All posts by Team Akshara

A DAUNTING TASK

Via logoon www.deccanherald.com

Ashok Kamath, Dec 28, 2016
IMPROVING EDUCATION SYSTEM :

Increased demand and the cumulative energy of all stakeholders can bring quality into education, and children will get to learn.

Well-known economist Amartya Sen recently said at the London School of Economics (LSE), “India is the only country in the world which is trying to become a global economic power with an uneducated and unhealthy labour force.” Having worked deeply in the eco-system of education in India for over a decade, I have reasons to agree with him. Let’s examine them.

Despite having a mammoth government-funded education system in place, we have an ‘uneducated’ populace. As per the Census of India 2011, our literacy rate is at 74%.

But according to Aspiring Minds National Employability Report, which is based on a study of more than 1,50,000 engineering students who graduated in 2015 from over 650 colleges, 80% of them are unemployable. The reason for this situation can be attributed to lack of quality of education imparted throughout our public education system, which the majority of our population relies on.

To illustrate this, according to India Spend, Rs 1,15,625 crore has been spent on Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) for universalising elementary education over the last five years. Over the years, we have also built the infrastructure required to service the rural population.

We have also allocated both monetary and human resources. State schools, in reality, have better qualified teachers than low-budget private schools.

The government school teachers get some amount of annual training, and there is a well-defined system in place. Despite this, the outcomes in terms of quality of learning, particularly in the case of math and reading, are not very discernible.

As per the ASER-2014 Report, the All India (rural) figures for basic arithmetic reveal that in 2012, only 26.3% of children in grade 3 could do two-digit subtraction. This number fell to 25.3% in 2014.

The percentage of children in grade 2 who still cannot recognise numbers up to 9 has increased from 11.3% in 2009 to 19.5% in 2014. And this trend persists in all competencies throughout the primary school system.

The reasons for this are not difficult to identify. A large section of our population resides in rural areas and relies on the government school system for its education needs. And it is in principally rural areas where we have failed with regard to education.

For example, in the city of Bengaluru, for every child that goes to the public school system, four children go to the private school system which means there are market force solutions to address needs. In rural communities that is reversed.

As per the latest District Information System for Education (DISE) data, nearly 51.3 million children in India study in grades 4 and 5 in government primary schools. That’s about 10 times the number of all children living in Australia.

Addressing just the education needs of children in grades four and five in any mid-sized state like Karnataka is akin to addressing the needs of an entire country like Kenya or Ghana. The task is evidently huge.

Where do the gaps lie? The oft-quoted response is that it is in the execution and the lack of accountability that the system fails. But is that the full story? A traditional African proverb says, “it takes a village to raise a child.” What does this mean in the context of rural early education in our country?

For starters, it means that parents and teachers have to work together in the interests of the child. Too often we hear parents say that the schools are not performing while teachers complain that parents don’t do their bit for the children.

We need to change this equation. The course of discussion around education has just started to change from enrolment to quality of schooling. School Development and Monitoring Committees (SDMCs) that have two-thirds participation from parents. We need to engage and bring awareness to these committee members about enabling quality.

And this cannot be closed-room discussions. It needs to become a movement and everyone needs to get involved in the process.

Quality of education is far too important for anyone to be left out from the process, be it elected representatives from gram panchayats, members of Parliament, officials from the Education Department or other influencers. Most importantly, parents and community members, and teachers and children themselves should be integral to the process. There has to be a vibrant demand for quality to be infused into the school system.

Political will
This takes investment and political will and greater collaboration. Increased demand and the cumulative energy of all stakeholders can bring quality into education, and children will get to learn.

What else can be done? The media and policy makers alike need to have quality of education on their agenda. We need to constantly talk quality, now that we have achieved desired levels of enrolment.

Today, we can consider that the whole “village” is sleeping and unless we wake up and work together, there is very little chance for change. Our task is huge, our numbers are daunting.

But we are a nation on the move and as Amartya Sen has rightly said, it is only an educated and healthy populace that can get us to real development.

