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The Karnataka Learning Partnership: what data can do


A parent is trying to decide whether to send her child to the preschool at the end of her street, or the one in a nearby neighbourhood. She’s heard the faraway preschool is better, but it also has higher fees, and she’s not quite sure what “better” means.

An NGO is planning a large-scale feeding scheme. It knows government enrolment data for schools can be wildly inaccurate and wants to be sure it is budgeting enough to feed all children.

A corporate wants to use its CSI budget to upgrade school buildings in the community where most of its employees live, but it doesn’t know which schools are most in need.
In each of these situations, the Karnataka Learning Partnership (KLP), an open online platform that tracks the state of education in Karnataka, India, is a game-changing resource.

It’s premised on the idea that if we pull together “everything we know” about education in one place, and make all that information publicly available, we’ll be more equipped to make factual assessments, galvanise community action, and ultimately improve school quality and learning outcomes.

The KLP was established in 2006 by the Akshara Foundation, an education non-profit based in the state of Karnataka, India. Initially, it was an exercise to tie all of Akshara’s programmes together and share its data openly with stakeholders. The KLP team however soon realised that to truly make a difference, it should open the platform for anyone to contribute, and build partnerships to ensure data is credible, helpful and widely used.

The entire platform is open-source – the database code can even be downloaded on the KLP website – so that other Indian states or countries can build on or replicate it.

Its online database has mapped every public primary and pre-primary school in Karnataka – that’s 46 000 primary schools and 64 000 preschools. It tracks a variety of data, including: basic info (address and landmarks, language of instruction); demographics (including both government and independently-verified enrolment data); infrastructure (including whether schools have drinking water, electricity, toilets, libraries and computer labs, whether they offer mid-day meals, and whether they are accessible to children with disabilities); finances and budgets; programmes run, and outcomes at an aggregate level (individual learner performance is not made public).
The data above is from an English intervention that 28 learners attended in 2010-11. Between the pre-test (bottom) and post-test (top), the average score improved by 23 percentage points, from 58% (below city and area averages) to 81% (above city and area averages). Girls – previously 10 percentage points behind boys – came out 9 percentage points ahead.

It’s also possible to compare two schools:
Anyone can contribute information – NGOs, parents, government – and data is collected in a number of ways.

Akshara’s field staff, who support library and maths programmes in more than 10 000 schools across Karnataka, collect observations each time they visit a school: Is the principal present? Are all teachers present and teaching? Does each classroom have a blackboard?

Information is collected as Yes/No binaries, without quality gradients (“Good”, “Moderate”, “Poor”). The KLP has found that such gradients are not used consistently and don’t work at scale.

Data on Akshara’s programme outcomes is also uploaded, and a few other NGOs share their data, including Akshaya Patra, which provides mid-day meals to 1.4 million children in India each day – so nutrition and health can be cross-referenced with education. (The KLP would love to get more NGOs involved, but despite interest and goodwill, most NGOs’ data collection is still not very strong.)

A new feature called “Share Your Story” allows anyone to enter a set of school observations – via interactive voice response system (IRVS), the website or community surveys. To date, the KLP has collected 157 989 of these stories, the majority from parents. They expect at least 300 000 entries this school year.

I often go on site visits to schools, where I notice things that aren’t working well: a library that’s always locked; blocked toilets; crumbling netball fields. I also see good things: passionate teaching; humming feeding schemes; volunteers helping in classrooms or after school. I’d love a way to report those things as I see them, so my observations become part of a larger body of evidence that can be used to strengthen schools.

Developing and maintaining the platform is no small task: The Akshara Foundation’s fieldworkers do a lot of data collection. KLP has 6 staff who work on programming, and contracts people part-time to enter reams of paper-based data.
IMG_1617-870x653 The KLP data-entry room in Bangalore – where all the magic happens.

But it has the potential to truly pay off. Here’s one example I loved: in India, local politicians – Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) – have small discretionary budgets to spend on their districts, which are often opaquely spent or unused. A few times each year, the KLP team compiles and delivers hard-copy reports to each MLA, highlighting schools with infrastructure shortfalls and suggesting how politicians could spend their budgets.
In South Africa, cutting edge work with data is also taking place. The Data Driven Districts Dashboard initiative (spearheaded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the New Leaders Foundation and the Department of Basic Education) consolidates information about attendance, grade progression and learning outcomes. It’s now up and running in nearly 25 districts in 3 provinces. For now, the platform is only open to education officials – although long-term, plans for a public version are in the works.

