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

Winds of Change

In an isolated area marked by far and few passersby, sits the Government Lower Primary School (GLPS), in Kilaratti Tanda village of Kushtagi district. With not many sounds breaking the silence of a hot afternoon except for the occasional honking of the state roadway buses – collective voices of children reading an English rhyme comes as a breath of cool air and as much a surprise. Over 40 boys and girls sit on the ground studying together in hope of raising their literary levels and a better future.


Primarily, a home to the Lambani Tandas, Kilaratti village is sequestered in the remote area of the state where the inhabitants continue to be a close knit society with limited interaction with the world outside. Often victims of frequent migration and displacement, educa¬¬¬tion was never a catalyst for change until recently. Today at this school, for the children of Lambani Tandas, learning is a joyful experience and education a meaningful process. However, the attitudinal shift and the resulting transformation did not occur overnight. So what changed? How did GLPS, become a nurturing school for the tribal children where potential and promise is emphasized as opposed to problems and challenges? How did a tribe, neglected for years came to recognize the culture of education and sustain it in a tribal milieu? Here are some answers to these questions…

Common Goal 
Addressing an issue as complex as socio-economic development of tribal children through education requires a collective vision and effort. The seeds for change germinated once the Lambani Tandas, the school staff, partners like Akshara Foundation and the local community had a common goal that clearly articulated the need for educating the children in the village. The same goal now works as the much needed inspiration and generates motivation among the Tandas to not only send their children to school but even track their progress.


Let’s Connect
One of the key drivers of change, for this school has been the willingness of the school reps and the community to connect for meaningful outcomes. Moving beyond limited resources, numerous collaborative partnerships with a gamut of stakeholders were formed to catalyze comprehensive community-wide action leading to transformational change. A clear indication of a participatory approach towards education which engages even the seemingly unlikely partners generates a renewed sense of what is possible and can be achieved.

Support
Surprising… but support flowed from various quarters to drive the desired change at this school. To boot, it came in multiple forms. The teachers at the school were trained by Akshara Foundation in English and Maths skills. Training and learning material kits for Maths and English were provided to the teachers and children. The community including Dist coordinator, Taluka coordinator, the CRPs, HMs, SDMC , Gram Panchayat and the local youth also came together to organize camps for the school children. In addition to this an over-riding element of support that fuelled the transformation was the shared willingness to usher in change. The vision received the support of everyone.

Acceptance
Last but not the least a critical element in driving this change has been an increased level of acceptance rather than resistance on resentment. A culture of education now runs through this village inhabited by the Lambani Tandas with an acceptance of responsibility of having to educate their children.


 For a tribal community reticent towards the outside world, sending their children to school indicates openness to the winds of change. In the days to come the love of learning among the children will help them achieve a lot for themselves and their community.