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ENGLISH | KANNADA

Teachers embracing EASY English

Smt. Umme Attika, is an English teacher at the Government Urdu Lower Primary School (GULPS) Chatripalya, a part of Jadigenahalli cluster, Hoskote taluk.

She regularly participates in the EASY English workshops conducted by Akshara. Our EASY English programme was started in 2016-17, and the programme focused on grade 1 students.

At the start of the programme, it was observed that the teacher was not so versed with English speaking, and was very hesitant to speak in English. But with regular practice during the workshops, especially with respect to spoken English, they have become confident and can hold a conversation with ease.



Smt. Umme Attika participates with an eagerness to learn and is very enthusiastic. After the workshop, she refers to the teacher module and prepares herself for the class.

She takes English for her students six days a week. In Karnataka, grades 1 to 3 sit together and learn with the help of songs and dance. Their class is called Nali Kali. With such a varied class, one needs to have a solid strategy when it comes to teaching Akshara’s EASY English.

Here’s how Smt. Umme Attika goes about it.
  • She starts by giving her attention to grade 3 students. She interacts with them and gives them some work, usually a writing-based activity (On black board / book)
  • She then focuses her attention on the children in grades 1 & 2. While she teaches grade 2 students using the Tab, grade 1 students observe and listen.
  • She then gives the grade 2 children an assignment. While they are writing, she teaches grade 1 students.
 


This integrated approach has proved helpful for effective class management. She uses the Tab to teach and then assigns a writing activity using the Government textbook.

She has insisted on a copy-writing book for every student, and gives them 1 sentence as practice, every day. Students are required to write the sentence and practice it.

UmmeAttika says, ‘I am happy to attend the workshop. It is a joyful workshop. We meet all the teachers of both the clusters once in a month. We share our experience with teachers and RPs about our learnings. I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the Akshara team. They handle the workshop in an interesting manner. All the RPs are too good. I have learnt a lot from the workshops. Now, my confidence level has increased, and I will converse in English with my colleague as well as with students. It’s an opportunity for us to recap what we had learnt in our school days, also we learn about new methodologies of teaching.”



HM, Shri. Zaheer Pasha regularly visits and observes the English class. He says that, “I have observed that the teacher handles the session beautifully. The way she engage students is excellent. Her approach of teaching is very good.

Students love to sit in her class. I have observed a lot of progress among the students after the implementation of EASY English programme. Students can now understand better, and speak in English. They participate in TPR activities.”

– Nalini Raj N. K.

The Role Model Priest / SDMC President

Here you will find a temple priest and SDMC President who is a role model for the youth of his village.

This is the story of Dayananda Swami who studied only till class 12 and now experiences a world of enjoyment in teaching children in his village. An active 43-year-old, he juggles many roles – a priest at the village temple, one of the main organisers of cultural events in this small, sleepy place, and President of the School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC).



Dayananda Swami has also long had another crucial task, self-assigned and diligently executed. Every day he is at the village’s government school to teach children Mathematics with Akshara’s Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) kit.

He got captivated by the teaching-learning materials in the kit at one of the SDMC meetings he chaired and started interacting with the teachers and Akshara’s Field Coordinators to learn more about it.

A galvaniser in the village, he encourages youth to help children learn Mathematics and banish their fear of the subject. On occasion, he takes up cudgels too, on behalf of education. He once fought to get a teacher back to school, who had been absent for over two years using political influence to stay truant.

A role model and an inspiration to village youth, he motivates them to teach children for free.

– By Ranganath, Akshara Foundation

A Teacher’s Dedication

This is the story of Almas Kousar, the Nali-Kali teacher for classes 1-3, who stresses on cleanliness. She also teaches students of classes 1-5 English at the government primary school in Doranalapalli village, Rashcharevu cluster, Bagepalli taluk.



Every morning, Almas had to confront the sight of students coming to school, unkempt and dirty, without a bath. She tried hard to convince them of the need for good grooming habits. But all her efforts were futile. Her students started giving excuses – no running water at home, no soap, and on it went.

Almas decided she would be the change she sought and bought soap and shampoo at her own expense and started bathing the kids. The parents asked their children to tell her not to get involved in cleaning rituals, to focus instead on teaching. Almas refused to budge. She asked the parents to come to school and discuss matters of hygiene with their kids. The parents said, “We’re not going to change. We won’t take the trouble of bathing our children before they come to school.”

