All posts by Akshara Foundation

Stakeholders laud the impact of Ganitha Kalika Andolana on children.

Akshara Foundation organised a Symposium on Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) to mark the completion of three years of the programme’s implementation. The symposium was inaugurated by Shalini Rajneesh., I.A.S. Principal Secretary, Primary & Secondary Education.
Inauguration Ceremony
In her inaugural address, Shalini Rajneesh said “GKA is reaching schools and children, it is a very useful and innovative programme that helps learning. Through activities and fun learning children are losing their fear of mathematics. The Government of India sent representatives to different States to find out best practices in education and Akshara’s model was one of those picked. One of the most important aspects of the programme is community involvement – people get to understand what is happening in schools and ways in which they can encourage schools and children.”
Shalini Rajneesh., I.A.S. Principal Secretary, Primary & Secondary Education
The symposium on Ganitha Kalika Andolana had three primary objectives.
(1) To share the GKA pedagogy and materials Akshara Foundation has supplied to schools and gauge their impact on teachers and students who are using it in their mathematics classes
(2) To tune into the pulse on the ground and get stakeholder perspectives and deeper insights into implementation
(3) To provide a platform for the learnings of GKA and discuss how to improve the efficacy of the programme in the coming years.

The Symposium featured two panel discussions: Pedagogy and Materials; and Reactions from the Field. The panellists consisted of eminently qualified and experienced people who have implemented several educational programmes. Participants included academics, policy makers, field practitioners and researchers who, as authentic voices of expertise and experience, discussed, deliberated and made recommendations for the way forward.
Panel Discussion: Pedagogy and Materials
Panel Discussion: Reactions from the Field
The panellists included: Dr. P. C. Jaffer, I.A.S. Commissioner For Public Instructions; Shri. Veeranna Jatti Reader – CTE, Chitradurga; Shri. Nagabhushana BEO, Chitradurga; Shri. Channabasava Swamy Gram Panchayat President, Pagadadinni GP, Raichur District; Shri. Manohar Badiger SDMC President, GHPS Bijakal village, Kustagi Block, Koppal District; B.K. Basavaraju, Director Primary Instruction; Dr. G. Vijayakumari Principal, Associate Professor, Vijaya Teacher’s College, Bangalore ; Annapurna Kamath, Math Consultant; Shri. R.V. Makali H.P.S. Suganalli, Bannikoppa, Shirahatti.

Dr P.C. Jaffer I.A.S. Commissioner For Public Instructions said “GKA is one of SSA’s major partnerships. We are reaching some of the most backward districts of the State with this programme. We have to ensure capacity building of teachers and have structures for the continued enhancement of mathematics.”
Dr P.C. Jaffer I.A.S. Commissioner For Public Instructions
As Ashok Kamath, Chairman, Akshara Foundation said “The panellists are the voice of the stakeholders. Hopefully we can take GKA to every school in the State in the next two to three years with stakeholder participation and involvement.”
Shalini Rajneesh., I.A.S. Principal Secretary, Primary & Secondary Education in conversation with Ashok Kamath-Chairman, Akshara Foundation

About GKA: Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) is an elementary school mathematics programme designed and developed by Akshara Foundation to improve numeracy skills and facilitate the classroom teaching of mathematics in grades 4 and 5 in government schools. It is currently being implemented in twelve districts in Karnataka and two in Odisha. Visit: http://akshara.org.in/en/what-we-do/gka/

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

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.

Engaging the community to make schools accountable for delivering quality education

Via 

Posted On: 21 Nov 2017
Section: Notes from the Field
Topics: Education
Tags: schooling, Karnataka



K. Vaijayanti
Akshara Foundation
vaijayanti@akshara.org.in

While the dismal quality of primary education in India has received considerable attention at the state and national levels, rural communities still seem to associate school quality with parameters such as physical infrastructure. In this note, K. Vaijayanti describes an initiative in Karnataka that involves publicly-conducted mathematics tests for school children, to raise awareness regarding learning levels and to engage the community in holding schools accountable.

