Jennifer Star has been instrumental in changing the lives and careers of hundreds of teachers and, consequently, improved education for thousands of underprivileged children.
It all started back in 2007, when she completed a three month volunteering teaching trip in India. She went on to start Tara.Ed, an NGO that promotes education in rural and regional India, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.
Tara.Ed trains teachers and also provides geographically isolated teachers with access to up-to-date teaching methodology and exposure to an interactive inquiry learning environment.
It celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2018, having worked with 39 schools during that period. An incredible feat considering Star is still in her early thirties.
She was awarded an OAM for her work earlier this year, and was also named out Emerging Leader in the Not for Profit Sector at the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards in 2017.
We catch up with Jennifer Star to learn more about Tara.Ed, and just how much difference one person can make when it comes to education.
WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Jennifer Star (although I mostly go by Jen), and I am the Founder & Director of Tara.Ed, an education NGO that aims to promote quality education through teacher training, support and empowerment in South Asia. Although my family is in Australia, I spend most of my time in Tara.Ed’s countries of operation: India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO SINCE THE WOMEN’S AGENDA LEADERSHIP AWARDS?
In 2018, Tara.Ed celebrated its 10th Anniversary. This was a major milestone for me and the Tara.Ed team. Over the past decade, we have worked with 39 schools, trained over 600 teachers and provided 18200 underprivileged children with an education!
Furthermore, 180 Australian teachers have volunteered over 38 000 hours of teacher training and mentoring to their colleagues in the developing world through Tara.Ed programs. Earlier this year, Tara.Ed’s achievement was recognised when I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to education in the Australia Day Honours list.
WHAT’S SOMETHING YOU’RE WORKING ON THAT YOU’RE EXCITED ABOUT?
We are currently running a new project in Afghanistan that trains young women between the ages of 15 and 25 to be teachers. Once trained, these teachers go out and provide English and life skills education to girls who are otherwise denied the opportunity to go to school.
The beauty of this project is that much of the training is undertaken online, using open source technologies and social media – which means we can reach teachers in remote areas or areas that are plagued by conflict. I currently have 17 Australian teachers training and mentoring 33 Afghan teachers who are, in turn, providing education to 1200 girls!
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISUNDERSTANDING YOU ENCOUNTER ABOUT EDUCATION IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES?
In countries such as India, statistics indicate that 92% of primary school aged children are enrolled in school. Despite this education standards and learning achievement remain low and student absenteeism and drop-out rates remain high. This suggests that getting to school is not the problem, but the quality of education once there, is. We know from research what “good quality” education looks like; yet little of what we know from research and best practice in education is applied to the developing world – we adopt an “anything is better than nothing” approach.
This approach is focused on access to education – essentially providing children in the developing world with access to school. At an international level, we can see this through campaigns such as Education for All (EFA) and at a local level, we see it through NGO campaigns to ‘build a school’ and Government and private grants and CSR programs that encourage infrastructure development. The measure of success for this approach, essentially ‘bums on seats’ works because it’s easy to do a head count.
While there is no doubt that access to education is important, it is only one aspect of development education.
We need to move the discussion – and our funding and solutions – away from ‘access to education’ to focus on ‘quality of education’.
While we try to do this at Tara.Ed, we often have difficulty accessing funding because our projects focus on developing people rather than buildings…and it is difficult to put a donor’s name on a person or measure ‘quality’ in numerical terms!
HOW IS EDUCATION CHANGING FOR GIRLS?
Across the countries that we work in, girls, who have traditionally been denied access to education for cultural, poverty or safety reasons are now slowly gaining access school – and are often out-performing the boys!
For example, in one of our junior high schools in Bangladesh, we have seen female enrolments steadily rise over the five years of our work in the school, for the simple reason that we provided uniforms and scholarships to girls, employed female teachers and built girls toilets!
In 2019, female enrolments outnumber male enrolments at the school, and the student who received the highest mark in the board exam and graduated at the top of the class was one of these girls!
WHERE DO YOU WANT TO SEE YOUR CAREER IN FIVE YEARS?
Everything we do at Tara.Ed is geared towards working ourselves out of a job! We adopt a sustainable approach to education development by training, supporting and empowering teachers, who then go on to share their knowledge with others in their profession. While it would be fantastic to think that we will have worked our way out of a job by 2024, we still have many more teachers to reach! Our most immediate goal is to provide quality education to 20 000 children by the year 2020 – and with six months to go, we are tantalisingly close to this ambition!
WHO’S A WOMAN YOU REALLY ADMIRE RIGHT NOW?
I know it is cliche, but I am going to have to say my Mum! My Mum was a primary school teacher who managed to bring up three ridiculously successful children and still (somehow) have time for a career! As I now have a ten month old son; I suddenly appreciate her ability to balance everything as well as understand the sacrifices she has made. To put it simply, she is amazing!
See more of Jen here.