It begins with public education and public health, with quality being the lodestone on which both are based. We have to get our act together and enable a movement. It begins with each of us.

(The writer is chairman, Akshara Foundation, Bengaluru)

My first visit to a government school in rural India.

Seeing the schools in Kushtagi and Mundargi was the favourite part of my time with Akshara. Our school visits were unannounced, like the house visits, so we were able to see a real school day in progress, and Akshara was able to check on the students’ progress.

Another reason Akshara came to the schools was to see how, if at all, classrooms were utilising their GKA Kits. These kits contain educational resources for mathematics and English classes, such as counting mats and blocks and conversation sheets, that seem as if they should be standard in every classroom – especially the math tools. These are tools that helped me, as a younger student, visualise operations like addition and subtraction. They helped me learn when I was starting my primary education, so it made me optimistic to see the students in Mundargi and Kushtagi using the same tools so effectively.

When we initially arrived at the schools, the first thing that I noticed was the resourcefulness. The same resourcefulness that I saw in the residential areas is found in schools; class bells are made from small hammers tied to thick metal trays, small pillows are attached to blackboards by string to create erasers. Making do with what you have is a concept that has grown increasingly rare in countries like the U.S. and big cities, where shortage of resources is rarely felt.

Classroom copy

One area where this scarcity is not felt, however, is in style. By this, I mean the uniforms and book bags each student was equipped with, provided by the state government. Regardless of the poverty they encountered at home, every young student was clad in a blue and white uniform.

In the United States, most state-run school systems do not have uniforms, instead opting to set general dress codes (which are usually just lists of ‘do not’s, for example: girls, do not wear skirts or shorts more than four inches above the knee in length. Boys, do not wear your hair long … or shorts more than four inches above the knee). However, in private schools, like the one I attend, uniforms are standard. Most of us private school students love to hate the uniforms impressed upon us by the school administration because we have plenty of our own, more comfortable, clothes that we would much rather wear.

Despite this scarcity, these students thrive when given the opportunity. The bright (and adorable) students in the primary schools of Mundargi and Kushtagi share an enthusiasm for learning and a competitive spirit that shined through the dimly-lit classrooms when the Akshara team and I arrived.

Students copy

Whenever a math problem would be presented to the class, the children would rush to open their notebooks and solve the problem first, handing over their work for checking as soon as they finished. In the event a student was wrong, they would just as quickly start working the problem again. When a passage in English was to be read, virtually every student wanted to show us their ability to read and write in English, a refreshing difference from the culture of primary schools in America, where conformity is too-often valued over exceptionality.

To feed into students’ eagerness and curiosity, Akshara has set up libraries both in classrooms and local tea shops. Each library is stocked with age-appropriate books in both Kannada and English, to encourage students to expand their familiarity with both their local language and one more widely spoken.

I visited the villages on the right day because I was present for the inauguration of one such library, an event that attracted the Gram Panchayat of the village, as well as parents and students to the small café. Each person present was given a few books to put in the library, so no one was left out of the celebration. The concept of tea shop libraries is, I think, brilliant; the availability of books in both tea shops and schools expands opportunities to read for both students and parents and encourages parents to read with their children.

Tea_Shop

These visits to Mundargi and Kushtagi showed me a side of life I could never have imagined. They made me thankful for my plentiful life in the United States and optimistic about India’s future. India is a complex country with a variety of cultures and traditions. To lead in tomorrow’s world, it needs something or someone to help it achieve its vast potential – a good education is that something and Akshara is that someone.

– Ajay Dayal

Beautiful. Warm. Resourceful. My first visit to rural India.

No American visiting India for the first time really knows what to expect. The India that one visualises from the descriptions of travel websites, friends, and relatives is one of stark contrasts between clean and polluted, modernity and tradition, rich and poor.

So, before I came to India, I didn’t know what to expect. My name is Ajay and I am an Indian-American high school student on his first visit to India. On this trip, I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to join the Akshara Foundation on visits to the villages of Mundargi and Kushtagi in north Karnataka.