Matters started getting out of hand, forcing Almas to call for a meeting with School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) members and the community and have them convince the parents about the value of hygiene. When the community got involved, the parents realised the importance of their children practising proper self-care routines and coming to school wearing a clean uniform.

Nor was Almas neglecting education. Her dedication to all aspects of her students’ school life is exemplary. She has taught them to converse in English and students speak fluently. Her school wins prizes in almost any competition or event organised at the cluster level. The community too is keenly involved these days in its functioning.

– By Shanbhulinga, Akshara Foundation

A Story of a Tanda

This is the story of an education-oriented community.



In the districts of North Karnataka you can find a tribal community called the Lambanis (http://www.realbharat.org/lambani-the-afghani-lavana-merchants-tribe-of-india-467/). In Dharwad and Gadag districts, the places where they live are known as Tandas.

This is the story of one such Tanda in Adavi Soampura (Jalashankar Nagara) in Gadag Rural taluk in Gadag district. With only 100 houses, the village has a population of around 350. It has a government lower primary school with 93 students and 4 teachers.

The students performed quite well during my visit to this school when I gave them questions on basic arithmetic operations. That is rare in a classroom. Almost 95% of the students answered correctly.

Curious, I dug a little deeper to see what their parents’ background is. Almost 80% of the parents go to Goa for daily wage labour and most of the children live with their grandparents. It is interesting to note that the Lambanis have a language of their own and do take some time to understand Kannada. In spite of these hurdles, the kids have mastered the language as well as an abstract subject like Mathematics.

The credit for such incredible performance surely goes to the school’s teachers and the School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) members who take keen interest in the school’s progress and learning outcomes. When asked how they were using the teaching-learning materials (TLMs) in the Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) Mathematics kit, the teacher said that those who were lagging made good use of them.

The final result is that when they graduate to the 6th grade, they join Navodaya Vidyalaya or Morarji Desai Residential School, a chain of prestigious institutions meant for children from underprivileged backgrounds, a much sought-after badge of merit for government school kids, difficult to gain entry as the bar is high. These children make that possible with their dedication and the hard work of their teachers.

– By Maruti Mallapur, 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.

Reaching Higher with Easy English

Ever so often, Harshini has the Tab on her lap, teaching a small crowd of her peers its workings, its learning strategies. They are transfixed as much by the technology tool as by the English they are assimilating. Harshini is one of Mangala Mary’s two brightest students in her Nali-Kali class of 10 at the Government Lower Primary School, Mylapura, Hoskote block. Her natural flair for English heightened by EASY English to inspire great journeys.



There is little that this class 2 student cannot, for her age and grade, do. Vocabulary? She knows a good collection of words. Pronunciation? “Look,’ ‘six,’ seven,’ ‘come,’ ‘tree’……all in fast, accurate succession. She can pronounce them without lingering or spelling out the letters. Her teacher doesn’t have to prompt her. Comprehension? Harshini knows what those words mean. ‘Roof’ is the only true test in a variegated array of 10 words.

Writing? Not cursive yet, but neat, small blocks on pages unmarred by the eraser. A piece of fairly advanced text copied from Lesson 1, My House, in the textbook does not have a single mistake. “Mummy Tiger lifted her left paw and scratched tiger cub’s furry back.”



Spellings? It is an area where she stands on practically unassailable ground. She plunges straight ahead into the days of the week, spelling even Wednesday and Thursday with no pause to regroup. And months of the year too, February and August included, needing a bit of prodding only at April, that too just to jog along the sequence.

The bar is right up there for Harshini and expectations come crowding, from her teacher, her peers, from herself. This young girl is self-motivated, says Mangala Mary, serious, a slow smile of achievement on her face and an intelligent avidity. Mangala Mary sets a big challenge for her intermittently, and Harshini simply reaches higher.

 

Stars of Easy English: Learning Together

English was once outside the scope of classroom life in Chinnamma’s Nali-Kali* section at the Government Higher Primary School, Kolathur, Hoskote block. The English period went by, 3 to 4 p.m. every day, in dull tedium. The less than 10 children in Nali-Kali – Chinnamma has the 4th grade there as well – did not know a single thing other than the alphabet, she confesses. The class 1 and 2 textbooks open on the floor, most of it going over their heads. It felt weighty and overwhelming. “Very heavy,” as Mangala Mary in another school remarked. Chinnamma was helpless, she says, tied down to matter she could not understand, much less teach.

