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ENGLISH | KANNADA

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 Foundations‘ Digitized 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.

STARS OF HOPE – Impact of Progressive Communities on Learning

The Government Kannada Lower Primary School in Marasandahalli, Hosakote block, Bangalore Rural District, has not changed in all these years that Akshara has been working here. It looks like a little village abode even now, an overhang of foliage framing the veranda. Around 25-30 children, classes 1-5, poorly equipped as before, two teachers, and under-resourced.



In a small, half-lit classroom, one of only two in the school, teacher Shyam Shankar directs a Mathematics class for grades 4 and 5 with Akshara’s teaching-learning materials (TLMs) – the square counters, base ten blocks, fraction strips, decimal set and much else making for random choreography on the floor. Shyam Shankar would not have it any other way in his Mathematics class.

Akshara’s Mathematics programme, Akshara Ganitha, ended here two years ago. But this dedicated teacher, who took up Mathematics as his discipline midway into his 15-year career only because he was inspired by the programme, preserves its TLM kit with respect. “I use it every day. Absolutely,” he says.

It shows. Many of his students are achievers. In 2016-17, Chetan gained admission to class 6 in Navodaya and Monisha to Morarji . In 2017-18, Tanushree and Varshini made it to Navodaya. Not many children move meritoriously from government schools to quality-conscious Navodaya and Morarji schools for secondary stage education. The passage is arduous.

“They were able to score well because of the Mathematics coaching with Akshara’s TLMs,” says Shyam Shankar. “Children get a good foundation because of it. Their skills become stronger.”

In September 2016, Tanushree bagged the 1st prize and Varshini the 2nd in the Gram Panchayat Mathematics Contest Akshara Foundation held, in which the Marasandahalli school was one of the 9 participating schools. Close to 100 children from classes 4, 5 and 6 contested. Tanushree and Varshini had already crossed the threshold to bigger things in Navodaya, but represented their old school, holding aloft its flag of merit.

This is not the only banner flying high. As enlightened teachers, Shyam Shankar and his colleague know the value of engaging the community. Akshara’s community engagement team says, “There’s cooperation between the teachers and the people. Parents visit the school regularly to ask about the progress of their children. The teachers have the mobile numbers of all the parents. There’s trust between these two stakeholders.”

The team also acts as a catalyst, bringing together villagers, parents, teachers and students to sustain the momentum for education. In a progressive village like Marasandahalli, it is not hard to do. It has 483 people and a literacy rate of 60.80%, not too high, comparatively. The educational impetus, however, is strong in a village which has hardly any transport connectivity, and where the livelihoods are dairy, silkworm rearing and small-scale trade. “The important thing is the villagers have the enthusiasm to educate their children,” the team says.

Chetan, Monisha, Tanushree and Varshini are the new generation, their aspirational urge nurtured by a good government school, supportive teachers and an education-oriented community.

– Lakshmi Mohan for Akshara Foundation

STARS OF HOPE – Rakshita’s Perfect Scores!

On 27th  September 2017, Chinchanooru village in Aland taluk, Kalaburgi district held a school level Gram Panchayat math contest. This was just one of the scheduled GP contests, similar to the ones Akshara Foundation has been facilitating all across the state, this past year. So what makes this one stand out? Read on.

The Govt. Higher Primary School, Chinchanooru played host to the competition this time around. Four government schools come under this Gram Panchayat, and the total number of children who participated in the contest that day was 203.



After the fanfare of an elaborate inauguration ceremony, the question papers were distributed and the contest finally began. When the education volunteers evaluated the answer sheets and the results were announced, the winners’ marks were also disclosed during the prize distribution ceremony.

Rakshita, daughter of Jettappa, a daily-wage labourer, had scored 20 out of 20, pleasantly surprising everyone in the crowd. Now that’s an amazing score to have, considering some of the numbers that come up.

Amidst the cheers and jubilations, one of the GP members, Mr. Shivasharanappa Sajjan objected to the marks scored by Rakshita, saying it is impossible for this girl to score 100% mark in this contest, while many others have scored far fewer marks.

The 2nd and 3rd prize winners were at a considerable distance in terms of marks scored. He insisted that the prize distribution ceremony be stopped at once and Rakshita be made to answer all the 20 questions once again.