The rides to the villages were long and bumpy on roads that varied in levels of maintenance. For much of the ride, I had my left hand firmly grasped around the ceiling handles of our SUV and my eyes glued to the window, seeing life in a rural area for the first time.

The countryside can be very beautiful. Agricultural fields cover the sandy landscape with green crops and bright yellow carpets of sunflowers. These fields seem to stretch forever, only briefly interrupted by the villages they sustain.
Sunflowers
The villages have their own beauty, with the vivid colours painted on the walls of homes and local shops. Buildings are constructed into small, but pleasant and reliable, structures from the materials readily available, such as wood and mud brick, showing the resourcefulness of these poor communities.

The members of these communities were warm and welcoming to us, opening their home to us in an instant. I’ve never been a big tea or coffee drinker – I’m fairly energetic on my own, without caffeine but by the end of the two days I was in rural Karnataka, I was converted.

Everywhere we went, either tea or coffee was generously offered (and how can you pass up South Indian coffee?). The beverages not only literally warmed my mouth (I think I actually burned my tongue on the first day – helpful tip: when drinking a hot liquid, don’t keep it in your mouth in hopes of it somehow cooling down), but also, metaphorically, my heart; despite their daily struggle for food and water, these villagers offered me tea/coffee and biscuits without hesitation.
Tea
However, these same villagers, the parents of the children we visited in local schools, did not seem to understand the full importance of their children’s education. During their house visits, Akshara conferences with the parents about the importance of education and convinces families of why they should be involved in their children’s education.
VIllage
When basic necessities are scarce, it is understandable that parents can find it difficult to prioritise homework over harvesting. But a good education is a necessity. Certainly not of the immediacy of food or clean water for basic survival, but education is a necessary investment we make today to ensure that these children do not have to worry about things, like food shortages, in the future.

In the United States, parents are, unfortunately, also often distanced from their children’s education. Some parents work too much to be able to find time to monitor their child’s learning. Others simply can’t be bothered. Either way, the effects on the child’s education are the same: the parents’ lack of involvement is an impediment.

While in both America and India, parental involvement is generally directly correlated to income level, the difference is that in America, the trade off is rarely – if ever – between survival and education. Americans, in general, have more than enough to survive.

The young students in Mundargi and Kushtagi dream of becoming teachers, doctors, engineers – not farmers or labourers that struggle to get by. This is why it is important not only for the students to have an education available to them in school, but also for the parents to support their children’s quest to build a better life for themselves and, eventually, the villages they come from.

And this is why Akshara’s work is so essential. By building relationships with the communities in which they work, Akshara is able to make meaningful change at the deepest, most fundamental, levels. They invest time and effort into providing an education to children today, and changing attitudes and mindsets to ensure the next generation will have an education tomorrow.

– Ajay Dayal

The GlobalGiving Photo Contest 2015

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We’re really excited! Two of our photographs have been shortlisted as finalists for the GlobalGiving Photo Contest ’15.

GlobalGiving is the largest global crowdfunding community for nonprofits and Akshara has been associated with them for a while now.

Help us win by VOTING for both our shortlists, and in turn, become a Ganitha Kalika Andolana or #GKAMathMovement supporter.

The prize money will go towards our math programme to aid better learning among children in government schools across Karnataka and help them realise that math can be fun too.

HOW TO VOTE:

1. CLICK ON THE PHOTOS BELOW
1 2
2. VOTE FOR THEM

3. RECONFIRM YOUR VOTE

You will receive an email asking you to confirm your VOTE.
Please follow the instructions to confirm the vote, else it will not be counted.

Voting deadline: 9:30pm on 7th August ‘15

Do spread the word to as many people as you can; every vote gets us nearer to our goal.

A big thank you in advance from all of us at Akshara Foundation for doing your bit for the #GKAMathMovement. 

ROBO-MANIA IS SPREADING LIKE WILDFIRE.

I was not conducting any formal classes for the 3rd and 4th standard kids. But I did allow them to come fiddle around every now and then…

Most of the time I had to come up with excuses, telling them that they could use the Robotics lab when they came to the 5th standard. Because that’s how the Robotics Programme is structured.

