Testing the level of math in children, the Gram Panchayat Way.

An entire academic year has just gone by after the grand launch of Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA), the innovative support programme rolled out in June 2015 by Akshara Foundation, in collaboration with the Karnataka State Government.

During the course of the year, the programme was implemented in six districts of the Hyderabad Karnataka region namely, Gulbarga, Koppal, Bellary, Raichur, Bidar and Yadgir. Around 8,000 teachers, 682 Government Resource Persons and 718 Cluster Resource Persons have been trained on the methodology, so that 300,000 children in 7,515 schools could benefit from this programme.

In an attempt to understand exactly how much the programe has benefitted the students and how much they have been exposed to it, Akshara Foundation was a proud facilitator of a one of its kind math competition for the children this summer.

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This competition was organised and spearheaded by the Gram Panchayats themselves. (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 – source: Wikipedia) Many villages come under a single Gram Panchayat. And Akshara identified around 250 such gram panchayats, spread across the 6 districts of GKA.

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Out the 250 identified Gram Panchayats, the team managed to conduct competitions in 216 of them.

Covering concepts on the Number System, Arithmetic Operations, Geometry and Measurement, the question papers were set by Akshara Foundation .

A total of 18,085 children showed up over the course of six weeks to participate in these competitions. This mammoth project involved around 2,000 youth volunteers and 20,000 odd parents, taking the ANDOLANA (meaning a Movement) to a whole new level. Many of the parents were exposed to the impact of interactive-based learning and in turn, the importance of math, for the first time.

So how does something like this work? Easier said than done. Akshara Foundation set each question paper with painstaking care, to cover all the major listed concepts equally. They were then couriered to each Gram Panchayat in sealed envelopes.

The Gram panchayat members would then begin the competition by opening the sealed envelopes on the day of the competition, in front of everyone. All the participants were given a paper each, and had to solve all the questions within the given time. Our youth volunteers would then huddle in a room and and correct the papers themselves, once all the papers were collected from the children.

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Once done, the results were announced in a grand closing ceremony, where the child who bagged the 1st prize was awarded a cash prize of Rs. 1000/-, Rs. 600/- was awarded as the 2nd prize and Rs. 400/- as the 3rd prize.

All this (excluding the setting of the paper) took place over the course of a few hours, right in front of everyone. There were no hidden rules or blanks left to fill in by the unassuming audience.

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All this sounds like a picture perfect new method of assessing children, but how did the children actually fare?

Of the 18,085 children who were tested (4th standard, 5th standard and 6th standard), the overall performance of those in the 5th standard was found to be relatively better, with a marginal increase in the percentage of students in high grades when compared with the performance of those in the 4th and 6th standard.

Some stark figures that need to be spoken about: 72.3% of the children tested could perform 4-digit addition, but when it came to 4-digit subtraction and multiplication, only 55.6% and 30.9% of them could manage it.

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While 23.8% children could do 4-digit division, only 17.2% children could solve division problems conveyed through a practical scenario.

Overall, the children of Raichur and Yadagiri districts scored the highest (14% and 18% scored above 75% respectively). Bellary and Kalburgi districts exhibited the lowest performance scores (where only 9% and 7% of the children scored above 75% respectively).

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The children’s performance, good or bad, has definitely started many a conversation amongst all the stakeholders. We are happy that this initiative has motivated the community to take a keen interest in their children’s education.

And to ensure this dialogue opens up in all the areas of Ganitha Kalika Andolana, Akshara Foundation will help organise around 400 more Gram Panchayat competitions, similar to these 216 over the course of the academic year.

Links to images and press clips:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aksharadotorg/sets/72157668273677140

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aksharadotorg/sets/72157668273810880

Beautiful. Warm. Resourceful. My first visit to rural India.

No American visiting India for the first time really knows what to expect. The India that one visualises from the descriptions of travel websites, friends, and relatives is one of stark contrasts between clean and polluted, modernity and tradition, rich and poor.

So, before I came to India, I didn’t know what to expect. My name is Ajay and I am an Indian-American high school student on his first visit to India. On this trip, I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to join the Akshara Foundation on visits to the villages of Mundargi and Kushtagi in north Karnataka.

The rides to the villages were long and bumpy on roads that varied in levels of maintenance. For much of the ride, I had my left hand firmly grasped around the ceiling handles of our SUV and my eyes glued to the window, seeing life in a rural area for the first time.

The countryside can be very beautiful. Agricultural fields cover the sandy landscape with green crops and bright yellow carpets of sunflowers. These fields seem to stretch forever, only briefly interrupted by the villages they sustain.
Sunflowers
The villages have their own beauty, with the vivid colours painted on the walls of homes and local shops. Buildings are constructed into small, but pleasant and reliable, structures from the materials readily available, such as wood and mud brick, showing the resourcefulness of these poor communities.

The members of these communities were warm and welcoming to us, opening their home to us in an instant. I’ve never been a big tea or coffee drinker – I’m fairly energetic on my own, without caffeine but by the end of the two days I was in rural Karnataka, I was converted.

Everywhere we went, either tea or coffee was generously offered (and how can you pass up South Indian coffee?). The beverages not only literally warmed my mouth (I think I actually burned my tongue on the first day – helpful tip: when drinking a hot liquid, don’t keep it in your mouth in hopes of it somehow cooling down), but also, metaphorically, my heart; despite their daily struggle for food and water, these villagers offered me tea/coffee and biscuits without hesitation.
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However, these same villagers, the parents of the children we visited in local schools, did not seem to understand the full importance of their children’s education. During their house visits, Akshara conferences with the parents about the importance of education and convinces families of why they should be involved in their children’s education.
VIllage
When basic necessities are scarce, it is understandable that parents can find it difficult to prioritise homework over harvesting. But a good education is a necessity. Certainly not of the immediacy of food or clean water for basic survival, but education is a necessary investment we make today to ensure that these children do not have to worry about things, like food shortages, in the future.