While India has been very successful in improving access to primary education, learning outcomes remain poor and need urgent attention. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)1, brought out every year since 2006, repeatedly highlights the dismal state of public schooling in the country. Some studies (Rosato 2013) argue that besides supply of resources, it is important to identify channels that allow for active participation of parents in particular and the community in general, in improving the quality of school education.

Participatory democracy in education While the supply side of the schooling system in India seems to be strengthening, it is the demand side that needs scaffolding. A sustainable way to improve the quality of school education is an effective decentralised management system. Accountability of the public system is best ensured by directly involving the beneficiaries. Therefore, parents of school-going children need to be involved at the school level in planning, decision-making, execution, monitoring and evaluation. It has to be a voluntary commitment that supplements vigil over public educational institutions by the Gram Panchayats2 (GPs), which needs to be enhanced.

The 73rd Amendment of the Indian Constitution, 1993, contains provisions for devolution of powers and responsibilities to GPs to prepare plans for economic development and social justice, and for implementing the 29 subjects listed in the 11th Schedule of the Constitution, including primary education. People’s Plan Campaign in Kerala, Lok Jumbish in Rajasthan, and the School Development and Monitoring Committees (SDMCs) of Karnataka are some examples of participatory democracy in Indian education.

However, participatory democracy in education may be a challenge because competence hierarchies – as in ‘experts’ and ‘non-experts’ – dominate the sector. It is believed that quality education is understood only by those who are experts and that due to its intangible nature it is difficult to be judged by the masses. There is a need to connect the community with indicators of quality education through simple tools and techniques. A complementary strategy of deliberative democracy may help balance the power relations between the school and the community.

Gram Panchayat mathematics contests in Karnataka Bearing in mind ASER’s results for basic arithmetic competencies in Karnataka, Akshara Foundation, an educational NGO, developed a Mathematics programme called Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) for students of grades 4 and 5 in government schools. The Government of Karnataka adopted GKA in 2015 in the backward Hyderabad-Karnataka region of the state. Community engagement has been an integral part of the programme.

In the year 2016, mathematics contests were conducted by Akshara’s field staff with the help of educated youth (called ‘education volunteers’) from the villages where the children competed. Written, grade-specific, competency-based mathematics tests were administered to children of 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. The tests were designed for 20 marks and the duration was one hour. Education volunteers evaluated the answer papers at the very spot where the test was held and on the same day, thereby ensuring transparency in the whole process. This was followed by a public event involving a prize distribution ceremony to which GP members, parents, SDMC members, donors, and the village community were invited. Top three scorers from each grade were felicitated with financial rewards.

The contests were a way to engage with primary stakeholders by generating awareness of school quality as indicated by learning outcomes. The assumption is that if parents become aware of their children’s numeracy levels, they may demand that the school system delivers better quality education. The experiment also aimed to assess whether such an initiative can be owned by the community so that wide participation is ensured. Contribution of resources in cash or kind by the local community was an indicator to measure collective concern at the GP level around quality education.

Akshara’s data show that 521 contests were held and 70,000 children took the test. On average, about 45% of children across the three grades were found to have acquired grade-appropriate mathematics competencies. Over 25,000 parents, 5,000 SDMC members, and 6,000 youth participated and 9,200 donors contributed Rs. 10 million approximately in cash and kind.

The power of information The information pertaining to learning status is a critical quality indicator to ascertain the effectiveness of schooling. Typically, the understanding of educational status of government school children in rural areas is centred on physical infrastructure, facilities, and the number of teaching staff. The community often tends to equate quality with functionality, as represented by these parameters. The mathematics contests lifted the veil of public perception and became a tool that enabled the community to understand the actual status of learning in schools.

While it is early to assess the impact of the contests, most of the participating GPs experienced an immediate effect. Instances were reported of groups of parents visiting the schools the next day to question the authorities. Elected representatives said that the results were an eye opener and the ‘all-is-well’ myth was destroyed. Preliminary evidence indicates that the initiative is gaining visibility in terms of GP members visiting schools, quality of Mathematics learning being discussed in GP meetings, circulars being sent by GP heads to parents on measures taken to improve school quality, and so on. Within a fortnight, the results were also shared with SDMCs, Taluk Panchayats (block level) and Zila Panchayats (district level) to facilitate discussions on the status of learning in government schools and take follow-up action.