And so, a different question paper was given to Rakshita. She set out to take the new test. Scoring a perfect score again, Rakshita put every objection back in its place, and rightly so!



The entire crowd was overjoyed and so were we, at Rakshita’s math prowess. The standing ovation that followed resounded thunderously in the grounds, and went on for a while, amidst bells, whistles and claps, of course.

What followed afterwards was something no one expected.

Not only did Rakshita get the GP contest prize of Rs. 1,000/- which was anyway due to her,but she also got another Rs. 1000/- from the person who challenged her math abilities, Mr. Shivasharanappa Sajjan. Such a  great sport!

The vice president of the Gram Panchayat gave another Rs. 1000/- prize, another GP member Rs. 500/- and a village youth education volunteer Rs. 500/- and the School Head Master  further added Rs. 500/- to this kitty.

Instead of going home with a 1st (cash) prize of Rs. 1,000/- , she mopped up Rs. 4,500/- at the end of the day!

It was a truly memorable GP contest, especially because of the kind of support Rakshita got from the entire village.

Congratulations Rakshita! You are without a doubt, one of our stars.

Please see: All images are a reference to a GP contest held in schools, and not of the one talked about.

The Odisha Chapter Begins 

Stepping into Odisha is an ambitious outreach for Ganitha Kalika Andolana. Balangir and Rayagada, the programme’s terrain, are two backward districts where learning indicators are not so strong.

Setting the course for GKA’s Odisha chapter was the Master Resource Persons’ (MRPs) training that Akshara conducted for 50 teachers from the two districts. They gathered in sylvan Chikkaballapur outside Bangalore, determined to pursue their new course material as a teaching-learning opportunity.



They were GKA’s MRPs who, as master disseminators, will cascade the training to batches of teachers in Balangir and Rayagada. Surya Narayan Mishra, Deputy Director, Planning and Training, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), hand-picked them from amongst the best and brightest in the districts.

They were Mathematics teachers, youngish, enterprising, with an open mind. Most of them had a BSc and quite a few an MSc with Mathematics as their specialisation.

Akshara’s Master Trainer those five intensive days was a seasoned veteran, – her speciality, Mathematics, training, engagement. The teachers were near-perfect trainees, diligent as students, poring over Akshara’s Training Manual, experimenting with the kit, and listening. Profuse note-taking filled square-lined notebooks, the grid and calculus coming up with speedy precision. GKA’s methodology received extensive treatment. They wrote explanations, underlined crucial points, worked through sums.



By Day 2, they had a deeper sense of the value chain they could create when GKA reached 4600 classrooms and 1,98,000 children.

The training content contained the GKA sweep, with the Trainer explaining the methodology in detail. The CRA Cycle – C for concrete, or the teaching-learning materials (TLMs); R for representational, or procedural clarity; A for abstract, or the ultimate conclusions of Mathematics. The 5E Model of Learning – Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate. Group Learning Strategies, and concepts in the class 1-5 Mathematics syllabus.

“Take children in stages,” the Trainer said. “The first two stages are transit places. You can’t have C, R and A going in different directions. So how will you build your bridge? You develop a relationship with the three stages.”

“I teach in a hinterland school. Children don’t understand how many 10s there are in 100,” a teacher despaired. “Teach with colours, take the abacus, take the number line, the base 10 blocks,” said the Trainer. “Linger over the representational stage, that’s where understanding comes. Reinforce.”



The mood had lightened in the first two or three hours of the training. The unfamiliarity with GKA and its TLMs, the unknowing, had dissolved. Participants erupted in the delight of figuring something out or probed further and questioned, groups of them talking together. The Trainer encouraged it. “The energy of excitement is a positive vibe. If children exult in your Mathematics class, it is a eureka moment. It means they have discovered something.”

The days went by in camaraderie, unlearning and learning, and a spirit of inquiry.

In their feedback forms, teachers marked a vigorous Yes for parameters like: usefulness and effectiveness of the GKA TLM kit; group learning; and training content and design.



They felt they were privileged to be a select group that had mastered GKA’s teaching concepts and understood the importance of the andolan, or movement, they could unleash, and were ready to hit the ground as soon as they reached Odisha.

– Lakshmi Mohan  

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