It was then that EASY English came into class. Chinnamma was open to its methods, its imaginative approach. “It’s a great help to us. In these times you have to know English.” But there was a catch, and that was technology, the new learning matrix in class. Three years away from retirement, she still says, “I don’t want to go into the Internet and all that,” and has used the same basic-edition mobile phone for the last 20 years.



Overcoming resistance was a large part of her conversion story. Today: “I keep the Tab open and the textbook open and integrate. To tell you honestly, I use only the Tab. The same lessons are there in the Tab, and much easier too. I often don’t open the textbook at all.” But Chinnamma continues to be technology-averse. She shuns a smartphone, in fact does not know what it is. Were it not for the inducements of the Tab she would not have crossed her mental barrier.



As for English, she says, “I’m only learning, still.” Chinnamma’s students too, along with her, are learning. “They’re improving slowly.” That is said with deliberate restraint, even a critical tone there. They are moving up, not as much perhaps as in the other schools, but they can answer most of the 23 questions and instructions Chinnamma has framed for them on a chart.

Some examples: “What is your name?’ “What is your father’s name?” What is your mother’s name?” “What is the first sound of your name?” “Which animal gives milk?” “Can you jump?” “Touch the board.” “Show me your nose.” Though whole-sentence answers are not within reach yet, the programme has made English comprehensible. The children understand the questions posed.



Action songs are their forte, a passion. The children know a repertoire of 10 rhymes, the tally way more than they ever knew before. It does not take much to trigger them, they are willing singers and movers. A regaling happens every time the Akshara team visits, and during the English period. The big, semi-dark room reverberates as the children stand in a circle, singing full-throatedly words they can sometimes only barely grasp or pronounce – this little cameo at the centre, and Chinnamma on the perimeter, like a conductor, raising and lowering her arms.

“Come little children……I will teach you A, B, C……”

“Watermelon, papaya, mango, banana……Fruit salad.”

“We go around the mango tree, the mango tree…..”

……………………………..


* Nali-Kali is a creative learning approach adopted by Government of Karnataka which combines classes 1, 2 and 3 in a single multigrade classroom.

A Motivated Teacher

“I Now Like to Learn English”

Mangala Mary’s English class at the Government Lower Primary School in Mylapura, Hoskote block, is amongst the finest in the programme. The EASY English impact here has been far-reaching. There are many children who are high achievers and a teacher whose motivational energy, once sparked, never fails. “My students are grasping well. They’re learning well because of the programme,” says Mangala Mary.

But more than her 10 students, it is she who has reaped its fruits, she says. “The Tab that Akshara has given us is more helpful to me than to the children, I feel.” Her smile is warm, hospitable. “I learn English from it, from the teacher modules. I now like to learn English. It is very interesting. When I don’t know something, I ask the Akshara team.”


Children learning English in Mangala Mary’s class

This is a sea change for a teacher, who, in 19 years of teaching, had not come anywhere near English. It passed her by, in the streets, in shops, in life’s exchanges. As a government-mandated subject in class, she also had English thrust upon her. She had to teach.

Mangala Mary had not considered herself equal to the challenge. The idea did not capture her only because she was without a captivating, easy enough toolkit. She resisted English like she stonewalled the advent of EASY English a year and a half ago. The Akshara team hesitated to visit her – she was hardly accommodating, the friendly smile missing. English is heavy, she said. The programme is difficult, she concluded, before she had given it a chance.

Then the training workshops started, and change began, gradually in the beginning, and soon with mounting momentum. First came the ability to comprehend, to appreciate the surge of English around her at the training venues, then came the tangible self-esteem recovery. Her attitude became aspirational. “English is an international language. All of us must know how to use it,” she says. Communication is still some rocky distance away. “But I’m able to teach better than before.” Confident assertions are now a part of her personality. “I understand the English on television news. I watch BBC sometimes. But I can’t speak all that well,” she says dejectedly.

Motivation Defines Her
Her gaps in capacity are keeping her motivated. Not that enthusiasm was ever a shortfall. Mangala Mary has an abundance of it, and as if to prove it, she takes the class 2 English textbook and reads. It is a fluent accomplishment. “I understand it,” she says. She picks up a chart from the wall on A House that she has made as an experiment in designing English teaching-learning materials (TLMs) that give complementary support to the lessons. Marked on it and highlighted in colour are parts of the house like roof, doors and windows.

