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

Thank You, Teachers


Thank You cards created by the volunteers

Teachers play many important roles in the life of a child – that of an educator, mentor and a friend. They inspire, discipline, and inculcate values of thinking, reasoning, self-learning and exploration. They are one of the strong influences in developing the child into a responsible adult. And to recognize these efforts of the teachers, this year Target employees decided to do their bit.

As part of the Teachers Day celebrations, over 150 employees from the Marketing, HR, Merchandising, BI and Finance Team of Target and their families, made personalized ‘Thank You’ greeting cards to be distributed to Government school teachers in 360 schools across Bangalore, Hoskote and Mundargi. The whole activity was driven by a core group of volunteers who not only handled distributing and collecting back the cards; they also promoted the activity within their team and encouraged their team members to participate. The whole activity took one week. The end result was 1800 beautifully handcrafted cards.

For some volunteers, this activity was a good break from their desk job and showcases their creative skills, while for others it was a great activity to engage their families. But for most, it was just a small way of showing their gratitude to teachers who work selflessly for the cause of education. This was rightly echoed by one of the volunteers who said, “In this busy world, it was like this wonderful moment which took us back to our childhood and gave us an opportunity to express our feeling for our respected teachers. Irrespective of whom it would go to in person, the feeling of addressing it to a ‘Teacher’ was above all and delightful. The four hours I spent on those cards, though less compare to what my teachers have given me in terms of knowledge and wisdom.  It allowed me to give my respect to the teachers who help us reach where we are, professionally and as a person.

Cards distribution at a school
         
The teachers were overwhelmed by this token of appreciation. Some even went on to say that in their many years of service as a Government school teacher, never have they been recognized for their effort. Mamatha C, a teacher from GKMPS Nagashettyhalli said, “I thank the volunteers for creating greeting cards for us. We are humbled!

Teacher feedback

Such small gestures from the civil society does go a long way in encouraging Government school teachers to do their job well and deliver quality education to children.

Punjab Education Dept. visit Karnataka for Knowledge Sharing

One of the key tenets of Akshara Foundation’s work in primary education is sharing – all our projects, be it KLP or Together We Can stand on our willingness to share. In one such effort, we spent two days with officials from Punjab Education Department (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan & SCERT) and Sampark Foundation sharing our teaching methodology, training mechanisms, assessment guides and teaching-learning material, for their consideration for replication in Punjab.
Team from Punjab education department
inspecting a math class
Sampark Foundation has been working with the Punjab Education Department helping primary schools deliver better education for school children. While considering support for English learning, Sampark visited Karnataka to see Akshara’s successfully functioning model. 

On Wednesday, the 5th of March 2014, Mr. Satwant Singh – Pravesh, SSA, Mr. Kanwaldeep Singh – ASPD Teacher Training, Darshan Singh – Pravesh Dist. Coordinator – Sangrur and Ms. Baljeet Kaur – English Subject Expert – SCERT, Venkatesh Malur and Sandeep Chauhan from Sampark Foundation came to Akshara Foundation. With special focus on our swalpa English Thumba fun programme, Kanchan Bannerjee of Akshara Foundation made a presentation and demonstrated our English kit which is used by Primary School teachers as supplementary material to help better learning.
Learning material in a nail-kali class

To see our work in action, we set off on a field trip the next day, to visit nearby schools in Hoskote for an interaction with children and teachers to demonstrate our contribution. We first reached the Government Higher Primary School in Sir M. V. Nagar in Hoskote to meet Esther Rani and her class. Esther’s nali-kali class of 1st to 3rd standard students demonstrated incredible reading ability. 

Singing English rhymes, reading long sentences, recognizing names of animals and things, the class set a positive tone for the visitors. The enthusiasm in the classroom was bountiful and all students were eager to demonstrate their English skills which was a joy to experience. The team visited two more primary schools in Banamakanahalli and Marasandahalli with around 30 children each and saw the program in action. The children in all the three schools were very eager to show off their English skills and were able to recite rhymes, read out stories and speak out a few sentences. The teachers were making a difference since they had been able to take out their fear of English through the training and practice.