In the United States, parents are, unfortunately, also often distanced from their children’s education. Some parents work too much to be able to find time to monitor their child’s learning. Others simply can’t be bothered. Either way, the effects on the child’s education are the same: the parents’ lack of involvement is an impediment.

While in both America and India, parental involvement is generally directly correlated to income level, the difference is that in America, the trade off is rarely – if ever – between survival and education. Americans, in general, have more than enough to survive.

The young students in Mundargi and Kushtagi dream of becoming teachers, doctors, engineers – not farmers or labourers that struggle to get by. This is why it is important not only for the students to have an education available to them in school, but also for the parents to support their children’s quest to build a better life for themselves and, eventually, the villages they come from.

And this is why Akshara’s work is so essential. By building relationships with the communities in which they work, Akshara is able to make meaningful change at the deepest, most fundamental, levels. They invest time and effort into providing an education to children today, and changing attitudes and mindsets to ensure the next generation will have an education tomorrow.

– Ajay Dayal

Dasara Camps at Kushtagi


The Kustagi team conducted twenty camps during the Dasara holidays with the help of 83 trained volunteers, reaching 1,052 children of 3rd to 8th standard at twenty villages. Excellent support was drawn from the community, schools, the officials of the Education department and the media. The team planted 324 plants during the six camps. The camps were conducted at zero cost, however, the community and the schools helped raise Rs.2, 34,710 in cash and kind.

Preparations from the camps:
The BEO, BRC and the nodal person for Akshara activities Mr.Sharnappa Nagoor and the BRP were informed about the camps requesting them to provide a room and the support from the school authority while conducting the camps.

Based on the experiences of summer camps, the team selected five volunteers from the field. Most of these volunteers have completed D.Ed, while some are pursuing graduation and some others studying at the Pre-University College.

Twenty villages were identified and finalized for the camps. Letters were sent to all the Head masters/mistress by the Block Resource Coordinator (BRC) to support the team while the camps were going on. The CRPs were made in charge for the camps and the donors were identified.

Training for the volunteers:
One day training for 83 volunteers in two batches was held on 7th and 8th of October-13 by the District and Taluka coordinators. A brief introduction about Akshara Foundation and the work done in the Kustagi block was given. To break the ice the volunteers were made to play memory games. Further information about ASER, tree game along with tips were given to the volunteers. They were also told in detail about the street play on the awareness of education. Competitions like pick and speak and construction of different themes out of Lego bricks was done to give the volunteers a fair idea about the same to be held during the habba.
   
Camps:
The volunteers and the cluster facilitators led the children in a PRABHATPERI shouting the slogans related to education in the entire village, which attracted the attention of the community people towards the camps. The Head master and SDMC shared the responsibility in arranging the inaugural function in the school premises. SDMC president, Gram Panchayat President/members, leaders of the village, the Cluster Resource person, the school Head master/mistress and invited guests were present at the inaugural function.


Special invitee for the inaugural function:
Katapur is a village which belongs to Hanumasagr, Kustagi block. The camp was conducted at HPS Katapuras as per the request made by the Head master and the community.  Mrs. Netravathi Patil, Police Sub Inspector for Hanumasagar was invited to inaugurate the camp. She addressed all the children and said to dream big. She also appealed to the parents to send their children to school regularly. She specifically emphasized on educating the girl child and abolishing the practice of child marriage. The PSI spent her time until the lunch break and observed the activities done in the camps. She was all praises for Akshara and thanked for taking up such an effort to make the children happy.

Activities for three days:

Activites like memory game, fun games, making the village map with the help of the volunteers, constructing the Lego models using the Lego kit, some outdoor games and rhymes and action songs were conducted which not only kept the kids in the classes but also engaged them creatively. Competitions like pick and speak, drawing, English and Math quiz, musical chair and language game brought healthy competition between each group.

The children practiced street play, drama and a variety of cultural activities to entertain their parents and the community in the evening. Special activities like making flower bouquets, rangoli competition for children & the women, the dance and drama by the youth, planting the trees were the main attraction during the camps.

Feed back by the children:
Savitha Hiremath from 7th standard says, “I am the eldest daughter at home and have to always help my mother at home as well as in the field. I convinced my parents and attended the camp. I was elated to be a part of this camp, it was a different world for me which I had never dreamt of. These three days of the camp has gifted me a new life. I will study well and make sure to be useful to the society”.
“I watch the quiz competition on the TV. But I literally faced it in the camp. I liked the quiz competition”. Says, Shivkumar Gadad from 6th standard.
“All this while I was just studying without any goal, but the Doctor (invited resource person) made me dream and told me how to reach the goal” expressed Akshatha Jigeri from 8th standard.
ASER Results:
Conducting ASER test to all the children who participated in the camps was the major  task given to the Akshara team. The test was conducted using the ASER tool which includes Reading ,basic Math and English. Of 1,052 students, 1,001 attended for the ASER test.

The results showed that, 18% of the children are able to read the sentences and 42% of the children can read the story. 26% of the children could do the subtraction and 14% could do division while 16% of the children are unable to identify, 1-9 numbers yet. 24% of the children could read capital letters in English and 36% of them could read the small letters. 26% children could read simple words.