Mangala Mary in her classroom

“I have made charts on the Alphabet and Healthy Food. The Alphabet, I did myself. For Healthy Food, I made a coloured photocopy from the Tab.” Another chart on the drawing board is: Is Cleanliness Next to Godliness. A pencil sketch of the idea is roughly in place. The team tells Mangala Mary to put the ‘Is’ after ‘Cleanliness’ and make a statement of it rather than have it hang as a question. She welcomes the feedback.

The Demand Side is Active
English has an appeal for parents in this mostly low-income community of 592 people . That it is now taught with seriousness, with technology-supported learning resources, is a source of satisfaction to them. They keep the demand side active and Mangala Mary feels energised by the persuasive pressure. Already a committed teacher, it strengthens her resolve to deliver on their English goals.

Try, Try, Try My Best

Akshara Foundation’s Easy English programme puts Jayalakshmi in total command.

Jayalakshmi belongs to a small, elite league of government school teachers who know English, her passionate urge for it pushing her to greater ascendancies. Her spoken English is smart, stylish, free-flowing, of current coinage. “Come, you want to talk to me?” she asks mildly, but with total command as she pulls out chairs. “Now tell me,” she says, settling down.

Jayalakshmi is the Headmistress and teacher of a Nali-Kali class of 11 at the Government Kannada Lower Primary School in Gonakanahalli, Hoskote block. The school has 18 children, classes 1-5.



As one of its foremost teachers and strongest supporters, she holds high the torch of EASY English, Akshara Foundation’s Digitised English Programme. In a writing assignment for the programme’s training workshop (6-12-2016), she writes, “EASY English. It is a very effective programme from Akshara Foundation. It is very helpful to all government teachers, especially those who are interested to learn and teach English.

From the beginning, I attended all the 10 training workshops. I learnt small and big letters, English grammar………how to make sentences, how to teach English with the Tab for the children.

The children in our school are enjoying English a lot. It is successful and practical. So once again, I would like to say thanks to Akshara Foundation. We are grateful for the EASY English programme.”

The only spelling mistake in the two-page essay is when Jayalakshmi writes ‘greatful’ for ‘grateful.’ Only two or three places where a word connector is missing, like ‘those,’ ‘a,’ or ‘the,’ or a preposition misjudged, a couple of instances of wrong usage, and just once where a sentence is stranded. Her work shows organised thought, and comments and ideas are couched in separate paragraphs.

“I couldn’t even write one page before EASY English started,” Jaylakshmi says. “Now give me a subject and I can write three or four pages. I write about any topic given at the training. Ask the Resource Person,” she says, signalling to the Akshara team member. From a teacher who completed her B.Ed in English this year, it is not something anybody is disputing. “Not enough. No,” she protests in severe self-disapproval. “I have a lot of work left to do.”

Jayalakshmi’s search for English is assiduous. It began in 2010, a few years before EASY English, when her eldest son, now in engineering, teased her repeatedly, “You can’t even speak English.” Stung, Jayalakshmi enrolled in a two-month spoken English class. The learning there had its limitations, till she became one of the teacher beneficiaries in Akshara’s English programme. Now she is simply in a class of her own.

“I read India Today, The Times of India, comics. I watch English news on my mobile,” she says, tapping her elegant smartphone. That, for a confident, self-assured lady, is the only piece of technology she deals with. “I’m on WhatsApp and Facebook. Mostly I read other people’s posts on FB. I don’t like posting much – it’s like saying everything to everyone. When I get a difficult word, I go to Google.” These are some of the engines that power Jayalakshmi’s English growth.

Few government school teachers in the programme muster the courage yet to declare, as she does, “English is easy to understand.”

“They’re Improving…..” Jayalakshmi’s students have an expert touch with the Tab that is far ahead of what the team finds in many classrooms. When visitors enter class, they speak only in English. “They’re improving day by day,” says Jayalakshmi. “They’re completely engaged with the technology of the Tab.”

The Drive that Keeps her Going: Jayalakshmi needs neither prodding nor pushing, her answers tumble out before the questions are put. “You tell me,” she says, sitting forward. “How do I improve my English? I want to learn more English, have more fluency.” Her drive keeps her on her feet. At 48, she has her journey mapped and it is strewn with self-affirmative milestones. “I want to do my MEd* in English. After my 60th year, I’ll do my PhD**. Now I’m busy, busy, always busy.”

Today’s chock-full calendar of activity is: doing as much as she can to advance her grasp. “Try, try, try my best. I want to teach my students more English.”

……………………………..

* Master’s in Education.
** Doctor of Philosophy.

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.