All posts by Akshara Foundation

Addressing Scale and Sustainability in Early Education in India

Delivering quality education to every child in India is a huge challenge. The size and scale itself are daunting – about 1.5 million schools, 8.5 million teachers and nearly 250 million children. In 2001, the Indian government took a bold step and created the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and this, over the years, built the infrastructure needed to house and teach 250 million children. By all accounts, it was a bold and effective move – prior to SSA less than 60% of the children were in school – today more than 95% are in school. While getting schools in place was done what was missing was quality schooling. Successive surveys since 2005, such as the Annual State of Education Report (ASER), show that learning outcomes of children are far from satisfactory – in fact, the results are quite depressing and what is further disconcerting is that despite knowing the state of education, there is nothing in surveys of latter years to show that the needle has moved significantly in the right direction.

Clearly, it is time for another bold SSA-creation-type moment. We need people and organizations that can change the current system of thinking and acting; we need them to pull all stakeholders together, strengthen ideas, make them more viable and scalable, and thus multiply impact. A survey of the landscape will quickly reveal that we are a country of remarkable pilot studies – there are several dozen, if not hundreds, organizations that are hugely talented and innovative – but somehow, there are no visible examples of organizations that have done work at scale and sustainably.

Which of course means that we need to understand clearly what scale and sustainability mean. The government school system is the one that gives us scale – if we have to make a difference in society then we have to learn how to work with the government which, in itself, is no mean feat. While it may seem painfully slow there is a process inside government and once this process is followed and your solution accepted then the impact can be made across very large numbers of learners. We are talking, in a mid-sized state like Karnataka, of nearly 45,000 schools and 10+ million children – that is scale.



I believe that scale without sustainability becomes meaningless. And sustainability goes way beyond financial sustainability – it means that your solution is accepted by and delivered effectively through the state system of teachers and educators. And this means, one should think in terms of exit strategies.

So how does one go about making scale and sustainability happen? The assumption is that your pedagogy and tools are innovative and very good. At Akshara Foundation, we have over the past dozen years, evolved a model for the delivery of primary school math teaching/learning through the government school system and we now are in a position to articulate what we believe is a workable model. Akshara’s Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) looks at multiple stakeholders and tries to answer the question “what’s in it for me?” for each of the stakeholders.

First, the teachers. Before we started out, we tried to understand why teachers had trouble in delivering math instruction and found out that while there were textbooks, they had no tools to transact the textbook. In other words, teachers were asking for an effective kit that would help them teach math. And they are right! Math should always be taught using a constructivist approach using what is called the CRA method – from Concrete to Representational to Abstract. Our observations prior to GKA told us that teachers were relying on taking the child straight to the Abstract mode which mean that rote-learning came into play and that concept understanding and clarity were missing. Needless to say, Akshara created an innovative, scientifically designed toolkit which now is part of every government school in Karnataka and Odisha. The kit was supplemented by teacher training both in the face-to-face mode and now via 25 hours of digital AV modules that covers the entire curriculum. And all this was created so that the burden on the teacher was eliminated, and the teachers were able to appreciate that it (GKA) was good for them as well. It is therefore not surprising that every math period every day in these schools is a GKA period.



The GKA 1.0 Kit (for grades 1-5) was designed by Akshara’s resource team with inputs from the field. Recently, the Karnataka Education Department invited Akshara to develop GKA 2.0 kit (grades 6-8) and this has been completed – the difference here being that the kit was developed by government schoolteachers who worked along with Akshara’s resource people through a series of workshops spanning nearly four months. Hidden in this development is a message of sustainability – when a key stakeholder “owns” the solution the chances of it working well across the system get multiplied. See https://youtu.be/eRv9wj4B_z8

Every state has a large cadre of resource support personnel in the form of Cluster Resource Persons (CRPs or CRCCs); Block Education Officers (BEOs) and Block Resource Persons (BRPs), etc. They are expected to support the schools academically and for administratively as well. Part of their efforts include trying to understand how children are performing and whether programmes implemented through the state are working. To help them with this task with respect to GKA, we created a simple process of data collection with FOUR questions only. Each one of those questions was designed such that, based on the survey results, we (stakeholders) need to take action. As an example, we ask the question – were the GKA kits used during the math class? – and if we know that a significant portion of teachers do not use the kits then we need to understand why and remedy the situation. The Resource Support personnel observe and send this data to Akshara which then collates and shares results in a very short time (in fact, almost real-time). This ownership by the state resources also ensures long-term sustainability.

