The best thing about Udvash, things that set it apart from other similar organizations, is that it runs on a set of principles. Take, for example, its principle of encouraging understanding over rote memorization. Udvash does not provide notes or suggestions to students. Instead, it promotes the idea of understanding and going deeper into the subject matter and encourages true learning.
Udvash was founded on the idea that education is not about mere degrees and certificates rather it is about life. The purpose of education is much larger than achieving good grades. Education is about teaching how to learn and how to live a good life and become onnoRokom (different and better) Manus (human being).
“Our commitment is to help our students become better at what they are studying, understand their subject matters and then become a capable and better human being,” says Mahmudul Hasan Sohag, co-founder of Udvash and co-founder and Chairman of OnnoRokom Group. “If you take a look at the Udvash logo, where we have put four strings of flame, you see the representation of this commitment. These flames symbolize the four main purposes of education, albeit this is how we see the purpose of education.
One of the components of Udvash’s foundational thesis is this “teaching students to think critically and encourage learning over rote memorization.” In the early days, Udvash had to struggle to attract students due to this principle. Because predominantly parents and students alike expect coaching centers to provide notes and suggestions. Again from Mr. Sohag: “in the early days, we had to face difficulties in attracting students for that (not providing notes and suggestions) because parents would come and ask us what are the facilities we provide, do we provide suggestions and notes and we would reply that we don’t. That was a deal-breaker for many parents.” He then goes on. “It took extra hard work and a longer period of time for us to find solid growth levers due to this policy. The number of students used to fluctuate because most of the students used to ask for notes and suggestions which was strictly prohibited at Udvash since our motto was to make students understand what they are studying. Parents were equally confused when we would tell them that we don’t provide notes or anything. However, we persisted on that path and it paid off eventually. Because for many parents, it was the answer they were looking for. And many others came to understand the value of it gradually. We discourage rote memorization without understanding a topic. We take a lot of model tests and we write lengthy feedback notes in the exam papers while returning it to students.”
Udvash has taken a lot of other initiatives to ensure a quality education for its students. It has invested in creative extracurricular activities, building a thorough teacher recruitment system, exam system and other initiatives to build a learning culture at Udvash that not only helps students in excelling academically but also helps them to excel in life.
This has made a difference in the long term. Today, after 18 years, Udvash has built an excellent learning culture for its students and made a name for ensuring great quality education in the shadow education space in Bangladesh.
This is part one of a two-part story series on how Udvash has built a culture of learning and an environment of providing excellent world-class education in Bangladesh.
An excellent teacher is a prerequisite for great education of students. Without quality teachers, it is impossible to provide a good education. In a story on the excellent quality of education in Singapore, British newspaper The Economist asserts one of the reasons behind the quality of the Singaporean education system is its teachers. The Economist says that there is a lesson in it for other countries - “the third and most important lesson is to focus on developing excellent teachers”.
Udvash has been cognizant of the importance of having excellent teachers throughout its journey. In fact, the best thing about Udvash is that it has always managed to recruit and retain the best teachers in the shadow education space. Over the past years, Udvash has developed a fool-proof approach to hiring brilliant students who have a passion for teaching and can teach for its teaching positions.
Udvash hires undergraduate and recent past graduate students from top-ranking universities in Dhaka as teachers. It has been able to create a natural advantage in finding and recruiting the best of the students for its teacher program because of many of the top students in places like BUET, DU and medical colleges come from its academic program. Over the years, it has built a cycle where its former students eventually come to teach at Udvash.
To ensure the best quality teachers, Udvash recruits the top students from the best of the universities. “For teacher selection, we prioritize students of BUET, Dhaka University for some specific subjects, and BUTEX. We have students from DMC for biology. Our 95% of biology teachers are from the 3 medical colleges in Dhaka and 90% engineering teachers are from BUET,” says Mr. Sayem, who look after the Teacher Department at Udvash. Mr. Sayem started his career at Udvash in 2006 and has been with the organization since then.
Udvash has developed a rigorous recruitment process for finding the best teachers. “We have developed a standard procedure for hiring teachers. The process is rigorous, consisting of a series of tests. The process starts with a demo class. We ask each applicant to take a demo class on a topic they prefer in front of a group of senior teachers and other evaluators. After the class, we provide them feedback on their mistakes and shortcomings. We basically look at two areas: one is conceptual depth and the other is presentation and persuasion ability. There are other criteria that we look at but these are two major metrics for us. After the first demo, we ask them to take another demo class on a topic that we provide. Once they qualify the two demos, there is an MCQ exam. It is kind of an open book exam where we try to understand the conceptual depth of a student and his ability to understand a complex subject. After the MCQ, we finally select teachers.”
This emphasis on the quality of the teacher has helped Udvash build a culture of learning and ensure a quality education for its pupils.
