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.

Thoughts on Children’s Day 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Akshara Foundation Award (1)

– Kanchan Bannerjee
Managing Trustee, Akshara Foundation