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.

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 Foundation’s Digitised 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.

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

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

Graduation Day for Tiny Tots!

Recently, Akshara Foundation’s Easy English Programme team organised an event called ‘Graduation Day’ of the first graders. The event was organised in GLPS Chikkanahalli school, Mugabala cluster, Hosakote block (Bengaluru Rural district).

The event showcased the learning trajectories of the children. Around 58 students and 13 teachers from 13 government schools of Mugabala cluster were present. The event was attended by the Zila Panchayat president, BEO, BRP and SDMC members of Hoskote block, and a few parents of the first graders.

Each school was asked to represent what they had learnt in the last nine months, using a given theme. While one school represented ‘Parts of the Body’, the other schools did ‘Mixing and Matching’ of objects with object naming, role plays, how to make use of a tab and learn through it (the main component of the Easy English programme), searching and making words from letters randomly placed, etc.

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During these exercises, one could see that these children were able to say a complete sentence and were also able to comprehend. All the 13 performances were amazing and have changed my perceptions that government school teachers lack creative skills.

In all my classroom observations at government primary schools, never have I seen teachers doing something different to teach children, something other than just a textbook. This could be because of my short stay inside a particular classroom, or my perceived notion, based on ASER numbers.

This experience surely makes me wonder if teachers use such creative skills on a regular basis. If yes, then no one can stop these kids from excelling. This kind of event can aid teachers to incorporate the innovative techniques that they have learnt through this platform in future classroom sessions. More such events like this one can help motivate teachers to teach better.

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– Anuradha Mondal, Akshara Foundation

A DAUNTING TASK

Via logoon www.deccanherald.com

Ashok Kamath, Dec 28, 2016
IMPROVING EDUCATION SYSTEM :

Increased demand and the cumulative energy of all stakeholders can bring quality into education, and children will get to learn.

Well-known economist Amartya Sen recently said at the London School of Economics (LSE), “India is the only country in the world which is trying to become a global economic power with an uneducated and unhealthy labour force.” Having worked deeply in the eco-system of education in India for over a decade, I have reasons to agree with him. Let’s examine them.

Despite having a mammoth government-funded education system in place, we have an ‘uneducated’ populace. As per the Census of India 2011, our literacy rate is at 74%.

But according to Aspiring Minds National Employability Report, which is based on a study of more than 1,50,000 engineering students who graduated in 2015 from over 650 colleges, 80% of them are unemployable. The reason for this situation can be attributed to lack of quality of education imparted throughout our public education system, which the majority of our population relies on.

To illustrate this, according to India Spend, Rs 1,15,625 crore has been spent on Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) for universalising elementary education over the last five years. Over the years, we have also built the infrastructure required to service the rural population.

We have also allocated both monetary and human resources. State schools, in reality, have better qualified teachers than low-budget private schools.

The government school teachers get some amount of annual training, and there is a well-defined system in place. Despite this, the outcomes in terms of quality of learning, particularly in the case of math and reading, are not very discernible.

As per the ASER-2014 Report, the All India (rural) figures for basic arithmetic reveal that in 2012, only 26.3% of children in grade 3 could do two-digit subtraction. This number fell to 25.3% in 2014.

The percentage of children in grade 2 who still cannot recognise numbers up to 9 has increased from 11.3% in 2009 to 19.5% in 2014. And this trend persists in all competencies throughout the primary school system.

The reasons for this are not difficult to identify. A large section of our population resides in rural areas and relies on the government school system for its education needs. And it is in principally rural areas where we have failed with regard to education.

For example, in the city of Bengaluru, for every child that goes to the public school system, four children go to the private school system which means there are market force solutions to address needs. In rural communities that is reversed.

As per the latest District Information System for Education (DISE) data, nearly 51.3 million children in India study in grades 4 and 5 in government primary schools. That’s about 10 times the number of all children living in Australia.

Addressing just the education needs of children in grades four and five in any mid-sized state like Karnataka is akin to addressing the needs of an entire country like Kenya or Ghana. The task is evidently huge.

Where do the gaps lie? The oft-quoted response is that it is in the execution and the lack of accountability that the system fails. But is that the full story? A traditional African proverb says, “it takes a village to raise a child.” What does this mean in the context of rural early education in our country?

For starters, it means that parents and teachers have to work together in the interests of the child. Too often we hear parents say that the schools are not performing while teachers complain that parents don’t do their bit for the children.

We need to change this equation. The course of discussion around education has just started to change from enrolment to quality of schooling. School Development and Monitoring Committees (SDMCs) that have two-thirds participation from parents. We need to engage and bring awareness to these committee members about enabling quality.

And this cannot be closed-room discussions. It needs to become a movement and everyone needs to get involved in the process.

Quality of education is far too important for anyone to be left out from the process, be it elected representatives from gram panchayats, members of Parliament, officials from the Education Department or other influencers. Most importantly, parents and community members, and teachers and children themselves should be integral to the process. There has to be a vibrant demand for quality to be infused into the school system.

Political will
This takes investment and political will and greater collaboration. Increased demand and the cumulative energy of all stakeholders can bring quality into education, and children will get to learn.

What else can be done? The media and policy makers alike need to have quality of education on their agenda. We need to constantly talk quality, now that we have achieved desired levels of enrolment.

Today, we can consider that the whole “village” is sleeping and unless we wake up and work together, there is very little chance for change. Our task is huge, our numbers are daunting.

But we are a nation on the move and as Amartya Sen has rightly said, it is only an educated and healthy populace that can get us to real development.

