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

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_0641The 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_DSC0048This 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._DSC0060Soon 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.

A sneak-peek into the Balwadi Programme at Malur



 The preschool programme is one of Akshara Foundation’s most far-reaching initiatives. A flagship programme which, in scale, content and structure, is unique, as it is imaginative and scientific in pedagogy.  At the heart of its design is collaboration with government to revive the anganwadi that cornerstone people’s institution, a deliverer of preschool education, social distribution and community welfare, beset by decay and drift. Akshara’s focus is on resurrecting the long-buried education component in anganwadis wherever it can in Karnataka. Setting benchmarks of quality, sharpening the edge, making anganwadis competitive and comparison-worthy.

When Akshara ran its preschool programme for four years in all 1778 anganwadis in Bangalore covering nearly 32,000 children it harvested a yield of successful outcomes. Children ascended a learning curve. Anganwadi workers became more responsible, more committed, and community support systems of anganwadis were strengthened. It left an enduring footprint in that the Department of Women and Child Welfare, which manages anganwadis, has from this year absorbed key elements of Akshara’s preschool programme in Karnataka anganwadis – the innovative teaching-learning material (TLM) for child development, child assessments, and keeping the spirit of the anganwadi worker alive.

Currently, Akshara’s programme runs in 335 hand-picked anganwadis in Bangalore, which it is grooming into centres of performance. It vigorously supports 109 anganwadis in Hubli and Dharwad. And change is sweeping in, in measurable terms.

Now, the preschool programme also has a presence in 51 anganwadis in Malur Block in Kolar District, about 40 kilometres from Bangalore. A new strategy has been forged, experimental but effective. A third worker, an Akshara volunteer, has been introduced into these anganwadis as a force for education. She should have cleared her SSLC or class 10, which is one of the eligibility criteria for selection.  Akshara has trained the volunteers in preschool education, classroom management, TLM use and handling children.

Chavenahalli is a small village in Malur Block, remote but not backward. Its people are not poor, they are disadvantaged; deprived of facilities, not unaware. There is this
aspiration-dispersal from the big city next door and people have expectations, not matched by the realities of government dispensation. Anganwadis are seen as inefficient, unaccountable and sub-standard providers of education, and only parents who cannot afford private preschools retain their children there. It is in these centres that Akshara’s programme is bringing hope, energy and new direction.

Chavenahalli Anganwadi is an unpretentious little centre with 18 children. Sunlight does make an appearance, says Firdose Begum, the Akshara volunteer, but the anganwadi could do with munificence. The children could use a fan on hot days. “But they adjust,” she says. The anganwadi has no electricity, no water. There is a toilet, with a damaged roof though. And a single room, which by contrast is resource-rich with Akshara’s TLM, an anganwadi asset.The walls are vibrant with Akshara’s learning charts and the Department’s posters on equality for the girl child and guidelines for the community’s health and hygiene.

The volunteer’s role is that of performance-driver. Value building is what she does in a Malur anganwadi. When Firdose joined seven months ago, empowered by Akshara’s training and an altered prism to look at early childhood requirements, these children “knew nothing.”Neither to play nor to learn, she says. Firdose recalls how Ashwini, 4 years and 9 months, would laugh, largely in self-deprecation, and partly to gloss over her ignorance, when asked to read the Kannada alphabet. Today she reads and writes the letters ‘aa’ to a-ha’ with ease. Ashwini has a foothold in learning and playing. Much like Shahid, says Firdose, who, around the same age, would stand in utter silence when asked a question. No response, no communication abilities, no learning. Today he is conversationally adept, wishes everyone “Good morning,” and understands how to go about what to say and do.

In the two hours that Firdose is there she segregates children and delivers an age-appropriate curriculum. The older children get a reinforced school readiness module. The younger children get grounding, get used to the idea of playing and learning. All of them have plenty of playtime with the TLM,when they pick up knowledge about fruits and vegetables and forms of transport,or develop coordination skills. These children had never seen colour pencils and crayons before, says Firdose, let alone a paint box. Now they happily draw and paint, dabble and splash with Akshara’s art material, intent on freedom of expression. Children are getting accustomed to socialisation processes too, peer interaction, sharing and giving, good conduct and discipline. They line their slippers neatly at the entrance, use the dustbin, queue up for the toilet.

Word about the programme is spreading and the community is reaching out with support. Parents are delighted with the enlightenment they see in Chavenahalli Anganwadi and come personally to register approval, says Firdose. Their children have become storytellers at home, mothers tell her. They communicate a lot and if they are stumped for words they mime their thoughts. Gram Panchayat members gifted a pressure cooker, books and pencils recently and gave away prizes to achievers on Independence Day. Arifa, a Gram Panchayat member, makes sustained efforts, visiting often and staying on to observe the impact the programme is having on teaching and learning.

As for Nagaveni, the anganwadi worker who has been at the centre for almost 16 years, she is a relieved person, glad that Firdose is there to depend on, an ally. The volunteer is trained to supplement and support, not constrict the anganwadi worker. She isan important, integrated, non-intrusive strand in the anganwadi. Nagaveni used to be a harried, pressed-for-time teacher, managing two anganwadis, running back and forth, overwhelmed by all the community work and maintenance of prodigious registers that her job entails. She never had the time to teach. Now she can entrust and delegate. She tells Firdose, “Don’t ever leave.”