Today I reached the lab very early. A few 3rd standard kids had also come as early. They requested me to allow them to build something. Since there were only three students and ample time before class, I asked them to sit together at one computer.

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At the most, I knew I might have to reinstall some software. And so I just observed them. They confidently turned on the computer and were trying to open the LEGO WeDo software… but they did not know that all it took was a double click of the icon.

I showed them how to do a double click by tapping on the bench. They opened the software and without any further guidance, reached the robot building guidelines page. They chose to do the first Robot on the list.

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After a few trials and errors, they finished building the Robot. Their faces reflected the sheer joy they felt…
So again, these kids are proving me wrong, sending the message loud and clear, that their capacity is beyond my imagination.

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The Robotics Programme has so far been restricted only to the children of standard V and above. Today’s amazing incident has prompted me to begin formal classes for the 3rd and 4th standard children too.

– Sridhar P.

Sridhar heads our robotics programme in the government schools and ever so often has more than one inspirational anecdote or two.

Shipped: 702 boxes of fun.

The last few days have been really exciting for all of us at Akshara.
The first batch of our Ganitha Kalika Andolana kits, 702 of them to be precise, were successfully shipped and delivered.1Every success story comes with its share of funny anecdotes and drama.
So does ours, starting with the clouds opening up and showering us, to the mail van getting lost to finally getting stuck under a few branches.2Finally the bright red van found us. How? Well, they were passing by a place with white and blue boxes spilling out, and screeched to a halt.3Set back by a couple of hours, we got to work. A loading line as efficient as ours took just under an hour to load all boxes in.
Beat that!4Our enthusiasm and excitement even got to the friendly folks from the post office. So much so that the officer-in-charge joined our well-oiled belt of hands as well.Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 11.38.49 pmAnd there we were, just over an hour later, closing the doors with one resounding bolt. And off they were, all 702 kits of the #GKAMathMovement, ready to spread the joy of Math to children.5The kits have reached their destinations and will be distributed to the schools soon.


View the entire album here.


Music courtesy: CrystalFissure. Used for non-commercial purposes only.

IN AND OUT OF CLASS – the change makers at IISc Alumni Global Conference 2015.

The recently concluded IISc Alumni Global Conference, Bangalore, was a celebration of coming together, reliving old times, reconnecting with friends and of taking a forward look at how the alumni could transform lives.

IISc alums, who at one point pursued lucrative career options or left India to achieve success abroad, are now helping poor students in the country. The meet brought together several distinguished people to deepen the collective understanding of the ways and measures to make learning a better prospect.

It also put the spotlight on a versatile global community of IISc alums who are helping communities in the country to learn better.

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Nurture the School that Nurtured You (NSNY), a programme started by the IISc Alumni Association of North America (AANA), has adopted 15 schools in different parts of the country and is working towards making learning a better prospect. Prof Arkal Shenoy, nuclear scientist and president of IISc AANA, was among the first to sponsor a programme in a government school in Ujire about a month ago.

Nasa scientist of Mars Curiosity fame, Dr Gajanana Birur had adopted schools near his home town Birur in Chikmaglur district 10 years ago. He has also adopted a government school in Bovipalya near Rajajinagar in Bengaluru. “It has only 45 students as the area now has developed from when I saw it decades ago and parents prefer private English schools. I want this school to become a symbol of desire,” said Dr. Gajanana.

It is here through his own story and that of the children at Viveknagar Government School, that Sridhar, who is in-charge of Akshara Robotics Lab, talked about creating value and addressing questions that are both urgent and daunting.

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Robotics labs in schools where almost exclusively the children of poor study, are unheard of. Into this, Akshara brought in the idea of structured creativity in a lab under someone who could deal with robots and children, knowing the difference.

It is here for these kids our very own Sridhar, an IISc alumni, found it worth his while to junk his cushy job and instead work in an atmosphere where he has to stack carton-boxes over one another to place his laptop since there is no table of proper height. Together, school children and Sridhar, create enough enthusiasm for the robotics classes to become a craze where students vie with each other to take a seat, and hands go up with lightning speed when ‘robotics’ sir’ asks a question.