Team from Punjab education department
inspecting a reading lesson
From there, we went to a remote school, rather far from public transport connectivity, with pre-school, primary and higher primary classes. Here was a quick demonstration of our Math kit, which helps children learn through experience. From there, we visited another school close by for a good sample, before we walked off to meet the Block Education Officer. 

Hoskote is among the districts identified as backward in parameters of quality education, with the education department working consistently to make the situation better. The Block Education Officer discussed with his contemporaries from a different state, issues of training and management. The officials see the fruits of the English program and have made provision for refresher training of teachers without a budget allocation since it is helpful to teachers and children.



Students from Akshara supported schools demonstrating English reading and math comprehension ability.
The Education Department from Punjab takes back with them Akshara’s know-how and experiences from the ground illustrating the impact of the work we’ve done. There is, of course, a long way to go – further meetings, conversations and plans – before this is implemented in Punjab as a demonstration project. Until then, let’s work harder and share more.

With inputs from and pictures courtesy of Venkatesh Malur from Sampark Foundation.

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.

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. 

A Visitor’s Note!

 Geeta Kumar,visited Akshara Foundation a couple of weeks ago. She was a school teacher in Delhi and also a member of the Committee which wrote the Position Paper for teaching of English, under the NCF 2005. This is what she had to say about us.


A chance conversation  with a Satsang Foundation devotee brought me in touch with this organisation. Scrolling through their website, I felt quite interested , especially because I had wanted to make some difference in the government school education sector but was clueless about how to make it happen.The response from the Managing Trustee was most welcoming and warm, to say the least. A visit to the Foundation’s office and interaction with her was gave me a good idea of the nature and scope of the work that they are doing, and I was truly impressed and thrilled.

For the first time (and I really mean this), I saw evidence of something being done to address the real needs of the student and the teacher in learning and teaching English. It is most exciting to see that a model is being developed  which can make a difference. I was also given an opportunity to visit some schools in Hoskote where the programme is being used presently. There I saw that the commitment of the Foundation members was receiving a very positive response from the teachers and the children.

The personal inter action of the programme executors with their target teachers and students seemed to me  a wonderful way of making learning actually happen at the primary school level. If only our state and national bodies in charge of primary education would care to notice this model and learn a few lessons from them, things will begin to brighten in the dismal scene of primary education in the country.

My congratulations to the team for the great work that they are doing and my prayers that they will reach out to other parts of the state and the country so that the aspiration of millions of students for gaining competence in the use of English  will become a reality.

Maths becomes fun with Akshara’s Teaching Learning Material (TLM)


A bunch of children engrossed in solving a Math problem

Maths at times can get boring, the numbers can simply add to the extent of numerical monotony. Teaching maths can be a bigger challenge if one doesn’t know the right tactics to teach. A lot of research and studies say that many primary students find it difficult to solve basic maths.  So we decided to change the way we looked at and taught maths.

Our in-school programmes where the Teaching Learning Material (TLM) is being introduced welcomed this concept with cheers and smiles. The Mathematics workbooks distributed to children in the class were designed to bring about group learning. The emphasis was laid on two things namely thinking and doing. Children formed small groups of four and five members with one student taking the lead and charge of the group. The students of fourth and fifth standard were also given notebooks to do the sums.

Kerolina, who teaches Mathematics and English to students from I- IV standard at the Government Kannada Higher Primary School (GKHPS), Kodihalli says with a smile that teaching maths would have been a real difficult task without the Akshara TLM.

In Hoskote, this is the second year of the programme and almost 75% of the teachers depend on Akshara’s methodology and TLM to teach Mathematics. At some schools the TLM methods are used twice or thrice a week, while others prefer to use it on a daily basis. While the Devanhalli block has just begun implementing the TLM routine, they are making candid attempts to adopt the group learning methods and techniques.

The TLM programme has been a huge favourite with both the teachers and the students. The Mathematics Programme has definitely made learning and teaching both a fun experience. Lakshmi, the Headmistress of a school in Doddadunnasandra says she has seen a great deal of improvement in her students who now understand the concepts of mathematics with ease.