Besides, this intervention was a step towards closing the gap between the ‘experts’ and ‘non-experts’ with regards to education, and strengthened the community and local agencies to push for corrective measures to make schools more accountable.

Concluding remarks Participatory community action is an urgent need of the hour. Efforts such as this can create public spaces for stakeholders to engage; erect a bridge of communication between the school and the community; and enable an environment for development. The contests worked as an instrument to raise awareness among the community regarding children’s learning status, and generate a common resolve to make schools accountable to functioning in a manner that ensures quality primary education. This is especially important in the absence of robust institutional arrangements for accountability.

While quality of education has drawn a great deal of attention from policymakers at the national and state levels, there is still a need to inform local stakeholders regarding the issue and to strengthen them to participate locally to find solutions. GP-level mathematics contests may be a mechanism to enhance the capability of decentralised institutions for local oversight and support.

Notes: ASER is the largest citizen-led survey in India that provides information on children’s school enrolment and basic learning levels across the country. 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. In 2014, only 11.8% and 20.1% of students from grades 4 and 5 respectively, could solve division-level problems.

Further Reading ASER Centre (2016), ‘Status of Education Report (Rural) 2016’, Pratham. Avritzer, L (2002), Democracy and the Public Space in Latin America, Princeton University Press, New Jersey. Baiocchi, G (2005), ‘Participation, activism, and politics: The Porto Alegre experiment and deliberative democratic theory’. Drèze, J, A Sen (2013), An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions, Princeton University Press, Princeton. Govinda, R and R Diwan (2003), Community Participation and Empowerment in Primary Education, Sage Publication. Hadenius, A (2003), Decentralisation and Democratic Governance: Experiences from India, Bolivia and South Africa, Elanders Gotab, Stockholm. Heller, Patrick (2012), “Democracy, Participatory Politics and Development: Some Comparative Lessons from Brazil, India and South Africa”, Polity, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp. 643–665. Nylen, WR (2003), Participatory Democracy versus Elitist Democracy: Lessons from Brazil, Palgrave Macmillan, New York. Johnson, C (2003), ‘Decentralisation in India: Poverty, Politics and Panchayati Raj’, Working Paper 199, Overseas Development Institute, London. Pillai, PP (2006), ‘Democratic Decentralization, Participatory Development and Civil Society: The Story of People’s Campaign for Decentralized Planning in India’, World Society Focus Paper Series, World Society Foundation, Zurich. Rosato, L (2014), ‘School ‘Quality and Effectiveness’ and Parental Attitudes towards Education in Rural India and Insights from the Alice Project’, Working Paper. UNDEF (2013), ‘2013 State of Participatory Democracy Report’, United Nations Democracy Fund. Vaijayanti, K, MN Suma and A Mondal (2016), ‘The Impact of Akshara Ganitha: A Longitudinal Study 2012-13 to 2014-15’, Akshara Foundation. Available here. UNDP (2000), ‘Decentralisation in India: Challenges & Opportunities’, Discussion Paper Series, United Nations Development Programme, New Delhi.

Far from Maddening crowds:a puzzling rural reality

Nestled in the foothills of the Silicon city, with 15 feet real estate advertisement boards on one side and veggie, flower fields, thick mulberry plantations on the other is a little village. It welcomed us with the serenity we urbanites always long for. From here on, the drive to the village was pleasant with little bumpy mud roads.

As we stepped out of the car, we could sense the excitement of the place. We just hoped that the same excitement would carry us through our school visit. On entering the school premises, we were witness to the playfulness of groups of kids, who probably had their ‘bridge course period’ on.

Wandering around, we spotted a teacher, who is also the Head Teacher. She was eager to accompany us, leaving her class management behind. On my insistence, she continued with her tasks but instructed a child to open her office room which was locked.

This first school of this field visit was a Higher Primary school located in Agrahara (predominantly Brahmin settlement). It houses around 96 children as per enrolment, from SC, BC and Muslim community with four teachers and three cooks.

As I was looking at the enrollment list posted on the notice board, the Head Master quickly said the school has only 82 children. This information still hadn’t been updated on the notice board. My quick math revealed that around 60 were present at that point of time. Two of the four teachers commute from Bangalore; one absent that day. By then the lunch bell rang.