A story of hope and inclusivity – also a story of the way forward. This is a story that needs to be told, to be shared to be narrated by each one of us… and we are happy we had the opportunity to share it at the IISc Alumni Global Conference, 2015. It’s just a matter of time before we see a social change brought about by the difference makers who believe in their own potential and remove barriers to create a more inclusive world.

Thank you, IISc for giving us Sridhar.

N.B. – Two weeks ago, inspired by the way Sridhar has introduced government school kids to robotics, Dr Gajanana Birur has set up a robotics lab at an education centre run by social activists in Chettanahalli, a small village between Birur and Tarikere. In his own words – “I have now realised that robotics helps imbibe a spirit of curiosity and I have seen it work through the work of another alumni, who is working with a school in Bengaluru.”

Read more @ http://bit.ly/1C8YG4g

Authored by writer@educationjams

Ganitha Kalika Andolana – the Math movement, is now LIVE.

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In a first, Karnataka State Government rolls out Ganitha Kalika Andolana in collaboration with Akshara Foundation.

June 23, 2015: The Karnataka State Government in collaboration with Akshara Foundation, today rolled out Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) – a program to improve numeracy skills and facilitate classroom teaching of Mathematics among students in Government primary schools. Starting with all the schools in the Hyderabad Karnataka Region, the state government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Akshara Foundation to implement GKA. The programme is financially supported by Hyderabad Karnataka Area Development Board (HKADB) through Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA).

The two-year plan includes provision of Akshara Ganitha teaching and learning material, capacity building of resource persons and teachers and assessment of children’s learning outcomes. The programme will focus on 4th and 5th standard students to improve proficiency in Mathematics in a child-centric manner. “This is a leap forward towards the state government’s commitment to provide quality education to students especially in the rural areas. The program is an innovative way to improve learning in Mathematics,” said Dr. Qamarul Islam, Chairman, Hyderabad Karnataka Area Development Board and Hon. Minister for Municipal Administration & Minority Affairs.

“GKA will be a model learning programme to make the children of Hyderabad-Karnataka Region, lead in numeracy skills. The program has been rolled out in six districts of Hyderabad-Karnataka region in collaboration with Akshara Foundation and utilizing the assistance from Hyderabad-Karnataka Development Board,” he added.

The partnership with Akshara Foundation is one of the first that the state Government has entered into in the spirit of public-private partnerships. The comprehensive teaching methodology envisaged in GKA program is compliant with the guidelines prescribed by the National Curriculum Framework 2005 and supports the textbooks and workbooks designed by the Karnataka Department of State Educational Research and Training (DSERT).

“The Annual Status of Education Report 2014 (ASER 2014) has revealed that only 20.1 percent of 5th standard students in government schools in Karnataka can do simple division. Ganitha Kalika Andolana will help improve the poor Math proficiency levels among children and work towards quality education for all,” said Ashok Kamath, Chairman, Akshara Foundation.

Akshara Foundation and the State Government have collaborated over the past decade on many successful primary education initiatives.

About GKA: Ganitha Kalika Andolana is a model support programme aimed at bridging learning gaps in math among children in standard four and five by using an activity based creative approach and peer learning rather than rote application of mathematical concepts. The programme also aims to build significant math capacity among teachers in the state.

About HKADB: The Hyderabad-Karnataka Area Development Board looks at the overall development of the region which has been granted special status under Article 371 (J) of the Constitution by the Union government. The region constitutes of the districts of Gulbarga, Yadgiri, Raichur, Koppala, Bellary and Bidar.. These districts are among the most backward regions of the country with Human Development Indices (HDI) below the sub-Saharan levels.

About SSA: Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is Government of India’s flagship programme for achievement of Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE) in a time bound manner, as mandated by 86th amendment to the Constitution of India making free and compulsory Education to the Children of 6-14 years age group, a Fundamental Right. SSA is being implemented in partnership with State Governments to cover the entire country.