Community gathering:
 Community involvement could be seen almost every day during the camps. On day 1, the community was invited for the inaugural function, on the second day the community gathered after 7 PM to watch their children perform at the cultural programme and to listen to the message by the guests. Similarly, all were present on last day of the camp for the valedictory function.

A huge chunk of people gathered for the cultural program. It was a good platform to address the community. Dist coordinator, Taluka coordinator, the CRPs, HMs, SDMC President and the Gram Panchayat President /members spoke about the significance of education and requested the parents to send their children regularly to the schools. The children staged a drama on Child marriage, Drop out school children in order to spread the awareness. It was an effective message for the parents and the community by their children.      
                                                                         
Excellent participation of schools and communities:
The camps conducted at Shiragumpi, Ganganal, Nerebenchi, Kadekoppa, Hulsgara, K.Boduru were memorable ones. The participation of the youth, community, the parents, the Head master, the CRPs and the school teachers was highly commendable. The camps seemed like a festival in their villages. The SDMC and Gram Panchayat, took a vow to regularly send their children to schools and  help them to dream high. Many parents expressed that, they will strive hard to fulfill the dreams of their children. 324 plants were distributed and planted during the camps in these schools.
Community feedback:
“Camps like this really helps improve the overall development of the children, such camps should often be held, and we will support and carry on the camps in our village”.                Says,  Mr.Hanmanthpppa Kodagali the SDMC President.

Mr.Sangappa Gorebal the retired teacher of Bodur expressed that many people gather for the political issues and village festivals. But for the first time in his life, he has seen people gathering for the purpose of education. He had seen the camps in urban places but had not witnessed such an innovative camp which strived towards community awareness. He thanked and applauded Akshara Foundation for the initiation. He  was one of the donors for the camp.
Mr. Neelappa Chavan the President of Gram Panchayat of Kyadiguppa opined that, “ It is a good plat form to bring out children’s talent. We the committee will add this plan in our agenda and conduct the camp with help of the school teachers and volunteers”.

Feedback from the CRPs and School Head Masters:
Head Master Mr. Prabhakar Vijapur from Bodur said, “ Akshara Foundation has done some wonderful work for the Department. Whenever we call the parents they never turn up but through this camp almost all the people turned up. It is a good effort to spread the message of importance of education. The competitions like, quiz, language game, tree game and memory game will be continued to be conducted in my school, Thanks to Akshara”.
A Head master from Gangnal says,“We have seen the children attending camps in cities and town but this time many of our village children are the beneficiaries. Thanks to the volunteers and Akshara for the effort”.  
Mr.Nataraj the CRP of Bodur cluster said that, he has seen many organizations working in his service but never seen such activities and the concern towards the children and the community. Akshara’s systematic approach towards with education is appreciable.

Feedback from the volunteers:

  • Balanagowda Patil from Gangnal says,” I attended the volunteers training in Kustagi block just to kill the time. The talent of the children seen on and off the stage has made me speechless. The concern, selfless effort of Akshara Foundation is praise worthy. I have felt the joy of giving my time and gained a lot for my life”.
  • Mr.Kumar G from Amaravathi, says,“ I had heard of such camps happening in the towns and cities. But Akshara brought this to our village and I am proud to be a part and lead the  camp. It is one of the successful programme for the children and the community”.
  • Mr.Nirupadi from Kalamalli village views, “The camps organized by Akshara Foundation  made the children happy  and also brought about awareness among the people of the village. The drama presented by the children was an effective message to the parents”.  
  • I have come to know the learning levels of the children of my village through ASER test. I have learnt the names of many trees through the Tree game. I drew the map of my village. Lego was a wonderful kit for the children. I learnt how to conduct the camps in my village”. Says, Yamanoorappa Bandihal from Nidasheshi village. 

Experience shared by the Cluster facilitators:
“It was a wonderful experience to organize the camps, but with the help of the community I learnt to organize function, gained the confidence of the people and faced the media” Says Mr.Sangappa.
Mr.Manjunath gladly says: “The experience of the summer camp gave me a lot of confidence. Both the camps have given me a high satisfaction. My hard work can be seen in the village. Everyone in the village recognizes me”.
Ms.Shailaja says, “I can deal and organize any program related to education in the community. I have gained a lot of confidence by this camp”.
“Initially, I was not confident about myself, I spent sleepless nights but now, I feel that, everything is possible if there is a will” explains newly joined CF Mr.Doddappa.
Mr.Shivappa adds, “I was suffering from inferiority complex but through these camps all my doubts have vanished”.
Mrs.Akkamahadevi asserts: “These two camps have added to my confidence level when to summer camps”.
Mr.Sharanappa shares, “Everything is possible if we go with the good will”.
Mr.Doddangowda says,”I have learnt how to communicate and organize the events with full confidence.
Once again, I feel proud to say that, I am a block facilitator of Kustagi block for Akshara Foundation. The camps have thrown the light on the block and many officers, the teachers and the people recognize me. I have put in my best efforts at the camps” opines, Mr.Umesh Meli the ‘Taluka Facilitator’.

Conclusion:
Akshara Foundation team in Kustagi, with many experiences has been able to successfully conduct twenty ‘Educational camps. Through these camps, we have brought a smile on 1,052 children. The village map, Tree game, ASER, street play, Drawing and Quiz competitions, Lego, Outdoor and Indoor games, Action songs and many other activities have retained in the young minds of the children. The cultural activities performed by the children and the youth, Rangoli competitions for the women in the village were interesting to note. All these showed the participation of people. Approach in the community, the support of the volunteers, school HM, CRPs, people of the community has doubled the confidence of all the CFs. 

