All posts by Sushmita

Creative Commons. The length and breadth of it.

‘Every single use of a creative piece of work from the culture around us requires permission. Without permission, you are a tresspasser.’ Larry Lessig’s words from his speech on Laws That Choke Creativity back in 2007 made such an impact on us, that we were left reviewing our level of ‘common’ sense too.

Common sense towards? Sharing a piece of ‘original creative work’ with anyone who may need it, in part or whole, to use as intended, without being bound by copyright laws.

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Image Source: www.ted.com 

The increasing revolt on the laws prohibiting the use of an existing piece of work led to the rise of one of the most revolutionary organisations – Creative Commons.

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Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Creative Commons (CC) is an American non-profit organisation founded by Larry Lessig himself and is devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share.

It does away away with the ‘all rights reserved’ copyright act to make way for the ‘some rights reserved’ policy. In other words, artists or creators are free to use an existing piece of work, as long as they follow the request/ask by the original creator using it. The conditions vary from being able to use it freely for non-commercial purposes, to a simple Attribution request.

This school of thought has since then, found so much popularity among the creators and users that according to Wikipedia, as of January 2016 there were an estimated 1.1 billion works licensed under the various Creative Commons licenses.

Akshara Foundation is one such creator that whole-heartedly subscribes to this train of thought. It’s a fact that all Akshara Foundation works are licensed to a Creative Commons Attribution. Which simply means, we love sharing our work with anyone and everyone.

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As our chairman Mr. Ashok Kamath puts it, “If a successful method/model exists, why not just use that and scale it up? What’s the need to start from scratch and go through the list of trials and errors all over again?”

Be it our learning material, training manuals or even research, all our resources for each and every programme we have designed so far (Pre-Primary, Math, English and Library) is all free for anyone to use. All one has to do is log on to the Akshara Foundation website and download. If we may say so, it’s simpler done than said. Seriously.

Feel free to then chew on our resources, modify them and use them to best suit your needs. Wait a minute, all this, for free? All we ask for in return, is that Akshara Foundation be duly acknowledged wherever our intellectual property has been used, in any form. Curious to know more on how we have adopted the laws of Creative Commons? Just click here.

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Not every NGO has the luxury of resources that they can use to do all the ground work from scratch. Thus it helps to have access to the learnings/works from a like-minded organisation at such a time.

Mr. Venkatesh Malur, the then Director and Head of Education at Sampark Foundation’s mail, saying, “Sampark is very comfortable working with Akshara and partnering to take initiatives forward like the English program. We will acknowledge the efforts of Akshara and also would like you to support us in building capacities of the state teams where this will be helpful.” is proof of this concept actually helping others out, specially in fields like ours.

Others who have followed suit in working towards the betterment of our education system are CherYshAgastya International Foundation (for The Classroom Library) and IIMPACT, to name a few.

One of our most recent visitors could not help but exclaim, “So you’re actually telling me I am free to use your programme, be it English or Math or Library, as is? This is so convenient, I wonder why everyone can’t share their data?” Guess it’s just not everyone’s cup of tea.

Since August 2016, we have had over 378 downloads from NGOs, Government agencies, Private schools and preschools, Companies and individuals who are using it in their own area of work. We are excited to see our work reaching out to many more beneficiaries and hoping that this will multiply in the months to come.

So the next time you hear of an organisation looking to make some headway in their programmes, do tell them about Akshara Foundation’s Creative Commons Attribution policy. We’re an overly-excited-to-help bunch that’s all about working towards impacting over 2 million children by 2020, and always looking for partners, on the way.

Testing the level of math in children, the Gram Panchayat Way.

An entire academic year has just gone by after the grand launch of Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA), the innovative support programme rolled out in June 2015 by Akshara Foundation, in collaboration with the Karnataka State Government.

During the course of the year, the programme was implemented in six districts of the Hyderabad Karnataka region namely, Gulbarga, Koppal, Bellary, Raichur, Bidar and Yadgir. Around 8,000 teachers, 682 Government Resource Persons and 718 Cluster Resource Persons have been trained on the methodology, so that 300,000 children in 7,515 schools could benefit from this programme.

In an attempt to understand exactly how much the programe has benefitted the students and how much they have been exposed to it, Akshara Foundation was a proud facilitator of a one of its kind math competition for the children this summer.

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This competition was organised and spearheaded by the Gram Panchayats themselves. (A gram panchayat is the cornerstone of a local self-government organisation in India of the panchayati raj system at the village or small town level and has a sarpanch as its elected head – source: Wikipedia) Many villages come under a single Gram Panchayat. And Akshara identified around 250 such gram panchayats, spread across the 6 districts of GKA.

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Out the 250 identified Gram Panchayats, the team managed to conduct competitions in 216 of them.

