Improving Early Childhood Literacy in India and Beyond

Priyamvada Tiwari 

Priyamvada Tiwari 

International Educational Development M.S.Ed., 2019

Before Penn GSE: Program Specialist for an education management consultant

After Penn GSE: Research Associate, UNICEF Office of Global Insights and Policy

Before the program I had one way of looking at problems—now I have a 360 degree view.

I’m passionate about being able to see the big picture in early childhood learning. Before I entered the International Educational Development M.S.Ed. program at GSE, I wanted to learn how to facilitate improved learning. I’m from India and in 2011 I was teaching in Teach For India—a similar program to Teach For America. Working with over 50 kids in a classroom wasn’t making much of a dent, so I decided to start my own business supporting teachers through technology.

I found that integrating tech into classrooms wasn’t easy. In order to understand successful tech integration, I got a job in India as a curriculum administrator. I created content like lesson plans and assessments. That’s where I learned about blended learning—a personalized approach part technology and part teacher. At the end of the day, schools needed to buy into new tech for it to be successful. That got me thinking about business sustainability, in terms of the learned systems approach in which a classroom is just one unit in an entire system. Improved learning affects an entire system to create a better education. 

My journey eventually led me to Penn’s International Education program. I had other offers, but a big selling point for Penn was that I could finish in one year. At Penn GSE, I was immediately introduced to an invaluable network. Mentors were assigned for us and I was lucky enough to get Dr. Amrit Thapa. I couldn’t have had a better mentor— that kind of personalized attention was great. Also, Dr. Alec Gershberg and Dr. Michelle Neuman really affected my understanding of improving educational systems and early childhood learning. And I have to say—I loved the gym at Penn! The rock climbing wall and pool are wonderful, and there’s even a floor that’s music-free for people who want to work out quietly.  

The program’s 12 week international internship is a big deal. Many people in my cohort traveled far and wide. Since I was an international student and couldn’t afford to leave the U.S., I interned at UNICEF in Manhattan. A couple of months after I graduated, UNICEF hired me full-time. Looking towards the future, I have a specific goal—I want to be an expert in making children school-ready in India and beyond. I don’t know exactly how to get there, but the systems approach, early childhood literacy, and quantitative research will all play an important role.