Dasara Camp at Hoskote

This Dasara vacations, the children once again had the chance to witness and participate in a camp that they added to their list of festivities. The Dasara Camp was held from 4th October to 19th October 2013 at Hoskote, Bangalore.


 Objectives of the Dasara Camp:
  • To create awareness among the community in relation to the school system
  • To give children the space to explore their talents & use their holidays in an effective way
  • To create an awareness among the parents about their child’s learning  
  • To  involve the  youth  organizations  in  the  system  of  primary education

Key highlights of the Dasara Camp

It was held at Govt. Higher Primary School, Karapanahalli, Hosakote taluk;  two villages M. Hosahalli & Karapanahalli in Shivanapur cluster were a part of this camp. A total of 14 Dasara camps held in the taluk, this being the last one.This was a 3 day camp which included Lego activities, play trees, memory game, village map, ASER test, musical chair, quiz competition-maths & English, craft, language game, pick & speak, drawing, painting, guest lecture, etc.

Over three days, 70 students from class 4th to 7th participated in this camp. This  village is home to around   200 households with a population of 800 people. Approximately, 500 members from the community were present. Organizations like Shikshana Foundation, Hosakote; Swami Vivekananda Charitable Trust, Nandagudi; Local Gram Panchayat; Youth Organizations, Women Organizations participated actively to make the Dasara Habba a grand success. About 400 plants donated by plant nurseries were planted.

Shivanapur Gram Panchayat President & Members, SDMC members, school teachers etc.showed active participation on all three days of this camp.The effort was appreciated and applauded by lawyer Mr. Jagadeesh-during his guest lecture.The head teacher & other teachers of the school opined that this camp had been a great platform for the community to interact effectively with the school authorities as well as the  SDMC. The community were of the opinion that camps like this inspired them to send their children to the Govt. Schools. In total, a sum of Rs 30,000 was spent by the community for this camp.



Students performed cultural activities like Kamsale dance, folk songs, drama etc. as part of this valedictory program. Staff   members,volunteers of  Akshara along with volunteers from the other organizations were present at the valedictory function. A presentation of the work done so far by Akshara Foundation was shown to the organizing authorities using a LCD projector in an open place.

Organizing authorities provided mementos to the guests & the people who actively participated in the camp
The credit for the success of the entire camp goes to the team led by Srinivas (Taluk Coordinator) and the Field Coordinator Mr. Lakshman.



The festival was a huge success and newspapers wrote about the Dasara camps in detail praising the efforts of everyone involved.

Dasara Camps

The operations teams at Akshara had a crowded schedule in September. It was hectic and fulfilling. So much to do, in the short span of the Dussehra-Ramzan holidays. The Makkala Habbas, or children’s festivals, they organised in the four Blocks of Hoskote, Devanahalli, Kushtagi and Mundargi called for a heightened efficiency.

The teams selected 12 villages in Hoskote Block, 2 in Devanahalli Block, 20 in Kushtagi Block and 10 in Mundargi Block for the Habbas.

In September, Makkala Habbas took place in: 9 villages in Hoskote Block, 1 village in Devanahalli Block, 10 villages in Kushtagi Block and 5 villages in Mundargi Block. The rest of them were scheduled during early October.

The Habbas were three-day festivals at each location, and the details that had to do be dealt with were huge; every minute aspect to be attended to. Everything had to fall into neatly programmed slots and then emerge as a choreographed whole on the day of the Habba in each of these villages.

All stakeholders had to be contacted in person and their involvement and support secured. They included parents, school managements, youth groups, gram panchayats, community based organisations and self-help groups. And children, who needed no persuasion.

A timetable was drawn up for the three days, and the list of items to be organised tackled.  Habba schedules; donor support; logistics and preparation; themes for children’s activities and talent shows; the inauguration, the closing ceremony; the topics for guest speakers; community programmes like cultural activities focussing on education, discussions and exchange of ideas;  invitation cards, advertisements, the media’s presence, public announcements of the Habbas in villages. It required planning at an acute level.


Makkala Habbas – The Objectives

Makkala Habbas were community education festivals that took a leaf out of the successful summer camps held in the Blocks in April-May. Each of them was organised as a single, stand-alone event. There was the underlying purpose that gave them commonality, as did the sequence of activities. The template was broadly the same, but every Makkala Habba turned out to be different, with its own stamp.

The objectives were: to raise awareness in the community about the school system and their role in it; provide children with learning opportunities, a space to explore their talents and get them to use their holidays in an effective way; make parents aware of their children’s learning; and enlist the involvement of local youth in primary education in their villages.


The Activities


There was a lot that happened for children at the Habbas – challenging games like the play tree, memory game, pick and speak; drawing a village map, quiz competitions; an ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) test to determine competence in Mathematics and English; craft, drawing and painting; village processions highlighting the importance of education; guest lectures; a tree planting drive; song and story; and inspirational moments. The community participated with great enthusiasm, contributing effort and resources.

The Back-End Operations – Training and Community Meetings

The back-end operations for Makkala Habbas began with the training of volunteers and community meetings.

Fifty eight youth volunteers were trained in Hoskote and Devanahalli Blocks; 96 in Kushtagi Block and 52 in Mundargi Block. They led the Habbas, took charge of the process, coordinated with the community, managed the children, all the fun and the learning, and ensured the smooth progression of activities. They were participants as well, in the skits on education at sundown, and in all that transpired those three days.

The Hoskote team went about preparing for the Habbas systematically, conducting 17 community meetings in September. They were energising forums for people’s participation.