What makes the Mathematics Programme even more interesting is the fact that apart from learning it is also helping these children build skills like leadership and teamwork. At a school in Atibele, it was wonderful to see the group leaders manage the Mathematic class when the teacher was absent. Not only did they make sure that there was no chaos but also dutifully did the sums and completed the lesson for the day.

With the TLM, teachers also have taken a step towards innovation. Manjula, a teacher regularly conducts Mathematics quiz in the Nali-kali classes. Students who give the correct answers are rewarded with bonus marks. With innovative teaching methods and equally enthusiastic learning the TLM programme has proved to be a boon.

Teachers Training : An important tool of Akshara’s In-school programme

This year Akshara Foundation’s Inschool programme, focusing on basic numeracy and literacy skills in lower primary grades between 1 to 5, is going on in full swing in over 600 Government schools in Hoskote, Devanahalli, Kushtagi and Mundargi blocks in Karnakata. The programme is impacting over 43,000 children.

Training gets Delivered

 

While the Akshara team has designed child-friendly Teaching Learning Aids, supporting the programme through constant interaction with the Teachers and measuring the programme through various assessment strategies, the programme is delivered in classrooms by Teachers themselves. A comprehensive training component is developed at Akshara focusing on basic English and Math knowledge that can aid teachers in the classrooms. The training is delivered in a cascading fashion through the education department Master’s Resource Persons (MRPs). A 5-day training in the beginning of the academic year is followed by a refresher training later in the year. This year, over 1500 teachers have been trained in the Akshara methodology and are currently delivering the programme in the classrooms.

“Akshara Foundation’s Training has Given me a new Approach”


We have received overwhelming responses to the trainings. The teachers are very happy with our training and feel the programme will surely benefit the children.

Sridhar, a primary school teacher who teaches English in Std I-VII and has a command over the language, said, “I have undergone so many English training programmes in my six years of service, but Akshara Foundation’s training has given me a new approach and I can teach my students in a simple way.”
Shailaja Patil from the Government Higher Primary School, Nidasheshi, said, “I have never tried speaking in English before, but once I started attending Akshara’s training I got the confidence to speak in English. I assure you that I will do my best in class.”
Mehaboob Sahib, a Master Resource Person, said that he has imparted English training for many teachers, 13 batches of them. “But I enjoyed imparting Akshara Foundation’s training package the most. This package has been designed keeping teachers in mind. Simple and the best.”



A few teachers who underwent our training in the Devanahalli block went a step ahead to compare our training with the British Council training and had the following points to say:

1. British council training was in lecture mode where as the Akshara Foundation training was activity based.

2. The Charts, Flash cards, Teacher’s guide etc provided by British Council were not up to the mark. The Akshara teacher’s guide, cards, charts flash cards etc provided by Akshara Foundation were very good. These are very useful for children’s learning.

3. Importance was not given to the communication skills of the teachers in the training program of British Council. In Akshara Foundation training program importance was given to improve English spoken language abilities of the teachers and English grammar.

4. The techniques of developing basic language skills among children were incorporated in Akshara Foundation training. Akshara Foundation training caters to the needs of improving teacher’s skills in using English language.
  • The methods of reciting rhymes and storytelling models were discussed.
  • The Akshara Foundation gives good guidance.
  • The basic grammar points have been covered. But some more grammar activities could have been included.
  • I feel that this type of teacher’s guide, kit and training for teachers may be given to all the teachers in the state.
We are thankful to all these teachers for finding value in our training and we believe that they will create a positive impact on the learning levels of children.