As it usually happens, the children came rushing out on hearing the school bell. They sat in a row in the corridor, where they were served food. All the missing excitement of their classrooms was suddenly replaced by a happy glow that much-wanted food always brings.

The entire school premise turned out to be one large bustling dining area. We were invited for the meal as well. We happily tasted some. The food was simple but was nutritious (with plenty of greens!) and tasteful. I was happy that the teachers had the same food cooked for children. And convinced that the quality was good when we tasted the same food.

What really puzzled us was the logic of having an Urdu School (15 children with two teachers, shut due to Ramadan/Ramazan) within a proximity of 300 meters. 50% of the children in this school are from the Muslim community. There is almost no enrolment till grade 4 and teachers say that children are going to private English medium schools.

Four school buses visit the village every day. The roads are good; the community seems to be open to letting children get admitted to far off private schools. But on the other hand, no one is bothered about the existence of this school, nor are they interested in making the most of the benefits attached to the school.

To top it off, I did not find much learning happening either. It was depressing to see the attitude of the teachers towards children ( we read, write and talk about RTE though) and the dwindling enrollment numbers.

Then we moved on to the second school, which was around 2 kilometres away. This school had four well-built classrooms nicely tucked away inside a compound wall, with 6 children and a cook, managing all of them in a room.

She said the Head Master cum teacher was away on official work and they (she and the teacher) had to beg parents to get their children enrolled. There were at least 2 children who were below 5 and her argument was that ‘nothing much is happening in an Anganwadi anyway, and the children are better off here’.



Finally, the last school that we visited did not have a Head Master/Teacher. The school has two male teachers one regular and another on deputation. The building was child-friendly, colourful, attractive and rich in classroom and outside resources.

To our surprise, we found 10 children, including with one child with special needs. All of them sat in a single classroom, being attended to by one teacher, who was busy filling a register.

In the meanwhile, not a single child seems to have been enrolled this year. In addition, there were no children in the Nali-Kali class. A rich school, no children and little learning. And of course, our TLM kit was lying in the corner, still waiting to be used!

– Vaijayanti K,
Akshara Foundation

The Asia-Pacific Regional Early Childhood Development Conference

The Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC) is a network established to build strong partnerships across sectors and different disciplines, organisations, agencies and institutions in the Asia-Pacific region to advance the agenda on and investment in Early Childhood.

It covers 47 countries including East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Pacific sub-regions, as well as Central Asia to a smaller extent. ARNEC is supported by the following organisations: UNICEF, UNESCO Asia Pacific Regional Office for Education, Plan International, and Open Society Foundation.

The Asia-Pacific Regional Early Childhood Development (ECD) Conference organised by ARNEC in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Cambodia was held in Siem Reap, Cambodia during the first week of March 2017. The theme of the Conference was ‘The Transformative Power of Early Childhood Development: The Importance of Holistic Interventions’ with three sub-themes covering (i) Policies and Programmes; (ii) Equitable Access and Participation; and (iii) Quality Monitoring.

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The objectives of the Conference were to:

1. Provide opportunities for policymakers and practitioners to contextualise ECD and incorporate it in their own countries as part of the global agenda, 2. Strengthen advocacy for holistic and inclusive ECD, 3. Share knowledge, tools and noteworthy practices on ECD policies and programmes; and 4. Strengthen partnerships for ECD among a large range of existing and potential stakeholders.

Akshara’s Poster on “ECCE – Making Quality in Public Sector Preschools a Reality: Akshara Foundation’s Experience’’ was selected for presentation.

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The conference was inaugurated by Mr. Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo HUN SEN, Prime Minister of Cambodia, who was the Honourable Chair, and closing remarks were presented by Dr. HANG CHUON NARON, Minister of Education, Youth and Sport, Cambodia. Around 650 members from countries ARNEC works with participated in the Conference. The Conference spread across three days. Six key speakers spoke, ten parallel sessions unfolded, and twenty papers were presented. Besides, there were video presentations during the lunch break.