The thrust of the team’s communication to village communities was to take part in education with the conviction that it can be the change-maker their children need. Though the meetings were called explicitly to canvas support for Makkala Habbas, the team never stopped reiterating this message and exhorted parents to involve themselves more forcefully in their children’s education, find out about their learning outcomes, build a stake in schools, propel School Development Monitoring Committees (SDMCs) to address school issues and be a force for change.

The topic of Makkala Habbas nudged to the centre of the meetings and the team shared with the community the vision and purpose behind them, the list of activities they had organised, and told them how, with their cooperation and support, the festivals could become enshrined as biannual events in their calendar. Providing learning-enrichment in interesting dimensions for children during the holidays, and an opportunity for parents and the community to engage more constructively with education.

Dussehra Camp at Karapanahalli

Samitha Manoharan from Target shares her experience at the Dusshera Camp held at Karapanahalli. 


It all started with an invite from Akshara “3-day Dussehra Camp for children in various villages in Hoskote”.  That piqued my interest; especially as it came from one of Target’s partner NGOs.  
I reached Hoskote bright and early on Oct 19th, and called Srinivas-the coordinator for Hoskotetaluk.  He had very kindly volunteered to escort me to one of the villages where the camp was to be held.  He handed over some chart paper and other camp paraphernalia in a large bag along with a big bunch of roses.  I was mystified!!

The mystery was soon to be revealed.  Travelling along some sylvan green fields, I soon discovered that roses were abundantly grown in Hoskote!!  We reached the government school and were warmly welcomed by both the children and the other volunteers.  Excitement pulsed in the air as the children, along with their parents, impatiently waited for what was in store for them.  We soon had the village dignitaries kick off the program with a traditional lighting of the lamp and a soulfully rendered invocation by the school kids.  There were inspiring speeches by the village dignitaries, Akshara representatives as well as the school Head Mistress.

The children were divided into groups and given names of famous Indian personalities like Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru etc.  The day’s events included a game to list the maximum number of trees followed by creation of the village map by the different teams.  The village nurse was also invited to give a talk on good nutrition and hygienic practices and the children listened with rapt attention.  This was then followed by a highly competitive LEGO session where each team tried to outdo the other in terms of creativity as well as in the height of their creations.  There were a lot of oohs and aahs along with groans of dismay when the creations crashed; but they were soon rebuilt to their towering proportions by the enthusiastic children.  The day’s events were brought to an end with an energizing game of musical chairs.

Day two was kicked off by a drawing competition for the tiny tots whose creations soon began to adorn the school walls!  This was followed by a closely fought quiz completion which also included brain teasers and mental math.  The children sailed through this session and tie breakers were needed to be able to judge the best team!

After the grey cells had been exercised enough,  it was time to settle down for some testing on language and math skills.  The ASER test was administered to the school children by the volunteers who had previously been trained by Akshara.  Post lunch, excitement again ran high.  The children had caught sight of the many saplings that had been transported to their school all the way from Anekal.  They were to be planted around the school that very evening!  The school children were to be entrusted with the task of safeguarding the  trees until they had had the chance to grow and flourish.  The evening session, was dedicated to Shram Dan, where the volunteers went around the village talking to its occupants about the importance of keeping their surroundings clean.   The volunteers were cleaning up the area as they talked, hence reinforcing the message.

All in all it was a wonderful experience of village life and a wonderful opportunity to interact with its most interesting occupants-its bright children!!

The Tree game, a Guest Lecture by the village nurse,Village Map, Lego, Musical Chair, Drawing, Quiz and brain teasers, ASER test, Tree planting and Shramdan-cleaning up the village were the highlights of this Dusshera Camp. 

At the Summer Camp – The Community in Hasigalla


Inextricably linked to Akshara’s summer camp at the Government Higher Primary School (GHPS), Hasigalla, Hoskote Block, are the people who made it to the event, endorsed it with their presence and support and participated emphatically. We present a few snapshots.

The Stree Shakti Sangha
Fourteen members of the Aishwarya Lakshmi Stree Shakti Sangha, a women’s self-help group in Hasigalla, attended the summer camp. Their support makes a difference – women of the community taking a stand. As mothers, they are in many ways the backbone of education. The Sangha is a microcredit organisation, giving out loans at low interest rates to members in times of need – for a delivery, a child’s education, for agricultural work or to tide over financial hardship.

The Sangha has built a corpus of Rs. 3 lakhs. “All collected by us,” says Sumitra, its President, with pride. The 20 members of the Sangha contribute Rs. 25 each every week. “This week’s collection is Rs. 2650,” says Sumitra, who used to be an anganwadi worker and is now a cook at a higher primary school nearby.

They are women from modest backgrounds, Sangha members, well turned out, with a fine sense of proportion. A sense of things. Most of them have cleared class 7. “Some of us are not so educated,” they say. “So we don’t understand enough about education. But the school’s teachers keep instilling in us its importance. We are happy when our children do well and get prizes. We are happy that they are learning. We give prizes to the school’s children.” Six of the 14 members have children studying in the school.

All of them expressed satisfaction with Akshara’s work and remark about the improvement it is bringing about. “When children spend time at the summer camp they will learn,” says Sumitra. “Children don’t show up even for the midday meals the school provides during the summer holidays. But for Akshara’s programmes everybody comes. We don’t have to push and coax them.

They are women in a traditional set-up, most of them housewives, with an independent streak and access to moderate means, which keeps the domestic economy at home stable. Their spouses allow them the freedom to operate their microcredit schemes, or work if they wish to. “Our husbands don’t interfere,” they say. “Our policy is: ladies first, gents later,” laughs Vinoda, the Sangha’s smart, trendy Joint President.