Firdose has no intention of doing so. “The freedom to work feels good. And that too for the benefit of children. That feels great,” she says. “I want to be with children, improve them. It will make me happier.” Firdose is 28, her husband is a lorry owner and they have two small children. It is a forward-thinking, supportive family, and a progressive community in Chavenahalli. Her mother takes care of her children when she is away.


Firdose was doing her 2nd year in pre-university when she dropped out. She worked for three years in a private preschool in Malur town. “I knew nothing,” she confesses. “Till Akshara’s training happened I had no idea how to engage with children, or that children need inputs at this early age for their overall development.” It taught her both theory and practice, with which she enlarges her domain knowledge every day at the anganwadi.  “The training was a revelation,” she says. “It has also given me confidence and a sense of pride in myself. I like what I am learning all the time. I like expanding my knowledge, learning things. I enjoy working with Akshara. What they are doing in my village is simply great.”

Asma’s Balwadi – A Shining Example of Grit and Hard work


This is an inspiring story of Asma who chose to make a difference in her own little way and emerged triumphant.

In an inner enclave beyond busy main roads lies Nehrupuram, its streets scrupulously clean, no garbage heaps, big and small, that Bangalore struggles to clear every day. It is a thriving community that lives here, with a hunger for self-advancement. Asma Moosa lives here and  is a stellar example, a compulsion for public good driving her.

Asma is one of Akshara’s eminently successful independent balwadi volunteers, a person admired and respected by her community. It started way back  in 2000 when Asma was all of eighteen, young, capable, yearning for bigger goals. She was famous for taking tuitions. At one point she had 100 students in three batches. Getting started with an independent Balwadi  was hence something that was soon to follow. This independent balwadi was an opportunity towards educational entrepreneurship, social development and academic grooming of little children. In Asma’s words “A job that takes the community forward.”

The prospect of being stranded at home and doing housework after completing school was not an enticing one, and her mother was already planning her marriage. Asma, in her characteristically mild way, refused to be typecast, to fit into preordained moulds. This simply meant her family was not willing to send her to work. However, an independent Balwadi being a home based venture made things easy for Asma. This simply meant giving back to society while ensuring a modest personal economic stability along with family support.

Asma was quiet familiar with Akshara and the work they were doing. This was when she approached Fatima, an Akshara librarian in a government school nearby. This was indeed the turning point of her life and she realized her true calling.

Akshara’s training for independent Balwadi volunteers not just trained her but also opened new avenues for Asma. It taught her skills she never knew she needed – managing children, extracting the best out of them, helping realize their potential. The significance of preschool education and how it builds foundations for later development was new to her, and she never knew so much was possible with teaching-learning material. It had seemed like child’s play opening a balwadi. Now she knew what it meant. Most importantly the training taught her how to harmonise an entrepreneurial streak with community service.

Asma set up her balwadi in a room in her mother’s house. Akshara provided her with everything she needed to start a preschool. All the teaching-learning material, books, forms, registers, identity cards for the children, even pins and clips, she happily quips. She was out in the community every day searching for children for her balwadi, coaxing parents. “Only three children turned up on the first day,” she says, quietly reliving what could easily have turned into a disaster.


Her house-to-house searches for children and persuasions in the community yielded steady results. Asma’s hard work, and a slowly spreading acknowledgment of it, paid off. Soon students began trickling in and the number changed from 3 to a bunch of 40 kids. Asma charged Rs. 50 per student. She was the proud recipient of  a trophy from Akshara for drawing the highest number of children in the first year of operations.

Asma’s marriage in 2008 seemed to shadow her success as her husband did not want her to work but her dogged determination won.  Today Asma operates out of a new multi-storeyed building the Maulvi of the mosque next door has provided her. Her balwadi has grown. She has 135 students in four sections – pre-nursery, nursery, Lower Kindergarten (LKG) and Upper Kindergarten (UKG), all compartmentalized and in distinct sections with separate curriculums. Asma runs an English medium preschool. It is a professional set-up. 

If her balwadi has grown so has Asma. She has a big reputation for preschool education in Nehrupuram. “I am famous in this area because of Akshara. And yes, people acknowledge me as a good teacher,” she says with humility.

What has made this journey possible? It is her never say die attitude and  hard work. She hopes to be a role model and make her school an ideal example for others to follow. In spite of her rise and the position she holds in her community Asma maintains her humility. She herself laid down terms for herself, but with sensitivity. Today, her 3 ½ year old son does not study in her balwadi because he cannot accept his mother as a teacher, is looked after a lot of the time by her mother, leaving Asma free to shoulder her work. It indeed  is a two-way street but she manages it all with dedication and sincerity.

Asma negotiated with her family for that work-space in her life, to be allowed to do something better, larger, meaningful, without cutting off relationships. “If women are not allowed to go out and do something they can do it at home. But women should do something. They play a decisive role especially in education”.