Volunteering at the GKHPS, Doddaholluru, Hoskote


The Spirit of Volunteering

For people who volunteer for a cause it is the ultimate sublimation. Volunteering is activity on a higher plane, an attempt at an idealized world – the involuntary instinct for the level playing field, breaking down barriers of inequity and deprivation, giving everybody a fair chance, the belief in bringing about systemic change in a system that under-performs, simply drags its feet or outright fails. It is an act of betterment and uplift. Those who have giving to those who do not.
  • Akshara regularly facilitates volunteering in education in Bangalore – at government schools, anganwadis and community libraries, or prepares the ground for homework support classes, English teaching sessions, a sports event. Akshara galvanizes the corporate sector, parents, the student community and citizens and is looking to expand the volunteering base exponentially.
The Larger Question

But looking at the broader scene in the city, is volunteering a case of isolated largesse? Will it remain the occasional wholeheartedness, the odd abundance, not a continuous stream of the spirit?
  • Says Ashok Kamath, Chairman, Akshara Foundation, “For many years Akshara talked about doing learning programmes for children, about building a relationship with government schools. That alone is not enough. If we can get people who have had the privilege of education – teachers, parents, citizens – aligned to a common goal of equitable access to quality education, we can make an impact.
  • The problem is we always think of our glass as half-empty. Can we look at our Indian situation positively? Can we do something? There are 95 lakh people in Bangalore. If 40,000 people could go into a thousand government schools on a regular basis can you imagine the difference it will make? The larger question is: How can we together make the world a better place for government school children?”
What can be done to enlarge the volume of contribution and make volunteering a self-sustaining movement of substantive results? This is what two of the Target India employees who volunteered recently at the Government Kannada Higher Primary School (GKHPS) in Doddaholluru, Hoskote Block, giving freely of their time, energy and resources, had to say.
  • Ann: “Not many people like us know that such opportunities exist, that government schools need such diverse inputs. Everybody wants to help, but we do not know what we can do or which platform to go through. If there is a volunteers’ group that can propose volunteering projects to companies and facilitate the process, or encourage employees to participate in large numbers, that would be great. The message should reach people, and 99% of us – you can even say 100% of us – would come forward to help and support.”
  • Keshav: “We do something like this once in a while and sometimes forget about it. A more consistent approach is called for. A more dedicated approach – the same pool of volunteers in the same school repeatedly so that children and volunteers can come together. So that children can look on us as somebody they can count on. We’re setting all this up in this school – a library, a science room. But we don’t know how these resources will be used by the school and its students. We must come back. We want to come back.
If urban children come here and see for themselves the deprivation they will value everything they have much more. I think students in the city must volunteer. A lot of parents would want their children exposed to the other side of the world, the larger fact.”
  • Asha Sharath who handles donor relations and volunteering activities at Akshara says, “Every small step a volunteer takes is a great stride. A day makes a difference. For long-lasting impact, volunteering has to be on a regular basis.”
  • The crux, however, she says, is to connect citizens to schools. Akshara is positioning itself to do that through the Karnataka Learning Partnership (KLP) framework. What Akshara has learnt from experience is that schools are wary of arbitrary goodwill. They have specific deficits they would like enriched – a drop in Mathematics, language failure, or, as in the GKHPS, Doddaholluru, a library in decline or a thriving science laboratory with no place to call its own.  
  • Says Asha, “KLP intends to bridge this gap in communication with a platform where schools can upload their requirements and interested volunteers can pick up from there and give them what they need. KLP is thinking of coming out with a prototype soon.”

A Quiet Sense of Purpose

It is the 17thof September. A remarkable instance of volunteering is taking place at the GKHPS in Doddaholluru. The thirty five Target India employees who are volunteering here are enablers, providers of opportunity that day, as they go about restoring to pristine condition an old, disused library in the school and a room for science.

The school wears a discreetly festive air. There is a quiet hum of activity and purpose. Visitors are streaming in and Harshita and Manjula, Std. VII students, welcome them with a single red rose and a shy smile and fade tactfully away. Today it is the volunteers who are unwittingly centre stage as, with a hushed sense of mission, they take to completion their self-appointed task.