Nagaraj and Subramaniam – Two Farmers

Nagaraj and Subramaniam, farmers both, are parents who attended the inauguration of the summer camp to express their solidarity with the school and its children.  Both of them studied in this school and the bond runs deep – Nagaraj till class 7 and Subramaniam till class 3.  “I was from a poor family,” says Subramaniam. “My parents did not support my education, so I had to discontinue. Things could have been different.  I would have been well-educated had my parents supported me.”

Subramaniam is the more prosperous of the two. Nagaraj looks careworn, with a creased face that talks of a hard struggle with life. He is a daily wage agricultural worker. His children, Shilpa and Sridhar, who were students of this school, are now studying for their MCom and BCom respectively.
“I have come to support my school,” says Nagaraj with a head-held-high kind of humility. “My presence is my commitment to it. I would advise its teachers to improve children’s learning and ensure that every child coming here gets a good education. Subramaniam is also a proud tiller of the soil, a pride that his children do not share. He owns two acres of land where he grows ragi, a variety of millet. “When the rain comes. If…” he says, looking up with weary hope, a deflated hand raised skywards.

Subramaniam’s daughter, Anushree, is in class 10, after passing out from this school. His son, Murali, has completed class 7 at the school and will move to the higher primary school. “We can’t afford anything but government education,” says Subramaniam. “Yesterday I enquired at a private school. I wanted to admit my children there. The fees are so unaffordable I have given up that line of thought.My children are not going to support me in agriculture or in tending our cows. It depends on what they want to become in life. I leave it to them.”

“Your Cluster Facilitator called me, so I have come. I have come because I believe children should study. Education is important. It is necessary for life.”

Summer Camps in Kushtagi


Akshara strongly believes that, “Strengthening the community is a long term endeavour”. People of the community become more empowered and responsible to work together to uplift and sustain the quality of education. Thus, Akshara initiated thirteen educational camps in the community for the children of 9 to 14 years in the Kustagi block in the month of May-2013.

Preparation for the camps:
The senior team members from Bangalore trained the team of Kustagi and Mundargi in Dharwad for four days in order to prepare for the summer camps in their particular clusters.
The summer camp training laid special emphasis on
The objectives of the camp.
Stake holders for the Community camps.
The target to conduct the Community camps in Hoskote, Kustagi and Mundargi.
Time line.
Core team for implementing each camp.
A plan to conduct the community camps

Mr. Mukund Maigur held the training on ‘Street Play’. He made everyone the poets, writers, actors and pioneers of the story. The team members found this means to be an effective media to reach out the minds of people concerning the relevance of education.

The Volunteers:
The mixed group of volunteers were identified for this camp. A fruit seller, a mason, a carpenter, members of Gram panchayat, II PUC passed students, Graduates, D.Ed and B.Ed completed candidates were the volunteers who led the camps.

 The Donors:
The team visited the community from door to door, met the SDMC members, the HMs, the teachers and the leaders of the village, explained them about the objectives of the camp and sought the donors to support the camps for three days.

Volunteer Training

Training the sixty selected volunteers:
Even though there was a lot of hesitation among the volunteers in the beginning of the sessions, gradually they all involved themselves in the training, every one participated in all the activities. The group activities, Lego, the tree game and the street play were particularly liked by all.
A session led by Mr.Shankar Narayan for four hours, his motivational speech and several activities made them think about the present status of education in their villages and they were stimulated to take up the new task in the form of village camps.

Camps:
In Kustagi block 13 camps were conducted in different villages. The locations were selected based on the cooperation of the schools, the communities, the SDMC and the availability of the volunteers. Sixty trained and enthusiastic volunteers returned to their places in zeal to conduct the events in their respective villages.

Inaugural function:
The camps began with the procession in the village. The children, the teachers, villagers and the volunteers lead the procession to the camp venue. The inaugural function was held in the schools. The Gram Panchayat Presidents and members, the SDMC President and the members, local leaders, the Self Help Group members, youth club, Cluster Resource Persons (CRP) the school Head Master, the assistant teachers, the media people, cooks of the school and volunteers were present during the function.

Activities in the camps held for three days:
The children were divided into four – five groups. They were instructed to be in their particular groups for all the three days. In the first session, they were made to dance, jump, sing and make jokes to attract them towards the camp. In some of the camps the guest lectures, the doctors, the lawyers, the engineers, the educationists and the Police inspector interacted with the children and inspired them to have an insight about their future.
“Memory Game” was an interesting game for the children. Every one participated in an enthusiastic manner.
The “Village Map” drawn by the volunteers involving the children show cased the picture about the irregular children, drop outs from the school, the educators of the village. This helped to know the present scenario of their village.
The children enjoyed the “Lego Game”. They all jumped with joy to see the Lego kit. They made different models, created a scene and narrated the story. They never wished to leave the camp even though the time was up.
“ASER” test was conducted to all the 727 children of the camp.
“Pick and speak” was an interesting event for all the children. It raised the self confidence in them. This made the children to think, prioritize, exhibit their thoughts and ideas with expressions before the audience.
The ‘Musical Chair’ game, the ‘Outdoor’ games, ‘Indoor’ games, ’Quiz’ in ‘English and Math’ and ‘General  Knowledge’ created healthy competition among the children.
A “Tree Game” was liked by all the children. After the tree game the children took an oath to plant a tree and name it. In Sebinakatti, Kalkeri and Bilagi villages the plants were distributed to all the children by the forest officer.

Community meetings:
In every village, a social gathering was held after 8 PM it went on till 11.30 PM. The parents of the children participating in the camp, the village leaders, youth, the SHG members, the Gram Panchayat members, SDMC members all gathered during this meeting. On the ‘First’ day, the cultural activities by the children were well appreciated. Akshara team members briefed about the purpose of the camp and the significance of education in today’s juncture.