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Pre-conference study visits were organised to two community learning centres and an interaction with community members was facilitated. I visited Leangdai Community Preschool and Taprok Community Preschool. The two centres had around 25-30 children in the age group of 4-5. The community manages the centres and financially supports them by raising funds. The preschool instructors are from the same village. The centres are linked to the local communities. They function out of a space that belongs to the people. The preschools operate from 7 a.m. to 9a.m. five days a week. As explained by an instructor, the curriculum addresses the children’s cultural, emotional and social development, cognitive thinking and language skills, through storytelling, play, art, dance and lessons in basic hygiene.

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The experience was rich and very useful. I got to share Akshara’s experience and initiatives with many private practitioners, policymakers, researchers and NGO members. I discussed with them the educational issues we face in India and our challenges in addressing them. I spoke about Akshara’s efforts to raise the standards of government pre-schools and schools and our thrust towards creating an eco-system for better teaching and learning outcomes. We design programmes for underprivileged children and try to create a future of opportunities and goals for them. Equipping the community to take on their share of the responsibility is a considerable aspect of our work as well. Our mission statement is: Every Child in School and Learning Well.

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Shared our efforts of harnessing technology to bring about change, and belief in Creative Commons ( and share all that we do in the public space) , our culture of data-driven organisation, research and self-evaluations that matter to us and so on. It was a proud moment for me when I saw the overwhelming reactions of people. They had positive things to say about Akshara’s scale, engagement with government, use of technology, and our belief in an open society.

Click here to see our entire experience there in detail.

– Vaijayanti K Akshara Foundation

Graduation Day for Tiny Tots!

Recently, Akshara Foundation’s Easy English Programme team organised an event called ‘Graduation Day’ of the first graders. The event was organised in GLPS Chikkanahalli school, Mugabala cluster, Hosakote block (Bengaluru Rural district).

The event showcased the learning trajectories of the children. Around 58 students and 13 teachers from 13 government schools of Mugabala cluster were present. The event was attended by the Zila Panchayat president, BEO, BRP and SDMC members of Hoskote block, and a few parents of the first graders.

Each school was asked to represent what they had learnt in the last nine months, using a given theme. While one school represented ‘Parts of the Body’, the other schools did ‘Mixing and Matching’ of objects with object naming, role plays, how to make use of a tab and learn through it (the main component of the Easy English programme), searching and making words from letters randomly placed, etc.

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During these exercises, one could see that these children were able to say a complete sentence and were also able to comprehend. All the 13 performances were amazing and have changed my perceptions that government school teachers lack creative skills.

In all my classroom observations at government primary schools, never have I seen teachers doing something different to teach children, something other than just a textbook. This could be because of my short stay inside a particular classroom, or my perceived notion, based on ASER numbers.

This experience surely makes me wonder if teachers use such creative skills on a regular basis. If yes, then no one can stop these kids from excelling. This kind of event can aid teachers to incorporate the innovative techniques that they have learnt through this platform in future classroom sessions. More such events like this one can help motivate teachers to teach better.

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– Anuradha Mondal, Akshara Foundation

Improving preschool and primary education in India

Via 0-NZFpNE_-P1j8p5vq on medium.com 

A PRESCRIPTION FOR PROSPERITY. 

By Ashok Kamath, Chairman, Akshara Foundation   1-D8PYyg7_HdSnaXXQTlttIw
Photo courtesy of Akshara Foundation

Omidyar Network is supporting Akshara Foundation to scale its programs to improve the overall education ecosystem in Karnataka, India by focusing on community-driven solutions.

In April 2012, the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s Regional Economic Outlook report stressed the fact that “India’s demographic transition is presently well underway, and the age structure of the population there is likely to evolve favorably over the next two to three decades.” By 2020, India’s population will include 28% of the world’s working population, ages 15–64, with potential to accelerate the country’s status as an economic powerhouse in ways that can bring direct benefits to its citizens in all areas, from health care to education. This cautious note of optimism, however, hinges on there being a series of reforms. While the IMF argues mostly in favor of trade and open markets, India can reap the demographic dividend only if our education system undergoes significant change. And it is not higher education alone that must be strengthened; the foundations of the education system (i.e., preschool and primary school) must improve in order for children to perform well in tertiary education.