The KLP’s approach is deeply democratic at its core: the team believes that the locus of control in education needs to shift from the supply side to the demand side. Instead of waiting to receive services, and sighing and shrugging their shoulders when things don’t work out, citizens – and public accountability – should drive education provision.

Imagine what that kind of demand for education could do for South Africa.

via Head & Heart, by Katie Huston 

A future in robotics starts by winning the zonal RoboCup Junior Competition.

Yesterday, the 8th of November 2015, was a robotastic day for the kids of our Robotics Lab.

Three teams from the Vivek Nagar Government School in Bangalore participated in the South Zone – Robocup Junior Competition held at St John’s High School, Frazer Town.
It goes without saying that these bright sparks outdid themselves in both the categories that they participated.

The mission under the RESCUE category was to locate victims of a natural disaster from a building, where the rescue personnel in place needed robotic assistance in dangerous areas.
The Robot had to be fully autonomous and carry out the mission with no help. It even went over rough terrains (speed bumps in this case), without getting stuck.  When the robot finally found the victim, it carefully transported them to a safe area, where human intervention could take over.

Two out of the 26 teams fighting for this mission were from our Vivek Nagar School. Both these teams stormed through to the finals, bagging the 3rd and 4th place in the qualifying round.

But it was the team participating in the DANCE challenge that stole the show. The challenge: a robot designed, built and programmed by the team had to dance along with the entire team.This includes a whole range of possible performances, for example dance, storytelling, theatre or an art installation. The performances could include music if they wanted. Teams are encouraged to be as creative, innovative and as entertaining as possible. Sounds too hard to be true? Check out what these rockstars did for yourself.
Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 8.56.31 AM
We came FIRST in this category. The children built a humanoid that can make moves supported by background music, and of course a great fan following. There was a lot of hooting and cheering, followed by a thunderous applause. 
This is but a small high in their road to the finish. Undeterred by the wins of the day, they now have their eyes set on the big win. Determined to perform better than last time and win at the finals in January next year, they were already seen discussing what needs to be tackled next. All the best champs!

From hub-and-spoke to classroom libraries: lessons from Akshara

India and South Africa could learn a lot from each other, particularly when it comes to education.

Both have made great strides with primary school enrolment over the last few decades, but still struggle with the quality of learning outcomes – with a significant proportion of children in upper primary school who essentially cannot read. Both countries’ school leaving certificates – the SSLC in India, and the NSC in South Africa – have low value and do not signal competence or skills to employers. Both seek to balance the new opportunities technology affords with the reality that the poorest have limited access to smartphones, data and airtime.

This week, I’m in India to see for myself. I’ll be spending time in Bangalore, Mumbai, Aurangabad and New Delhi, meeting with organisations and visiting programmes that are pushing the boundaries in education. I plan to post throughout the week, and afterwards, about some of the things I’m learning.

On day one, I spent the afternoon with the team at the Akshara Foundation. Today I’ll outline the evolution of Akshara’s library programme, from a hub-and-spoke system to classroom libraries, and rave about their innovative way of tracking book checkouts.
Background of the library programme:
The Akshara Foundation was established in 2000, based on the belief that quality education is the undeniable right of every child. Over the last 15 years, its work has touched the lives of more than 1 million children in the state of Karnataka in South India. It focuses on preschool and primary school education.

While most government schools in Karnataka have libraries, these lack age-appropriate, attractive books and a working process. Teachers are not trained as librarians, and view extra work as a ‘burden’ they do not want to take on.

In 2007, Akshara launched a library programme using a hub-and-spoke model, where each “hub” – a physical library with a dedicated librarian – served a number of “spoke” schools, which were visited regularly by a mobile librarian. Books were colour-coded by difficulty, and librarians in hub schools ran additional activities to stimulate learning.

But after a few years, Akshara changed tack. It realised that there was no viable way to keep librarians in schools unless they remained on Akshara’s payroll – which was not a scalable or long-term solution. Usage met expectations: overall, 81% of children visited libraries at least once a month, and in most months, 60% borrowed at least one book. But what if kids could access the books whenever they wanted – not only when their class visited the library or the library came to them? And – while RCTs cannot provide the full picture of a social intervention’s effect – a 2012 randomised controlled trial (RCT) of the programme found no impact on student scores on a language skills test administered after 16 months.