The points mentioned below were highlighted during the meeting.
Monthly parents meetings to be held in schools.
The parents should spend minimum of 30 minutes with their children every day and ask about the learning in their class rooms.
The parents to meet the class teachers every month compulsory.
To conduct a ‘Makkal Sammelana’ once every six months.

On Day 2, the children drew everyone’s attention with their cultural activities again. The volunteers, Akshara team in collaboration with the children performed the street play beautifully. The play was effective in spreading awareness in the minds of the village folk through children.The children expressed their views about the camp. The information collected through the village map was shared with the parents. The results of the ASER test were announced in the community. Mr.Sharanappa Vodagera a famous folk singer, entertained the people with his awareness songs called “Jagruti Geethegalu” concerning the education of the emerging generation.

The annual plan for the academic year was shared with the community and is as follows:
To visit the school once in a month.
To conduct meetings with the educationists.
To provide basic facilities to the school.
To identify the problems in the schools and to provide solutions.
To give more emphasis on appointing teachers to schools.
To look for teachers from the village who can render their services voluntarily.
To help provide books to the children in time.
To recognize the meritorious children and to motivate them as well as the other students.

On Day-3, during the valedictory function the community members and the donors were also present. The prizes were distributed for all the events which were conducted for the children. The dignitaries on the dias delviered their speeches. A word of  thanks to all the people involved in the success of the camps and finally, the oath taking by the volunteers and the people of the community to carry on the same for the next summer camp was the sequence of the day.

About the camps:
The ‘Three Day Camp’ was as good as a festival in the village for the all the people. All the community people gathered in one place without any differences of cast and creed. They all agreed upon the idea of education and its importance. They were cooperated well with the Akshara team. The CRPs, HMs and the community people opined that, a educational programme of this type had never been held before in their villages. The programme went on till 11.30PM. The parents were glad to see their their kids performing various events. Over all they viewed the hidden talents of their children in the community programme.


ASER Result:
727 children benefitted from this camp. All the children were tested with the ASER tool. As per the ASER result of 727 children, 408 (56%) can read Kannada, 86 (12%) can read simple English sentences and 206 (28%) children can do division.

Support of the volunteers:

The support of the volunteers was amazing. There are no words to express about them. ‘Fifty five’ of the had attended the training but more than ‘Eighty’ of them joined their hands during the camps leaving behind all their personal work. They helped and enjoyed in the camps without any expectations. The logistic arrangements for Akshara team was taken care by the volunteers. The volunteers said that it was a first educational function in their village and they will take it forward in the days to come.

A volunteer named Anand, a seventeen year old boy, passed his 10th standard with 70% in the year 2012-13, from the Government High School and is now studying in the first year of Pre-University College. He starts his day by distributing news papers from door to door.  His father is an alcoholic and mother supports the family. His parents discouraged him from continuing studies due to the poverty. But, Anand wants to become an ‘Artist’. Therefore he earns money for himself and also continues his studies. He was an active volunteer in the Basavana camp, Tavergera. He donated tea and snacks on all the three days of the camp. “I am ready to invest my time and money for any educational programs. Akshara Foundation gave me an opportunity to be the part of educational program and I totally support their effort”,says, Anand.

Mr.Raghvendra from Kalkeri village has completed his D.Ed says through assuring words, that, “I had heard about the summer camps happening in the towns and the cities, but now it has stepped into the interiors of the village through Akshara Foundation. It is a gift for us. We the youth will continue this tradition”.

The support from the school HMs and the CRPs:
The Head Masters of the schools rendered their support. Some of the HMs stayed till the community meetings got over. A tasty food was prepared by the cooks to the children. In some of the villages the cooks of the schools donated tea and biscuits to all the children.

Donors:
In most of the camps, SDMC President and the Gram Panchayat President were the major donors. Some of them provided breakfast,sweets, tea, snacks, note books, pens, and prizes for the events for all the children

Experience of the Cluster Facilitators:
“It was a wonderful experience to know about myself. I learnt to organize events, gained the confidence and faced people and the media. I felt very happy when I addressed nearly 200 people” says Mr.Govindappa.
Mr.Manjunath gladly says:“Before the camp I was like a tube light but after the camps I have become like a CLF bulb”I have taken up the challenge to give my service the best to schools and community”
Ms.Shailaja says, “I came to know about my strengths and the talents through this camp”.
“Initially, I was not confident about myself but now, I feel that, everything is possible if there is a will”. Explains Mr.Kotresh.
Mr.Shivappa adds, “I was suffering from inferiority complex but these camps have helped me overcome my problem”.
Mrs.Akkamahadevi asserts: “I had the confidence to do any program. But I was worried about how to take this with the support of community and volunteers. I succeeded.”
Mr.Sharanappa shares, “I am impressed by the volunteers. They gave their time without any expectations for the cause of education. So everything is possible if we go with good will”.
Mr.Doddangowda confidently says, “I learnt to organize the events with the support of the community. I was an introvert but now,I feel that I am not”.
“I have gained a lot of knowledge by interacting with the children”. Says a newly joined CF, Mr.Shankarappa.
Today, I feel proud to say that, I am a block facilitator of Kustagi block for Akshara foundation. The camps have thrown the light on the block and many officers, the teachers and the people recognize me” opines, Mr.Umesh Meli the ‘Taluka Facilitator’.

Learning:
It was a firsthand experience and learning to have an exposure through the camps in the community.
The education department officers, teachers, children, the community and the media had a positive view about the camps.
Akshara foundation has shown and sown the way in the community to continue the camps in the days to come.
The team has built up the confidence to take up any challenges on the field.