Covering concepts on the Number System, Arithmetic Operations, Geometry and Measurement, the question papers were set by Akshara Foundation .

A total of 18,085 children showed up over the course of six weeks to participate in these competitions. This mammoth project involved around 2,000 youth volunteers and 20,000 odd parents, taking the ANDOLANA (meaning a Movement) to a whole new level. Many of the parents were exposed to the impact of interactive-based learning and in turn, the importance of math, for the first time.

So how does something like this work? Easier said than done. Akshara Foundation set each question paper with painstaking care, to cover all the major listed concepts equally. They were then couriered to each Gram Panchayat in sealed envelopes.

The Gram panchayat members would then begin the competition by opening the sealed envelopes on the day of the competition, in front of everyone. All the participants were given a paper each, and had to solve all the questions within the given time. Our youth volunteers would then huddle in a room and and correct the papers themselves, once all the papers were collected from the children.

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Once done, the results were announced in a grand closing ceremony, where the child who bagged the 1st prize was awarded a cash prize of Rs. 1000/-, Rs. 600/- was awarded as the 2nd prize and Rs. 400/- as the 3rd prize.

All this (excluding the setting of the paper) took place over the course of a few hours, right in front of everyone. There were no hidden rules or blanks left to fill in by the unassuming audience.

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All this sounds like a picture perfect new method of assessing children, but how did the children actually fare?

Of the 18,085 children who were tested (4th standard, 5th standard and 6th standard), the overall performance of those in the 5th standard was found to be relatively better, with a marginal increase in the percentage of students in high grades when compared with the performance of those in the 4th and 6th standard.

Some stark figures that need to be spoken about: 72.3% of the children tested could perform 4-digit addition, but when it came to 4-digit subtraction and multiplication, only 55.6% and 30.9% of them could manage it.

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While 23.8% children could do 4-digit division, only 17.2% children could solve division problems conveyed through a practical scenario.

Overall, the children of Raichur and Yadagiri districts scored the highest (14% and 18% scored above 75% respectively). Bellary and Kalburgi districts exhibited the lowest performance scores (where only 9% and 7% of the children scored above 75% respectively).

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The children’s performance, good or bad, has definitely started many a conversation amongst all the stakeholders. We are happy that this initiative has motivated the community to take a keen interest in their children’s education.

And to ensure this dialogue opens up in all the areas of Ganitha Kalika Andolana, Akshara Foundation will help organise around 400 more Gram Panchayat competitions, similar to these 216 over the course of the academic year.

Links to images and press clips:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aksharadotorg/sets/72157668273677140

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aksharadotorg/sets/72157668273810880

CHANGING THE WAY 3,00,000 CHILDREN SEE MATH.

We launched Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) with a lot of gusto, amid even more applause. This first-of-its-kind programme in partnership with the Karnataka Government and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is going to cover 3,00,000 children in over 7,500 schools. We know what you’re thinking – that’s a huge figure.

But for us, it’s just the beginning. Or as we like to call it, Phase 1. Getting a programme like this to be rolled out in six districts was relatively simple. It is getting the children taught in the right manner using this kit – that’s the BIG challenge. Akshara_In-School Programme_059 When resource people and teachers, the people who are going to spearhead its progress hereon see the contents of the Big Box or the GKA kit for the very first time, they are awestruck and taken aback at the same time. They are torn between a ‘wow’ and a ‘How am I going to use all this and teach math?’ 1 It’s simple, really. With some seriously-intensive training. And no puns intended. Training is an integral part of every new beginning, and is necessary for a smooth transition, progress and therefore, success.

Within days of the Andolana going LIVE, all training charts had been drawn up and calls started pouring in. Everyone seemed keen on getting this show on the road. There are three levels to the GKA training programme. The first level was training given by Akshara Foundation to the Master Resource Persons. The second was a 3-day session exclusively for Cluster Resource Persons (CRPs) and experienced teacher trainers from all clusters, trained by Master Resource Persons of Akshara Foundation. 1   From 23rd June to 30th September ’15, out of 1,400 resource people to be trained, we covered 1,280 – about 120 CRPs have yet to be assigned to their clusters by the state education department. Hardly had they been trained, they were eager to begin the 3rd round of training immediately.

