Around 50 upbeat students of the Chennai Primary School in Kottur arranged themselves in neat rows on Tuesday, having done their share of research about an important British guest who was to visit their classroom on the day.

Spirits were buoyant, the globe had been rolled, geographies established, and questions for Mike Nithavrianakis, British deputy high commissioner were waiting to be asked in the first-floor classroom.

When Mr. Nithavrianakis, who visited the classroom as part of Teach for India’s ‘Leaders in classrooms’ programme, picked up the globe and introduced them to the countries he had lived in, his job as a diplomat, and their common love for masala dosa and tender coconut, questions from unassuming students ranged from the endearingly imaginative such as “Have you dug for dinosaur bones?” to the stunningly sublime such as “Are you happy?” to proud pronouncements like, “My father sells coconut, sir.”

As almost all the hands went up in the air, TFI fellows at the school — Revathi Ramanan, an IT professional-turned-journalist-turned TFI fellow and Aravind Prasad who left his engineering job in the US to step into a TFI classroom — managed the swelling enthusiasm.

Merlia Shaukath Tanseer, development and government relations manager, TFI, said they had pooled in achievers from industries, entertainment, the armed forces, sports and governance for the programme.

“While personalities such as M.V. Subbiah of the Murugappa Group, Sailing champion Rohini Rau, musician Anil Srinivasan, and architect Arun Karthik have already interacted with students in their other classrooms, actor Arvind Swamy and singer T.M. Krishna are expected to visit TFI classrooms,” she said.

Teach for India is a not-for-profit organisation that grants two-year fellowships to graduates and young professional to teach in low-resource schools.

In their first year in Chennai, TFI has established a presence in seven primary Chennai Schools and seven low-income private schools.

According to T.N. Venkatesh, joint commissioner (education), Chennai Corporation, TFI will work in eight more English-medium Chennai Schools during the next year.

According to TFI, while their short-term plan involves placing fellows in classrooms for two years on a full-time basis, in the long run they strengthen their alumni movement who work towards educational reform in some way or even join TFI.

Soorya Hariharan would have plunged into the corporate world after finishing his chemical engineering, Alpana Mallick would be typing away behind her computer in a online media job and L. Srinidhi’s lunch-time conversations with her friends in World Bank and IT companies would have sounded more ‘in-sync’ — if not for one decision which set them apart: they decided to spend the next two years in some of the most challenging classrooms in the city as TFI fellows.

In the first year, TFI has 29 fellows in the city.

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