Why is education and, in particular, early education, so important?

India’s economic growth is critically dependent on our ability to manage our transition from agriculture to manufacturing and services. And that means generating enough jobs to be able to absorb more than 10 million young people into the workforce every year for the next 20 years. At Akshara, we share Omidyar Network’s view of the critical importance of education as a direct pathway to opportunity and empowerment. By investing in higher-quality education, we can have a great impact on the future financial security and well-being of young people, securing a stronger collective future.

Developing human capital to scale is not a trivial task. As one can see, even with the available government resources, we have failed to deliver. One of the key impediments to the efficient delivery of quality education to children in the state of Karnataka, and India at large, is the lack of accountability of the entire delivery system. On the supply side, data has shown that over a quarter of the teachers are not in the classrooms during school hours; the monitoring mechanisms typified by a hierarchy of roles have all become mere sign-offs to ensure that “the lesson plan has been done” rather than focusing on meaningful outcomes. On the other hand, the demand for change is not as great as it should be, which to some extent can be attributed to the fact that most of the children are first-generation learners (i.e., the parents themselves had no access to education and do not have a good sense of what is reasonable to expect).

Unfortunately, the focus has been (and continues to be) on inputs — and too little outcome data is available. For example, there is little or no information on the learning levels of children prior to a child’s first “public” exam, in class 10. This means it is too late to make course corrections with respect to quality. About the only data that has been available consistently in the past several years has been from the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). This is especially troubling as early childhood and primary education is so critical to long-term success. Children build foundational skills in their early years that affect the rest of their learning and lives.

So, how do we get the supply and demand sides to intersect for optimal performance?

At Akshara Foundation we developed and incubated a framework called the Karnataka Learning Partnership (KLP), which addresses many of the issues. The framework captures data on every child with the ability of ensuring a unique ID for each child linked to his or her school. Each school is geopositioned and tagged with the school’s code (called District Information System for Education (DISE) code) issued by the central government-administered National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA). Assessments on reading, comprehension and math proficiencies are measured and tracked, as are children’s book borrowing habits from their classroom libraries set up by Akshara. We also track perceptions on education from parents and community members in rural Karnataka.

With this structure, we can start the process of ensuring that every child is tracked in the system. Over time, we will be able to define and measure learning outcomes in more sophisticated ways to determine what is working and what is not working, in order to institute enhancements and course corrections.

What is required to create systemic change?

At Akshara we believe that it will take a network of nonprofits and for-profits working across multiple verticals (e.g., education, health, nutrition) to bring their data on children together to tell a story and use this story to galvanize community-led ownership of the public schooling system to drive responsibility, accountability, and change. Civil society can help spur more effective governance through partnerships that are crucial to stimulating innovation, participation, and empowerment.

So how do we engage various stakeholders in a structure like KLP?

Here are a couple of examples: On the KLP website, we created a module called “Share Your Story” to allow community members to visit schools and voice their opinions. We expect that this will enable us to get individual community members to be more involved in the process of improving education where they live. Additionally, we are making reports with information pertaining to individual constituencies available to elected representatives and government officials — who can be influential, which is essential to making positive changes.

However, we recognize that much more needs to be done to inform the parents of children who go to government preschools and primary schools. A majority of these parents are illiterate and have never been online due to lack of electricity, computers, computer educators, internet connections, local-language content, and illiteracy. This is clearly a constituency that has “no choice and no voice.”

We are, therefore, creating a flexible mash-up of interactive voice response systems (IVRS), live voice, internet, telephone, and Android-based apps on mobile phones to bring the right information to people, on demand, no matter their level of technological literacy. We are adapting and leveraging ubiquitous mobile phone technology to create local language voice systems that any community organization can administer to make their resources and information accessible. We have piloted this approach and are scaling this up this year.

What do we expect in the future?

If we are able to leverage and coordinate the energy of various stakeholders and strengthen the pre-primary and primary school education system in Karnataka, we can demonstrate the power of a model that can be worthy of national adoption, forming a stronger basis for future learning and progress. As the recent editorial comment in The Economist magazine suggested: “India’s century is not an inevitability. It is a giant opportunity that India is in danger of squandering.” It is only by doubling down on improving education solutions that we will make Indian prosperity a reality in the decades to come.