In 2014, Akshara replaced its hub-and-spoke model with classroom libraries – which our South African partner Biblionef also increasingly advocates as the most effective model to get kids reading in schools. To date, they’ve placed libraries in 3 250 classrooms at 1 000 schools.
The libraries themselves are cleverly designed: foldable book kits (which can be put away overnight) that hold about 100 books. Teachers receive a simple, half-day training in how to use the libraries and monitor usage.

A classroom library has a few benefits, compared to the hub-and-spoke model. First, it doesn’t require an extra person, though the burden on teachers remains low. Second, books are closer to kids, and more accessible on a daily basis.
And third, progress is public, through an innovative and incredibly simple M&E system Akshara has developed. This got me most excited – as I’ve seen partners struggle to collect and manage data about library use at the school level.

Each library comes with a histogram, blocked out by month, which teachers hang on the wall (usually with a pencil hanging nearby). When a child checks out a book, the teacher – or sometimes the child herself! – marks it on the histogram, noting the month and the level of the book.

Once a month, teachers take and submit a photo of the histogram, which is then captured digitally to enable large-scale comparison and analysis. (What’s more, the data is all public on the Karnataka Learning Partnership – but that’s for another blog post!)

Ideally, as children use the library more often, and as their reading improves, the histogram will show both an increase in the number of books checked out per month, and in the difficulty of books children are reading.

Over the last year, this was indeed the case: the team told me that the average number of books checked out per learner per month rose from 2.5 at the start of the school year to 5.5 at the end of the year, and difficulty typically increased.

One shortcoming of this method is that it doesn’t tell whether one child is a big reader and another isn’t reading at all. Still, this could be addressed in other simple ways, such as reading logs.

Even with libraries in classrooms, closer to kids, schools close at 3:30 pm, which limits access to books. As an experiment, Akshara also hung 50 libraries at village tea shops in rural areas – the social spaces where everyone congregates after school and work. They aren’t tracking this methodically, but they’ve heard very positive feedback: kids read, adults read, adults read with kids. I love this idea of sparking reading in community spaces, simply by bringing books to where people are – and I wonder what the equivalent of the village tea shop would be in rural South Africa.
Thank you to Ashok, Asha and Vaijayanti at Akshara for so generously sharing your time!

via Head & Heart, by Katie Huston 

Prepping the teachers for Ganitha Kalika Andolana.

Teacher training under Ganitha Kalika Andolana in Koppal district IMG_1161 I was eagerly looking forward to visiting a centre where the Teacher training was in progress. I got the opportunity in Koppal district, one of the 6 districts in the Hyderabad–Karnataka region, where the Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) is being rolled out by the Government of Karnataka along with Akshara Foundation. IMG_1254 The first visit was outside Koppal town, down a rutted mud road, which deposited us inside the pleasant compound of the Urdu HPS school. The teacher training was in progress and the participants were fairly engaged in doing the task given by the Resource Persons (RPs)– in this case it was a revision of the multiplication process using the Teaching-learning material provided in the Akshara Math Kit. There were three RPs, all of them High School math teachers, who had a clear grasp of the principles behind the pedagogy and were confidently answering the queries. IMG_1259 When the topic of fractions was started, one teacher wanted to know why the fractions in Kannada should not be named as ‘one-fifth’, for instance, instead of ‘five parts of which one’ – to loosely translate the practice in the Kannada language. Finally we agreed that it is best to teach children terminology that is used in the text-book, which also maintains uniformity across all schools in the state. I was touched when one of the RPs picked up the Teacher Manual and told me, “This Manual is the Bhagavad Gita – it has everything we need to teach maths!” IMG_1309 At the second training center we visited, the participants were sitting out under the shade of a tree, since it was a small and stuffy room allotted for the training. Here too there was a High School teacher who was conducting the session single-handedly, with assistance from Ramesh, Akshara’s District Coordinator. IMG_1332 Many of the teachers were in some confusion about converting time on the 12 hour clock to the 24 hour clock; an interesting session on area and perimeter followed. They admitted that in the school the portions relating to geometry were usually hurried through at the end of the academic year. IMG_1211 There was a request for extending the training by one more day so that adequate time could be given for activities. The RP was very grateful that “Akshara has given such a beautiful Kit to students in Government schools.” See how the two days were spent by all these teachers and RPs, in pictures.  – By Kanchan Bannerjee


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.   