A Targeted Intervention

The Science lab before the make-over
  • The library used to be a picture of rundown depletion, sadly, for a school with no obvious infrastructure deficits. The volunteers are painting it and stocking it with books. The science room, once painted and invigorated, will accommodate the many projects the children undertake under the guidance of their tireless science teacher, Basavaraj, a live wire of a person. It will be a place for experimentation and discovery, for unravelling science, a subject that is one of the school’s singular strengths.
  • This is example-setting volunteering. Guru, the Target volunteer in charge of reconnaissance, made three fact-finding trips to identify and assess the school’s requirements. The day’s endeavour is a targeted intervention to provide something the school needs and will, hopefully, make use of. Not random goodwill.
An Image Make Over

  • An image make over is in progress in the large, light-permeated library. A preliminary coat of thinner has been applied, but the soiled walls show through the thin translucence, scooped out or peeling in places, which the volunteers have scraped and filled in even-handedly. A painterly landscape dominates, with brushes and big hammers, screw drivers and rollers, and large cans of thinner and synthetic enamel. Mugs half-filled with cloudy blue paint for the room’s many metal windows jostle in the assortment.
  • All bought through volunteers’ contributions, including the elegant, red metal racks and the 2012 books that will go on them. The number 2012 is significant. It signals the year of the library’s resuscitation.
I too Have a Part to Play in their Growth”

  • It is a thoroughly professional approach, not least the painting, though most of the volunteers are first-time painters. Like Stephen, with a protective bandana round his head, about to go up a step ladder to paint the upper reaches with an intuitive sense of the work at hand.
  • A seasoned volunteer, Stephen says, “Volunteering is all about enhancing the next generation, making space for children to learn, providing opportunities for them. I too have a part to play in their growth.”
  • Mormita, part of the painting crew, says, “I feel strongly that what we’re getting we should give back. Everybody should, in whatever way, big or small. I feel satisfied and happy seeing the smiles on children’s faces.”
It’s a Pleasure Doing This”

Outside the library a section of the verandah has been unofficially cordoned off. There, on sprawling mats are the 2012 books meant for children up to Std. VII. They are in Kannada and English primarily, and some in Hindi, straddling fourteen classifications – stories, comics, General Knowledge, science, computers….There are books that build skill-sets too, in grammar and essay writing, for instance. 

 
Every book is being labelled with a unique code that will ensure that they do not all end up in a disorderly mélange where nothing can be found. Thick, plastic-coated brown paper is being fitted on the racks and the books will be arranged on them.
  • It’s a pleasure doing this,” says Samyukta who is leading this group. “Children come up and say they didn’t have access to such books before. I believe that knowledge shared is knowledge gained. Even we are getting to learn a lot.”
  • Shivaprasad who is sorting and labelling the books echoes much the same sentiment. “I have a passion for volunteering. There is self-satisfaction and fulfillment. I enjoy giving back to society. When we were young we got so much.”
The library was a crumbling institution in school. When this ensemble comes together – the fresh newness of paint, the scenery charts, hand-painted inspirational quotes on education, the gleaming books on smart racks – it will symbolize renewal and create a space for children to read, learn and grow.

I will Improve my Knowledge”
  • Kantalakshmi of Std. VII is excited about the new ordainment. “I am happy. I am looking forward to reading in the library. I will get to understand from library books what my teacher tells me in class. I will go there and find out. I will improve my knowledge. What I don’t know I will get from there.”
  • Harshita has to be goaded into thinking about the benefits of a library by her teachers. She begins hesitatingly and is nudged along. “Library books will be useful for reference, as guides to class lessons. I like reading jokes and short stories very much.”
  • Jayalakshmi who teaches all subjects, including Kannada and English, in Std. IV, V, VI and VII says, “It is good to have a library. Every class, I-VII, has a library period once a week. Library books are important for children to learn language, improve reading skills, for understanding and communication. The English books in the library will be particularly useful. Children will learn different kinds of words, difficult words. English is their second language. They have an English period every day.”
Different Hues
  • In volunteering there is also the not-so-exalted department of the mundane – the logistics, the hot food, the cold drinks…… All the eminently forgettable nitty-gritty at times like this. Anantha volunteered magnanimously to organize and provide and clear up. “Too many challenges in that,” he says affably. “What to source, what to provide, at what time. I got beverages, but how would I keep them cold when the school has no refrigerator and there has been no power the whole day?” He worked his way ingeniously around that constraint.
Anantha overlooked nothing – not the drinking water or water cups, the plastic spoons, paper plates or napkins, not the first aid kit. Then there is the humdrum everydayness of garbage, which needed some astute planning. Anantha will take ten bin bags with all the day’s debris back to Bangalore for disposal.