Thoughts on Children’s Day 2016

The road through Cubbon Park to Bal Bhavan was festooned, flower-bedecked and lined with children in folk costumes. A floral replica of the Eiffel Tower looked askance at a capsicum-studded map of India. It was a vociferous, multi-hued declaration of Childrens’ Day 2016. The Karnataka Government had selected Akshara Foundation as an NGO which has contributed to the cause of education in the State. And I was there to receive it.

The past 16 years of Akshara’s striving flashed before my eyes as I settled down in my seat for the Award distribution function to commence in Bal Bhavan. The image of Akshara office in the antiquated, crumbling building on Kamaraj Road was in sepia tones. Our own learning curve was sometimes steep, sometimes gradual but always a worthwhile journey. The early days of encouraging home-based Balwadis in underserved communities ….intensive and extensive training sessions for these young women…transitioning to working with the Department of Women and Child and nearly 1,700 Anganwadi workers…..bravely trying out a few pilot Balwadi centers in city outskirts where migrant families huddled in shanty homes. Our journey with the primary school teachers from Gulbarga to Gadag and Bengaluru to Bidar has been rewarding for the trust and faith reposed in Akshara’s solutions for teaching Maths, language and English…..the challenge of setting up 1450 libraries in Government schools in Bengaluru and many more in rural schools…… the experience of meeting a gamut of children and community elders in interior Karnataka…..the feisty team of students from Government Primary schools who conquered hearts and reached all the way up to the finals in the International Robotics Competition in Germany ….so many warm memories.

And this is when I noticed the time mentioned on the banner on the stage – the organisers had summoned the guests a good 2 hours in advance! That’s when I decided to chat with the other Awardees. Among the Bravery Award winners for Exemplary Courage, seated on my left were two schoolboys from Mysore who had broken open the emergency door of their school bus and helped all the children out to safety. I was surprised to learn that these smartly turned out boys were in the 10th std – they looked considerably younger. Next to them was a shy boy from Kodagu who seemed a little lost, and contributed just a few words to the conversation. He rescued his friend from drowning in a marshy pond during a game of football.

An elderly man was patiently sitting by himself till I spoke to him. A retired school teacher, he has started a school which provides modern facilities to rural children and today benefits nearly 3000 students. The elderly man sitting next to him joined in the conversation and I learnt that he has been training children in Udupi in the traditional theatre form of Yakshagana. He has been doing it outside school hours with the aim to balance extra-curricular activities with education for holistic development. A young woman who runs a service for HIV infected persons had a most charming smile which belied the fact that she herself was HIV + when she started her work. A confident 11th std girl from Udupi had excelled in Javelin throw and a boy from Shivamogga who was a winning athlete were right behind me.

On my right was a lady from Mysore who is a founder member of the Parents’ Association of Deaf Children which started pre-primary centers which impart speech and hearing training to Mothers, since they affirm that mothers are the best teachers in the early years of a deaf child. After this training, the children are ready to join normal schools. And there were other Award winners with whom I could not get into a conversation. Each story that I heard touched me and made me feel privileged to be sitting and talking to these wonderful people from diverse parts of the State. Perhaps that long interregnum was destined for this human interaction, and I was no longer chaffing at the two-hour wait.

This Award is dedicated to every child who is in school, and whose life Akshara has touched in some way – big or small.

Akshara Foundation Award (1)

– Kanchan Bannerjee
Managing Trustee, Akshara Foundation

The Master Minds Strike Again!

Our fabulous Master Minds recently participated in the regional competition of RoboCup Junior 2016 on the 12th of November 2016, in the On-Stage Performance Category. The MasterMinds used a total of 3 Robots: a Keyboard Player, Drummer and a Conductor.

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How did the performance go? Very well of course. Since we do not have a video to show, here’s a short description of the 2-minute show. First, the drummer started with beats of a lower tempo and then slowly picked up the tempo. After a 3-second pause, the keyboard Player fingers the notes of the Birthday Song, on getting directions from the Conductor. As a finale, all three performed in sync to play the National anthem.