“Way Cooler Than The Robotics Lab In My School!”

A few weeks ago, I visited a government school in Viveknagar, Bangalore to see how they learn in India. The school has a Robotics Lab. I saw how they build their robots and it was very cool! I also admired them, because they let me help them with their robots.


They had built a spinning top robot, a drumming monkey robot and a robotic boat to name a few. I made friends with a boy named Kevin Joseph. He is a very good builder and we built a robot together.

Thanks to Akshara Foundation and Mr. Sridhar for running the lab.


– By Omkar Tharuvesanchi
3rd grade
Washington GT Elementary
Raleigh, NC

The way forward for ‘Early Childhood Education in Anganwadis’.

Organised by Akshara Foundation, the national seminar on `Early Childhood Education in Anganwadis – Partnerships & Opportunities’ highlighted the need for quality early childhood learning in government-run anganwadis. DSC_0641 The seminar was inaugurated by Smt. Umashree, Hon. Minister, Women and Child Welfare and Kannada &Culture, Government of Karnataka. On the dias were also some of the staff of ICDS- an AWW, a supervisor and a CDPO rubbing shoulders with the Minister and the Trustees of AF. The Minister in her inaugural speech seemed very open to a discussion regarding ways to implement effective ECE through the system. DSC_0659 _DSC0048 This was followed by a very thorough talk by Prof Venita Kaul, (CECED, Ambedkar University, Delhi) on the importance of early years and the necessity for good quality preschool education. _DSC0060 Soon after, a panel discussion on the role of NGOs in partnering with the government followed. The panel discussion concluded with a consensus on enhancing collaboration between the Government and non-Government sector to realise the full potential of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) policy 2013, in the government run anganwadis. _DSC0150   Click here to view the entire seminar, in pictures.

10 essential facts you need to know about Karnataka’s Math movement.

Did you know that the state of Karnataka has come up with an incredible antidote to the drudgery of learning math in the classroom. To this end, the state government has started Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) – a one of its kind math movement which is currently underway in the state and is making math fun, interesting and stimulating enough for both students as well as teachers. Here are a few interesting facts about this silent movement that is influencing the way math is taught in government schools…

Read on to find your way to the movement:

1. The game of numbers
Ganitha Kalika Andolana, is set to benefit 3 lakh children in classes 4 and 5 across 7520 schools in the six districts of the Hyderabad Karnataka Region.

2. More power to the exponents
Karnataka’s math movement is one of its kind public-private partnership (PPP) between the state government and Akshara Foundation, a non-profit.

3. Factoring the lowest common denominator
The math movement is currently on in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region of the statewhere development indices are consistently low. The six districts of Hyderabad Karnataka Region are considered most educationally backward and the region is conferred with special status in the state under Article 371J of the Constitution.

4. Weapons of math instruction
The math movement is backed with attractive, well researched teaching and learning material (TLM), math videos, pop-culture posters and teacher manuals in Kannada, Urdu and English. Designed with flair and care, these can tempt even an adult maths-phobe to give Math a shot. Brightly coloured counters, beads, dices, clocks, plastic currency, miniature weighing scale, exciting videos and much more – all of it is certainly giving math learning a new dimension.

5. Keeping a count
Ganitha Kalika Andolana is also supported by an Interactive Voice Response (IVRS) facility. Share real time data on the usage of math teaching aids, voice your concerns and make the movement a success – all of this just by making one call.

6. Grammy sensation
Grammy award winner Ricky Kej has composed a catchy math anthem in both Kannada and English for the math movement. Also available for download as a song and phone ringtone, the anthem is already a hit with both students and teachers.

7. License to common creativity
Not in Karnataka but still want to use all teaching resources? As partner to the math movement, Akshara Foundation has made all the resources freely available under the Creative Commons License. Training manuals, math videos, concept cards – all of them just a click away. Go download!

8. Keep it safe – part of the equation
The state government has left no stone unturned to ensure that while the teaching and learning material is child friendly it is also non-toxic and completely safe to be used by children. All the teaching aids are certified to be non-toxic by National Referral Center for Lead Projects in India (NRCLPI).