A Science Room – “It will Instil Scientific Discipline”

  • At the far end of the rambling school building is the Science Block, announced in thick, black, declaratory lettering. It underlines the scientific temper of the school, personified by the motivated Basavaraj who leads his students in curiosity-driven exploration. He teaches in Std. V, VI and VII.
  • Propelled by Basavaraj, his students have creatively designed a water recycling plant, a mobile phone tower, a hydel power generating dam with smaller check dams along a river stream to harness water to the fullest. And many more items, besides.
  • Children crowd around their projects eager to explain the scientific principles of each. Now there is a room Target volunteers are recasting and assigning to science. Says Basavaraj, “We did not have a place for all these projects. Earlier I would take the material to the classroom to educate the students. Now there will be a room in honour of science where students can gather and learn. A specially designated space will help children; it will instil scientific discipline.”
I Like Science”
  • I like science, “says Kantalakshmi, showing off the periscope she and her classmates have made. “It is used underwater during war. I learnt how the heart functions also.” Basavaraj was instrumental in spurring the children to make a simple instrument out of a plastic bottle, straws and a piece of fabric. “All low-cost material,” affirms Basavaraj. Kantalakshmi blows through the straws, then takes an inward breath and the pleated folds of the fabric in the bottle expand and contract, simulating the operations of the heart.
  • Harshita too confirms that she likes science, her earlier reticence melting in a flood of words. “I like learning about the heart, about health and nutrition. We carried out an experiment in class that demonstrates the force of air and water. I observe things through the microscope,” she says in wonderment.
I Enjoy the Act of Giving Very Much”

The Target team is in an act of consecration in the science room, dressing it up, painting it. Samir, Anu and Noor also team up to embellish with their art the two pillars that jut out, hand-painting the universe, the earth, a space ship, a rocket taking off.
  • Samir is in Development at Target. He has a speech and hearing impairment. This is his first experience of volunteering. “I am an artist,” he says, hands flying in communication. “I want to do art with children in schools.” A paint-flecked khaki smock over a long-sleeved, dull red shirt bespeaks a heightened awareness of colour. Samir is painting a half-sun on the edge of a pillar in the science room, a yellow semi-circle with dancing orange flames – half the world in light.
  • I like it very much,” he says. “I enjoy the act of giving very much. I am extremely happy doing it.”

Shoot for a Cause contest : Nurturing imagination..

We had recently participated in the “Shoot for a Cause” contest organized by iVolunteer. The objective of this event was to give a platform to volunteers to create awareness videos of the causes which they believe in. Our volunteers, James Adaickalasamy and Suresh Kerketta created a video to showcase Akshara’s In-school programs. Below, James and Suresh share their memories of creating this video and also an appeal message to help this video win the “Janta Choice Award”. 
 
iVolunteer, a Bangalore based NGO recently organized “Shoot for a Cause” contest as part of Joy of Giving Week, 2012. This was not necessarily a contest, but to encourage volunteers in making a short video relevant to a social cause. We decided to work with Akshara Foundation. Our’s is an attempt to showcase Akshara Foundation’s effort to nurture the imagination of our small wonders through their In-School programme.
Vikas Maniar who heads the In school program guided us with inputs about how Akshara works. We visited Government schools in Hoskote to do our video shoot. We thoroughly enjoyed the process of shooting videos of kid’s learning as well teacher’s teaching process. Akshara Foundation helps them with learning kits, books, curriculum and teacher training.
Here is the link to Shoot for a Cause. Shoot For A Cause Voting Lines Link
Our video is named “Nurturing Imagination”. If the video brings smiles to your face, please help us win the “Janta’s Choice Award” by voting. Remember to hit the submit button after voting. Voting line is open till 7th October, 12am.
Do share this with your fellow friends and your community. You might be a reason for bringing a change by spreading awareness.