For instance, within a few days of their training, the resource people at Devadurga waited impatiently for the kits to arrive. The minute they did, they fixed the 23rd of July to kick-start the teachers’ level of training. The third and final round will see these CRPs transfer their knowledge to the 8,300 teachers of the government primary schools in all districts. And as of 31st July ’15, around 684 teachers have already been trained. DSC_0357 We visited a 2nd level training programme in Urdu, at Gulbarga and could not help but share our experience. A group of 30 uncertain looking people slowly trickled into the classroom, unsure of what to expect over the next three days. They all had one common expression – why in the world was Akshara teaching them basic math? DSC_0176   The group was trained by Mr. Deshpande and Mr. Kulkarni, retired educationists who were first trained by Akshara Foundation. Nothing could have braced these 30 for what was about to hit them. Out came the blocks, foam squares and beaded ropes, to explain how they could be used in Addition and Subtraction. And with that, their eyes started widening with interest. Addition and Subtraction later, the group was hooked. DSC_0215 They could not peel their eyes away from the board. Frantic notes were being taken, questions fired, things being pulled out of the kits to see how they could do it on their own. It was chaos, fun and learning, all rolled into one roller-coaster class. This was followed by multiplication, division, fractions… slowly every one of the 21 items were used to cover the entire 4th and 5th standard syllabi. After each concept, they kept exclaiming if it could interest them this much, imagine how the children will love this way of learning.     DSC_0335 They were busy solving math problem after problem, using element after element. The paper money, base 10 blocks and foam squares seemed to catch their fancy the most. It was amazing to see how they had all become children in class all over again, learning to love math the way it should be loved.   DSC_0242 And this is just one such success story, from one of the training programmes. Imagine the sheer magnanimity of this movement when all 8,300 teachers and 1,400 resource people join in as enthusiastically! Check out our entire album on the 2nd level of training sessions.   

CISCO makes Math fun.

We recently pulled out all the contents of Ganitha Kalika Andolana’s big White Box for you. It has a beaded rope, tape, blocks, foamed goodies, measuring tools, and weighing balance etc. In a nutshell, everything a child needs to understand every Math concept in his/her syllabus.

But explaining each concept is no nutshell of a job. It’s creative, challenging, easy and tough, all at the same time. Which is why, we decided to come up with as many ways as possible for the teacher to use as ready reckoners, while teaching Math.

And what made it better, our friends at CISCO Bangalore, decided to huddle together one day and brainstorm for us. Eager yet cautious faces greeted our entire team, as we began the fun afternoon. The sheer magnanimity of the things being pulled out of the box seemed to deter them at first.

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But once they got the hang of the entire kit, the place was abuzz. The entire group was divided into three large groups. Team A had to come up with pictorial representations for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and number counting using the abacus, beaded rope and base ten blocks. Team B got Fractions and Decimals, while Team C tackled Geometry.

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What followed was a few hours of excited squeals, quiet pondering, hushed discussions and noisy exclamations. Each team further divided themselves, so that they could come up with as many representative options as possible.

“It’s the most interactive session we have ever had” said Blessie, the chirpy and ever helpful team member of the CISCO volunteer team. “But a lot of the credit also goes to our leadership team. They push us a lot, “ she added without being able to pry her eyes away from the coloured blocks.

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It was amazing to see how 30 odd adults became a class of 30 in no time at all. While one team was busy dunking the foam strips in water and having fun, another was busy experimenting with stick figures. And yet another team was deep in discussion, ensuring theirs was the best :)

And the most exciting part for us was the fact that we actually got a great number of options to choose from, at the end!

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Soujanya, who has been interning for around 5 months was a little intimidated with the colourful yet unknown things overflowing from the white box. “It took us a while to get the hang of how different things are used, but on the whole, very interesting.” And so she continued adding the finishing touches to her group’s presentation.

A brainstorming session of this kind was an excellent way for this enthusiastic bunch to also experience the Math kit first hand. And a lot of them actually realised how challenging it is, to think at a 4th grade child’s level.

Sachin, who has taught in government schools before, confirms that a pictorial way is the most effective method of retention. He adds, “This sort of system with a pictorial representation of concepts helps schools where teachers are fewer in number, and they multitask. Many of these concepts can also help the kids directly.”

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As the session drew to a close, the teams got busy documenting their ideas.The last team that remained was a particularly interesting one. Khyati from that team, who has been with CISCO for a couple of years now, is from a government school herself.

Her excitement with an assignment like this is definitely above anyone else’s. While she was one of the lucky few to actually get a scholarship from Udyan Care, many don’t get that luxury. “Which is why, I am a part of the volunteer group. I want to give back to schools like mine, where getting a sound education is difficult.”

Reasons big or small, it was heartening to see so many people come together for the sake of education. And we thank them all for their time and effort in helping us take that one step ahead. Looking forward to many more brainstorming sessions. :)

You can see how the entire afternoon spanned out here.

THE BIG WHITE BOX.

Our exhilaration and adrenaline highs have been official for a while now. Akshara Foundation is going to change the way 300,000 children learn Math this academic year with the #GKAMathMovement.

This movement, in collaboration with the state government and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan formally goes by the name Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA). It’s aimed at improving Math levels in over 7500 schools across six districts in Karnataka.

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But everyone has one question.
HOW? By teaching kids? A new curriculum? A calculator for each child?
Simple. With one big white box.