9. Trained to score
This silent math movement is certainly stepping up the game for teachers. Nearly 8000 teachers are being trained in math teaching methodology, understanding the key principal and being motivated enough to achieve the ultimate goal. After all, inspired students require inspired teachers.

10. Math matters
And if you are wondering whether all this will really improve numeracy levels of children in the state, then stay tuned to hear more about Ganitha Kalika Andolana – Karnataka’s math movement where a third party appointed by SSA and DSERT will assess and analyse the impact of this effort.

So add these all up, get inspired and join the movement.

Check out some cool ways in which we are deconstructing Math for kids.


Did you know that only 25.3% of children in class III can do two digit subtraction or that the percentage of children in class II who still cannot recognise numbers up to 9 has increased from 11.3% in 2009 to 19.5% in 2014. The numbers revealed by Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2014, released in January, this year, clearly states that Math learning levels in the country continue to be a serious and major cause of concern.

Well, this was big news that went nearly unnoticed. To draw attention to this and remove the bite out of Math, we at Akshara Foundation have meme-fied the big news and piggy backed on the cultural phenomena that is Bollywood. #MathinIndia is what we call it. We have couched the common fears surrounding Math with catchy dialogues by much loved Bollywood characters, hoping to engage a wider and bigger audience into the conversation around the education of our children.

A pan-India social awareness and advocacy project, #MathinIndia, is a conversation starter initiated to sensitise a larger audience on the issue of low learning levels among children about Math in the country. After all, for Make in India, we have to think of #MathinIndia.

So let’s take stock, kick the shibboleths surrounding Math and build up #MathinIndia.



Set to tune by Grammy winner Ricky Kej, Math Magic revels in the joy of numbers and enthuses our young towards the necessity of math. So get started, include the song as part of math learning for your kid and watch the fun. You can play this cool ditty anywhere – in the car while travelling, listen to it during playtime, set it as your mobile ringtone or even dance to it during math lesson. Available in English and Kannada, we bet, you and your child will love it!

ricky 1

You can download the songs here:   https://soundcloud.com/akshara-foundation/sets/math-magic-songs

And the ringtones, from here: https://soundcloud.com/akshara-foundation/sets/math-ringtones


A set of 10 math concept cards weave together language and math in daily situations, bringing math out of the abstract and into the lived reality of the child. The concept cards carry a story and an activity, based upon students’ earlier knowledge and come in handy as a tool to introduce new math concepts to children. Questions on the reverse side of each Concept Card serve as a starting point for discussion and enable children to solve problems with their peers. The Concept Cards provide a ready list of relevant Maths vocabulary for some of the major concepts.


The math movement has just begun.

Join us in making 3 lac kids excel in numeracy skills.

Dear Akshara Supporter,

On June 23, 2015, Akshara Foundation and the Government of Karnataka together launched an innovative programme – Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA), to teach math to children in grades 4 and 5. This ambitious programme, through a series of interventions, aims to bring about higher learning levels in terms of numeracy skills in the six districts of Gulbarga, Bidar, Raichur, Bellary, Koppal and Yadgir.

Collectively these six districts form the Hyderabad Karnataka Region which is also the second largest arid region in India. Over the years, all measured human development indices are extremely poor in this region and reported figures show that these districts are at the bottom in the state of Karnataka in terms of health and education.

It is, in this needy region that the state government and Akshara Foundation decided to launch GKA. Over the next two years, the programme will build capacity at the local level for teaching math; equip teachers in government primary schools with all the tools required to transact better in their classrooms and the expectation is that math learning levels in children will improve significantly.

However, GKA is not only about our commitment towards a better future of our children. What we need to ask ourselves is – Is it enough for just the government and a NGO to work together to improve things or does everyone have a role to play? Akshara Foundation has chosen the term Andolana which loosely translates into ‘movement’ and we at Akshara believe there is a role for each one of us to play and make a small difference in bringing quality learning to the children of our state and country.

We believe that the time has come for all of us to recognise the gravity of our education problem and do our little bit to make the future better for our children and one way to do this is by improving the quality of education for our children. It’s time for each one of us to take a stand on the education of our children and turn it into a mass conversation.

Your support is critical because we now have an opportunity to break down the barriers to education which many children face. We need your voice too.

Please join the movement. Together we will make every child in school and learning well a reality.