All three Robots were programmed to speak and coordinate with each other using ‘Blue Tooth’.

Out of the 11 participating teams, our team came 3rd overall, and, no surprises here, even  won the award for the ‘Best Robot Design’! They used string puppetry (Robotic mechanisms to control the strings) to present the given theme. They will soon be competing at the national level competition scheduled to be held in January 2017.
 
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The team ended their performance amidst thunderous applause and appreciation from the audience. They’re known for coming up with new ideas and doing something unexpected, thus keeping their fellow participants wondering what’s up their sleeve next.

We wish them all the best for the upcoming Nationals!

Spreading the joy of Mathematics to six more districts.

Karnataka State Government rolls out Phase 2 of Ganitha Kalika Andolana in collaboration with Akshara Foundation.

October 20, 2016: The Karnataka State Government and Akshara Foundation, today signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to roll out Phase 2 of Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) – a Public-Private Partnership Programme to improve numeracy skills and facilitate classroom teaching of Mathematics. This phase will include all government primary schools in Bengaluru Rural, Chamarajanagara, Chitradurga, Chikkaballapura, Dharwad and Gadag Districts of Karnataka.

In June 2015, the State Government, supported through the Hyderabad Karnataka Regional Development Board (HKRDB) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) had launched Phase 1 of GKA in the six districts of the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, namely Gulbarga, Yadgir, Raichur, Koppal, Bellary and Bidar.

Following the Honorable Chief Minister of Karnataka’s budget announcement for the year 2016-17 made on 18th March, 2016 related to the ‘expansion of activity based Math Programme for grades 4th and 5th in government primary schools’, Phase 2 of GKA will reach out to approximately 1.36 lakh students of grades 4 and 5, in approximately 4,930 Government Primary schools in Bengaluru Rural, Chamarajanagara, Chitradurga, Chikkaballapura, Dharwad and Gadag Districts.

Akshara Foundation will be in charge of developing and providing the content for the Ganitha Kalika Andolana kits, teacher’s manual and concept cards; developing and distributing math videos that will demonstrate all the math concepts taught till grade 5 with the use of TLMs provided in the kit and monitoring and assessment of the children’s learning levels through the course of the programme.

The State Government through SSA will ensure that the Math Kits are procured and delivered to all the schools in the six districts and that the teachers and resource persons are trained. Akshara Foundation will bring in the Master Trainers for this phase of the programme as well.

The comprehensive teaching methodology envisaged in the GKA programme 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).

Only about a fifth of the children studying in Grade 5 of Government primary schools in India are able to do basic division, putting them behind children in private schools at the same level. Akshara Foundation, in partnership with the Karnataka government and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan aims to bridge this very gap and reach out to all primary schoolchildren across Karnataka by the year 2020 through this programme.

About GKA: Ganitha Kalika Andolana is a model support programme aimed at bridging learning gaps in math among children in grades 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 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.

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

“Women Should Take Charge Of Their Destiny And Trust Their Capability”

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Rekha Menon, chairman, Accenture India on ways to encourage and train women for leadership roles.

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Encourage self-belief: The first step to training women for leadership roles begins from within. Women need to believe that the sky is the limit and not put a cap on their professional ambition. They should believe in themselves, take charge of their destiny and trust their own capabilities to effectively manage responsibilities at work and home with ease.

Make intentional career choices: Women need to be intentional about their careers by setting standards of professional credibility to attract mentors. They need to define what is important to them and chart out their own path for success by actively speaking up and seeking help from people within the organisation. Companies should promote women for senior roles and make the vision explicit across the organisation.

Create a self defined sucess path: Women leaders need to create an environment where they can define success and meet their ambitions not just within organisations, but also for communities around them. We need to empower women externally for an equal, just and vibrant community.

Follow a “3R approach”: To develop the leadership pipeline for women follow a “3R approach”— right roles, right client and the right sponsor. These factors should work in unison and should be developed equally.

Stay curious and open to opportunities: Leadership is often thrust upon a person when they least expect it. When it comes knocking, women should be ready to venture out of their comfort zone and grab the opportunity regardless of their apprehensions. They need to continue learning and stay relevant, while staying rooted in the organisation’s culture and core values.