But it’s been no simple task coming to this answer.
This is a result of years of trials and errors, pilots and their consequential success.

Ashok Kamath, chairman of Akshara Foundation says, “When we approached the state government with our request for GKA in 2013, we were armed with results from our efforts in Hoskote, Kushtagi and Mundargi Blocks – about 575 schools – where we realised a significant improvement in math learning proficiencies in children.”
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And thus the Ganitha Kalika Andolana or #GKAMathMovement came into being. The big white box will now be used to help children across the state.

The kit consists of teaching-learning materials (TLMs) that demystify Mathematics and sets it out in simple terms, teacher-training and teacher-support for effective instruction. What is more, the GKA methodology is compatible with the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005 guidelines and the class textbooks.
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You need to be there to feel that excitement when that big white box is opened up in each classroom. The children already have their favourites picked out. While one reaches for the soft squares that will help him with fractions, another reaches out for his all time favourite, the abacus and its colourful counterparts. Within minutes the entire kit is in play all across the classroom.
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With increasing curiosity about the #GKAMathMovement, here’s a sneak peek into the heroes that make up our Math kit.

1. The ever-dependable abacus

These red, yellow, blue and green hued discs help children add and subtract in a systematic yet interesting way. While the vivid colours retain their attention span, the excitement of spinning around a disc or two with their friends brings out quite a few chuckles.
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      2. Block of buddies

Following the lines of the abacus, we also have the same hued square counters as an alternative to help them add and subtract. Yellow blocks are meant for the units’ place, blue for tens’, green for hundreds’ and red for the thousands’ place.
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3. Play money

Now which kid doesn’t love playing ‘house’ or ‘to-the-market’? If you thought kitchen toys and wax fruit made their eyes sparkle, imagine what paper money does to them.

The paper money in our kit helps children relate to real-life problems and apply it while solving a problem. It’s almost like the real thing, which is very exciting for them.
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4. Cushy Counters

Give them a dip in water and they stick to any surface. For days. No really. These foam squares and fraction strips help children with fractions and decimals.
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5. Weighing scale and beakers

A weighing scale, some beakers and water provide a lot of entertainment for children as they discover for themselves whether 250ml is heavier than 150ml and how water can be used to measure the weight of a beaker. For many this is a real-life situation, as their parents run or work in vegetable or grocery shops.
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6. Red and white counting system

Learning Math can be easy. And the red and white beaded rope is proof of this. Add a bunch of clothes clips and your tool is ready. One can add, subtract and even multiply using this colourful and very handy device.
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Apart from these, a measuring tape, a bag of coins, a place value mat and a clock among others also make it to each kit.

Want to see exactly how each unit can be used? Catch our Math videos here!

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2014 has revealed that only 20.1 percent of class 5 students in government schools in Karnataka can do simple division.
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In the words of Ashok Kamath, “Through this programme we are committed towards a problem solving approach to Mathematics teaching and learning outcomes, improved pedagogy, assessments, training and capacity building of teachers. We also want to ensure quality access to education in government schools, and Ganitha Kalika Andolana is a step forward in that direction.”

Can’t wait to get a kit for your kids now? Get in touch with Idek already!

THE READING CORNER

The 8th of March this year was a sunny day with temperatures rising way above comfort zones. Perfect to stay indoors and cozy up with a book and a cold lemonade. IMG_20150308_084244 Akshara Foundation swooped in with just the answer. Since it was time for the next edition of Sunday Soul Santhe, we thought, what better than a cozy reading corner for kids to plonk and chill, away from the heat. IMG_20150308_092247 The main objective however, was to spread the word about Akshara Foundation in general and our classroom libraries at government schools in particular. Sunday Soul Santhe is a quarterly flea market that sees throngs of people come together and encourage small business owners with their art, be it crafty creations, good food or great music. IMG_20150308_092607 And so, that was how the Reading Corner came to be. We set up a yellow and white-hued cozy little reading space complete with beds and bolsters, where kids could just get lost in our re-creation of the classroom library. And they did just that. While getting kids to warm up to the corner initially was tough, we soon realized that was because of growling tummies. Post lunch, the corner was pretty much the most sought-after attraction at the Santhe. IMG_20150308_131137 While a couple of boys were seen begging their folks to let them just chill in the reading corner, another came back as promised after getting his face painted. Once they were in, no one wanted to leave! Each one aptly found a reading position befitting a perfectly lazy afternoon. And that was the last their parents heard them grumble at the Santhe. soul santhe collage Irrespective of our age, this is precisely what books do to each and every one of us, right? They take us into a completely different world.  A world no one should be deprived of or kept away from. And that’s exactly what Akshara aims at doing with the classroom library – giving children their right to imagination and innovation, at every stage of their childhood.