Udvash not only hires the best teachers, but it also ensures that they continue to develop and get better by the day. It has put together a system to grooming, regular feedback on performance and incentives for teachers to help them improve. “Each selected teacher go through a series of grooming sessions. We assign a senior teacher for a couple of new teachers who train and groom them for classes,” says Mr. Sayem. Grooming is basically the training. We call it grooming instead of training because it makes it much more easy sounding, he explains.
After that, new teachers go on to teach students. Udvash has a built-in feedback system where every student sends their feedback on the performance of a teacher after class. The feedback automatically goes to the respective teachers in the form of a text message.
“We not only take reports from initial groomers, but we also take reports on the performance of teachers on a daily basis. We also monitor classes to check on the teacher performance. In simple, we are obsessed with having the best teachers at Udvash. We pay good remuneration. We provide good facilities to teachers to ensure that we attract and retain the best teachers, adds Mr. Sayem.” If a teacher could not perform as well as the expectation in a few consecutive classes even after the grooming, Udvash discontinues him/her. “Instead we provide them feedback to improve and suggest them to wait and improve before starting taking classes again. Our senior teachers routinely visit classes of new teachers, observe them, take notes and offer feedback. These senior teachers also report us on the observation.”
At the same time, Udvash has guidelines for teachers. For example, it does not allow smoking. Teachers can’t smoke. It actively discourages bad habits and bad behavior inside and outside of Udvash. The thesis Udvash follows is simple: humans learn through imitation. We learn by following others. Students imitate teachers. Since Udvash’s ambition is to help create OnnoRokom Manush (see this article). It proposes that one of the ways to inspire students to become OnnoRokom Manush is through having great teachers who students would love to emulate.
Through the process, it has also created a safe environment for students as well, particularly female students. “In the past, mothers of many female students used to come and stay with the students throughout the class period, says Mr. Sayem. But eventually, it has reduced. Now, many parents tell us that they feel that Udvash is as safe for their kids as their home.”
During admission season there are between 200-250 teachers working regularly in 42 branches of Udvash. In its academic programs, it has 40-50 regular teachers apart from irregular ones. These teachers come from a list of 1600-1700 listed teachers who appear in Udvash’s teacher recruitment process.
Over the years, Udvash has made a name for finding brilliant students as its teachers. Some of its former teachers have done extremely well in their personal career after completing academic education and leaving Udvash. Mr. Sayem confirms this. He says that almost all of the students who come to teach at Udvash do very well in their respective careers after graduation. “I can say that the teachers we hire at Udvash are extremely good. Many of our former teachers did excellent academically and are doing great in the job market and many are doing well abroad.”
Mr. Sayem says that many of Udvash teachers come from a background where teaching at Udvash makes a difference in their lives. They could earn some extra money and support their studies. Many could contribute to their families where there is a need in families. Many others find passion in teaching and become better human beings as a result.
It is not only that Udvash has built an excellent culture for students, but it has also built an excellent culture for teachers. One thing is definitely a culture of aspiration where teachers want to become better at their job and as an individual.
Mr. Sayem, who has been lucky to meet so many Udvash teachers since his joining in 2006, tells us what makes a great teacher. He says one of the qualities is a sense of purposeful selflessness and a contagious dedication towards students. He brings the example of Chamok Hasan, a former teacher of Udvash and a BUTian, who has become quite popular for his fun way of teaching math and science through YouTube videos. Mr. Chamok left Bangladesh after his graduation from BUET to pursue higher studies in the US. He has also written some very popular books on math and science in Bangla. Mr. Chamok is among some of the star teachers Udvash has produced over the years. “Good teachers make sure that people remember them,” Mr. Sayem continues. Chamok bhai was selfless and extremely dedicated to students, humble and well-mannered. He would never express irritation or annoyance no matter the inconvenience. His classes had a starting time but never a fixed finishing time. He was so passionate about teaching that he would disregard class hours, whereas we were not paying him for teaching extra hours. A good teacher must understand his/her students. S/He prioritizes the needs of students above all.”
The culture of passion for teaching continues. Mr. Sayem says the lineage of this culture goes back to the early days of Udvash when its founders Mr. Mahmudul Hasan Sohag and Mr. Liton used to teach. They used to teach long hours and were supremely dedicated to students.
For the dedication of teachers, Udvash compensates them well. The teacher remuneration is structured in a way that every teacher get remunerated for their time and effort. Udvash has been generous in paying its teachers. At the same time, when a teacher travels to outside Dhaka branches for taking classes, they get extra remuneration along with travel and stay allowances. In fact, Udvash now arranges an on-premise stay for teachers in its outside Dhaka branches.
Over the years, through a combination of a consistent push towards a learning culture, hiring and retaining the best of teachers, and an excellent environment for students and teachers alike, Udvash has built an institution that not only provides good quality education to students but also encourages them to become good human beings aka OnnoRokom Manus.