Challenges faced:
It was a tough task to identify the volunteers in the community. Some said ‘yes’ but did not turn up for the training.
Elections were a hurdle to get the camps started in time.
Some donors assured to donate for the camp but were unable to do so.
Internal conflicts between the SDMC and HM was also an obstacle.
‘Marriages’ and Gram ‘Habbas’ in the villages also intervened the camps.
Basic facilities for the Akshara team was another challenge.


Conclusion:
Akshara Foundation’s team in Kushtagi, with many experiences was able to successfully conduct thirteen educational camps. Through these camps, we brought a smile on 727 children’s faces. The village map, tree game, ASER, street play, Drawing and Quiz competitions, Lego, Outdoor and Indoor games, Action songs and many other activities have retained in the young minds of the children. The cultural activities performed by the children and the youth, Rangoli competitions for the women in the village were interesting to note. All this showed the enthusiasm of the people. The support of the volunteers, school HM, CRPs, people of the community has doubled the confidence of all the CFs. The regular support of Mr.Shankara Narayan, the stay in the village, his interaction with the people and the motivational speech had people impressed.

Though beginners, Akshara Foundation has made a mark and has created history in all the thirteen villages of  the Kushtagi block.

LEGO brings Vinod back to School


Another LEGO story from the field!
A happy bunch of kids with colourful LEGO blocks
There have been multiple instances when students go to school half heartedly, most often because parents force the kids to go. This is a story where LEGO was the reason why this kid and many like him got back to school with a smile.

Vinod is a 5 and a half year old child who studies at the Tippur Anganwadi which is located in the Kengeri circle South ICDS project. He comes to the Anganwadi along with his sister, Gowri. His father is an auto driver and his mother works as a maid. It has been two years since Vinod has been a part of this anganwadi.

When Vinod first joined the anganwadi, he was irregular to the centre and didn’t pay any attention nor did he participate in any of the class activities. The only thing he did was to start crying as he stepped into the anganwadi. It took him a good six months to adjust himself to the new environment. The project coordinators spoke to his mother and told her how important it was for the child to attend school. Things got a little better when Vinod’s sister Gowri started accompanying him to the anganwadi.

Things took a totally different turn when LEGO was introduced in this anganwadi. The teachers and the workers at the Anganwadi were trained to teach the children how to use LEGO and the various activities centred around LEGO. Post the pre-school class all these kids would have a session where they were handed the LEGO blocks and allowed to play. The bright, vibrant colours of the LEGO blocks attracted everyone. This time even Vinod couldn’t escape the charm, joy and smiles that the LEGO blocks brought.
An engrossed Vinod building a LEGO tower!
Suddenly, Vinod who until now showed no response in class seemed to be not just responding but also participating in all the activities. This was not all, the not so regular Vinod now had a reason to come to the Anganwadi every day, and this improved his attendance. The Lego games left such a strong influence on this little kid that he now coaxes his mother to send his sister to the anganwadi too. At the anganwadi, he goes to the corner where the LEGO blocks are stacked and shows his sister how to use the blocks to make models of towers and trains.

Though this is one Vinod’s story, it has also been the story of many children who avoided coming to school because they didn’t find the place interesting, says the teacher. LEGO has made anganwadis more interesting, this means that the attendance has increased and so has the interest of the students to learn new things. The teacher proudly quips that LEGO has increased their levels of concentration and creativity.
She also says the game has taught the kids’ traits like sharing, leadership and teamwork. She says LEGO has managed to make not just the students smile but also the teachers, parents and the community members who work together.

Akshara Foundation participates in the Workshop on Innovations in School Education

Kanchan Bannerjee, Managing Trustee, Akshara Foundation, was invited to chair two sessions at a Workshop on Innovations in School Education organized jointly by Administrative Training Institute (ATI), Mysore, ANS State Institute of Rural Development (SIRD) and Azim Premji University, Bangalore, on the 28th of November, 2012.

This is part of a series of workshops on innovations in governance the three institutions plan to conduct in collaboration, the objective being to examine selected cases of innovative practice that display a potential for enhancing the quality and effectiveness of public services.
The one-day event focused on school education, an area of government involvement from the point of policy making and public service provisioning, an area that can be substantially improved.

As a concept note on the workshop says, “School education is of vital significance for the social progress and economic transformation of Karnataka and the nation.…..In recent years the government has worked in partnership with several organizations to improve school education. Some of these efforts are innovative and they provide examples which could potentially be implemented elsewhere. If such initiatives are generally deemed to be useful and effective and if these innovations are widely adopted and institutionalized within the government system then these could have a significantly positive ground level impact.”

The workshop was a forum for the discussion of some noteworthy innovative initiatives in school education, bringing together government leaders and functionaries, educators, academics and education sector practitioners along with key professionals who have been associated with and/or have closely studied the innovation.

Kanchan Bannerjee chaired two sessions on Innovations in Teaching-Learning Materials and Activity Based Learning.  Three insights were presented in the sessions.
  • One on Teaching Science through Mobile Laboratories, Rural Science Centres and Young Instructors – The Experience of Agastya Foundation
  • another on The Nali-Kali Programme – Innovation and Best Practices in Shorapur; and 
  • the third on Teaching-Learning Materials – best when developed by teachers themselves, The Example of Teacher-Developed Films.
The speakers, as workshop guidelines mandated, presented on: the nature of the innovation; its impact on education and whether that impact can be assessed; the challenges and the process of learning and adaptation as implementation progressed; the support or opposition it encountered from government, school managements, community; and whether the innovation can be more widely replicated.