It begins with public education and public health, with quality being the lodestone on which both are based. We have to get our act together and enable a movement. It begins with each of us.

(The writer is chairman, Akshara Foundation, Bengaluru)

Spreading the joy of Mathematics to six more districts.

Karnataka State Government rolls out Phase 2 of Ganitha Kalika Andolana in collaboration with Akshara Foundation.

October 20, 2016: The Karnataka State Government and Akshara Foundation, today signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to roll out Phase 2 of Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) – a Public-Private Partnership Programme to improve numeracy skills and facilitate classroom teaching of Mathematics. This phase will include all government primary schools in Bengaluru Rural, Chamarajanagara, Chitradurga, Chikkaballapura, Dharwad and Gadag Districts of Karnataka.

In June 2015, the State Government, supported through the Hyderabad Karnataka Regional Development Board (HKRDB) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) had launched Phase 1 of GKA in the six districts of the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, namely Gulbarga, Yadgir, Raichur, Koppal, Bellary and Bidar.

Following the Honorable Chief Minister of Karnataka’s budget announcement for the year 2016-17 made on 18th March, 2016 related to the ‘expansion of activity based Math Programme for grades 4th and 5th in government primary schools’, Phase 2 of GKA will reach out to approximately 1.36 lakh students of grades 4 and 5, in approximately 4,930 Government Primary schools in Bengaluru Rural, Chamarajanagara, Chitradurga, Chikkaballapura, Dharwad and Gadag Districts.

Akshara Foundation will be in charge of developing and providing the content for the Ganitha Kalika Andolana kits, teacher’s manual and concept cards; developing and distributing math videos that will demonstrate all the math concepts taught till grade 5 with the use of TLMs provided in the kit and monitoring and assessment of the children’s learning levels through the course of the programme.

The State Government through SSA will ensure that the Math Kits are procured and delivered to all the schools in the six districts and that the teachers and resource persons are trained. Akshara Foundation will bring in the Master Trainers for this phase of the programme as well.

The comprehensive teaching methodology envisaged in the GKA programme is compliant with the guidelines prescribed by the National Curriculum Framework 2005 and supports the textbooks and workbooks designed by the Karnataka Department of State Educational Research and Training (DSERT).

Only about a fifth of the children studying in Grade 5 of Government primary schools in India are able to do basic division, putting them behind children in private schools at the same level. Akshara Foundation, in partnership with the Karnataka government and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan aims to bridge this very gap and reach out to all primary schoolchildren across Karnataka by the year 2020 through this programme.

About GKA: Ganitha Kalika Andolana is a model support programme aimed at bridging learning gaps in math among children in grades four and five by using an activity based creative approach and peer learning rather than rote application of mathematical concepts. The programme also aims to build significant math capacity among teachers in the state.

About SSA: Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is Government of India’s flagship programme for achievement of Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE) in a time bound manner, as mandated by 86th amendment to the Constitution of India making free and compulsory Education to the Children of 6-14 years age group, a Fundamental Right.

About Akshara Foundation: Akshara Foundation was set up with a mission to ensure Every Child in School and Learning Well. We believe that quality education is the undeniable right of every child and children should not be deprived of it just because they do not have access to it or the resources to realise their dreams.

Visit: www.akshara.org.in

How the coolest robot in India went all the way to Leipzig.

In 2013, Akshara Foundation with support from the Lego Foundation, set up a robotics lab in a government school, in Bangalore.

It’s overwhelming to see how the children have progressed from not being able to turn ON and turn OFF the computers to gaining the expertise in building Robots and programming it using computers.

Just over 2 years later, in February 2016, these geniuses from the Seva Bharath Trust, made us all proud. Fighting against all odds, they were recently placed First in the ‘Dance’ category of the Robocup Junior National level Robotics competition and fourth among 39 teams in the First Lego League 2015 national competition, earlier this year.

This gave them the opportunity to represent INDIA at the International level of the Robocup Junior competition in July 2016.

Here’s a look at their innovative robot, the E-bot Max that won them the 1st place.
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Meet the team behind the coolest robot in India – the Master Minds.
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From left to right: The Instinctive One (Ameenuddin), The Collaborator (Balachandra), The Mechanic (Aravinda Reddy), The Thinker (Lawrence), The Silent Programmer (Ramesh) and The Challenger (Ramakrishna).

And their achievements haven’t gone unnoticed. They have driven Local and national media into a frenzy with their accomplishments!

But these young geniuses remained unfazed with all the limelight on them. All they wanted to do was prep for the next step, their next competition in Germany. They walked in to the lab every day, rolled up their sleeves and immediately got to work on bettering the E-bot Max.

As a small tribute to these WHIZ KIDS, Akshara Foundation created a video that highlights them at their creative best.

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After an action-packed fundraising quarter on Ketto, E-bot Max and the Master Minds, finally made it for the International RoboCup Junior Competition that was held at Leipzig from June 29 to July 3, 2016.

Initially, a 6-member team was supposed to go. But the challenges in getting their passports kept us swinging from courts to government offices, till finally it was time to leave and just three had managed to overcome all those hurdles.

While the Master Minds just about missed out on an award or two, they definitely did not fall behind on all the cheering, encouragement and positive feedback. “It was a fabulous first time effort”, as quoted by one of the organisers.

You can follow their entire journey at Leipzig here and here.

That’s all that matters, as long as they’ve come back richer with experience and had fun while at it. All this goes to prove that given an opportunity, anyone can reach for the stars.

The Karnataka Learning Partnership: what data can do

Imagine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

via Head & Heart, by Katie Huston 

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

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

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

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

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

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