian schools with partner schools in India. Through this program (managed completely by volunteers), children from the two different countries are able to interact in real time via internet technologies such as Skype.

For rural Indian children who have never been more than 5km from their village, being able to talk to someone on the other side of the world is a real life-changing experience—you literally see the walls of the classroom crumble as they realise there is another world out there!

Similarly, for the Australian children, gaining insight and understanding into the lives and hardships many children face in India is a powerful experience, which leads to greater understanding of different cultures and the development of tolerance in the next generation of Australian leaders.

 

India has a huge challenge ahead to educate many millions of young people across the country—what would you change in the education sector to make the biggest impact?

The Indian education system is on the right track. India has to educate a 1.2 billion strong population, yet records primary school enrolment rates in the nineties!

The conversation now, however, needs to move beyond access to education and focus on quality of education to ensure children are attending school, learning in school and progressing onto higher education or meaningful work.

To do this, India needs to invest in its teachers—providing them with ongoing training and support, professional dignity and a well-resourced classroom. This paradigm shift is slowly being seen in the NGO sector, with organisations like Tara.Ed focusing on uplifting the teachers to provide quality education, but in order for us to increase our impact and influence the quality of education at a broader level, we need the support of both the government and wider public.

Published in The Indian Sun / Indian magazine in Australia

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