About Akshara Foundation: Akshara Foundation was set up with a mission to ensure Every Child in School and Learning Well. We believe that quality education is the undeniable right of every child and children should not be deprived of it just because they do not have access to it or the resources to realise their dreams.

Visit: www.akshara.org.in Media Contact: payal@akshara.org.in

 

gka kannada press release

Making Math interesting – the Akshara Ganitha kit

“I can Touch and Feel What I am Doing”

Ramesh is in class 4 at the Government Kannada Lower Primary School, Chandragir, Kushtagi Block. He is the eldest son of his parents and they have ambitions for him. Both his mother and father are daily wage labourers who have never been to school. It is a hard life of toil and they want Ramesh to be free of the burden and the drudgery – working and earning just enough for the day, with no prospects of a future. They want their son to learn and aspire to a higher economic and social status, become an officer when he grows up.

Ramesh is an average student in all subjects and particularly slow in Mathematics. The concepts he was being taught in class were beyond him, he could not decipher any of it. Ranganath is a committed class teacher, stymied till now by the lack of resource material. The textbook is simply no solution for difficult problems. “But the Akshara Ganitha kit provided by Akshara Foundation has helped me teach Ramesh and now he is able to grasp all the concepts,” says Ranganath. “This kit is especially useful for rural children. As a Mathematics teacher I am very happy now to be teaching the subject to my students. I can assure you that all my students, the entire lot of them, are familiar with the concepts and can do sums with ease.”

Says Ramesh, “I became interested in learning Mathematics because the kit is colourful. I can touch and feel what I am doing. I am comfortable with all the concepts. I understand them. Every day I do the sums my Mathematics teacher gives me correctly. My parents are happy to see this. I will become a doctor,” he concludes, confidence bouncing back with his new-found problem-solving capacity. Ramesh’s parents, avid for any clear sign of hope, are overjoyed. The progress of their eldest son is a matter close to their heart.

This was just the beginning. Ever since, we at Akshara Foundation have been gearing up to help many-a-Ramesh, one kit at a time. Stay tuned for our biggest update yet, with the #GKAMathMovement.

Without numbers, there’s nothing you can do.

Mathematics could be called the sum of life. A plus here, a minus there. Some things augmenting manifold when multiplication takes over, some reducing to irreducible limits, as in the calamity of division. In India it is often referred to as a ‘killer’ subject in schools, as R. Ramanujam says in his research paper, Mathematics Education in India – An Overview. He goes on to say that studies showed that a large number of children were failing or dropping out before completing elementary school because they could not cope with the demands of the curriculum.

It is not uncommon elsewhere in the world either, the dread that Mathematics evokes. The famous mathematician, Shakuntala Devi, India’s own ‘math evangelist’ as she was called, said, “I was performing at a New Jersey high school and I asked a class of 2000 students, ‘How many of you love Mathematics?’ Only one hand went up. And that was the hand of the Maths teacher.”

Shakuntala_Devi

But without Mathematics there can be no life and living as we know it. For children, it is an integral part of the narrative of growing up. It relates to things they do in the real world every day. It helps them count change at the vegetable shop or add up numbers on their report card; it helps them read time from the dial of a clock or keep track of cricket scores. It helps them with what has been earned and what has been lost.

Mathematics is all about finding correct solutions to problems. Accuracy is key. It cannot be one more or one less. For, Mathematics is never known to go wrong.

Shakuntala Devi said, “Without Maths, there’s nothing you can do. Everything around you is Maths. Everything around you is numbers.” Science, technology, engineering, finance, music, art – all that makes the world go around – draw sustenance from it.

Much of it would come to a standstill without its pervasive reach and use. Not in these higher latitudes alone that Mathematics is needed. Its calculations figure in every vocation. Be it in a tailoring unit or carpentry workshop, a bakery, a grocery store or retail establishment, Mathematics is that essential foundation on which the everyday builds. It is the tool for all those innumerable daily transactions. For all the certainties of life.

Image source: Wikipedia

Authored by Lakshmi Mohan for #GKAMathMovemnt