Community engagement is a big part of the GKA model. It is often said that it takes a village to educate a child. At Akshara we took this to heart. A huge cadre of Education Volunteers at the Gram Panchayat (GP) level were identified and nurtured and they manage multiple community-led events such as a GP-level Math contest (see https://youtu.be/ySyOsbWJGOI ). They also manage other tasks but all of them is done in a very focussed manner and without it being a burden on them. Typically, an Education Volunteer invests about 3-4 hours every month to support the school whose alumni they usually are. What is noteworthy here is that the Education Volunteers work without any compensation – as of this writing (January 2023) there are more than 50,000 such volunteers in Karnataka alone.

The GP level contest is a well-designed property – at Akshara we like to say that it is a contest for children AND a (con)test for all other stakeholders. Every stakeholder gets valuable inputs – teachers get to know the weakest areas of their wards’ performance, parents and community members get to see how their wards are faring, elected officials like Gram Panchayat members and School Development & Monitoring Committee (SDMC) Members all get to see how the children of their geography are performing. All of this is done in a highly transparent manner and results are shared within three hours with all. This contest has been a huge success – attendance is usually 92+% and this is financially sponsored by the local communities – another way of ensuring long-term sustainability.



What is the role of government in all this? Without significant government buy-in, none of this would have been possible – GKA would remain another interesting pilot. But the states where Akshara has scaled – Karnataka and Odisha – both have recognized the importance of this model and have invested in the procurement of kits in each school (through their formal tendering processes) and for teacher training costs, etc. This is a sign of ownership and commitment to the model.

Of course, over the years, Akshara has stayed current and leveraged technology in multiple ways. We invested in an Android app called Building Blocks that is available in bundled form on Google PlayStore and in an unbundled form on the Ministry of Education’s Diksha Platform. This app is a collection of interactive games and is linked to the curriculum and it was but natural for us to link textbooks to these games using QR codes at the end of chapters in the textbooks – something called energized textbooks. And more innovative uses of technology is in the works.



True scale and sustainability can only be achieved when the community starts demanding quality education and starts participating in its delivery. Only then will the supply-side stakeholders start addressing this demand. At Akshara we believe that for effective transformative change to happen we need a holistic model that makes sure that children, teachers, educators, community members, elected representatives, NGOs, and the government all see value. And all the bits have to play together concurrently for impact. This transformation will not happen in 2-3 years – something pilots tend to do to show that they work. Since the entire system has to be “educated” we reckon this would require a commitment for a decade or more so that we are able to infuse the system with the ability to “learn, unlearn and relearn”. We constantly need to monitor the progress of every single element in the model and not just learning outcomes of children because without all of that playing together you will not hear or see the outcomes.

Ashok Kamath
Chairman & Managing Trustee, Akshara Foundation

Teachers embracing EASY English

Smt. Umme Attika, is an English teacher at the Government Urdu Lower Primary School (GULPS) Chatripalya, a part of Jadigenahalli cluster, Hoskote taluk.

She regularly participates in the EASY English workshops conducted by Akshara. Our EASY English programme was started in 2016-17, and the programme focused on grade 1 students.

At the start of the programme, it was observed that the teacher was not so versed with English speaking, and was very hesitant to speak in English. But with regular practice during the workshops, especially with respect to spoken English, they have become confident and can hold a conversation with ease.



Smt. Umme Attika participates with an eagerness to learn and is very enthusiastic. After the workshop, she refers to the teacher module and prepares herself for the class.

She takes English for her students six days a week. In Karnataka, grades 1 to 3 sit together and learn with the help of songs and dance. Their class is called Nali Kali. With such a varied class, one needs to have a solid strategy when it comes to teaching Akshara’s EASY English.

Here’s how Smt. Umme Attika goes about it.
  • She starts by giving her attention to grade 3 students. She interacts with them and gives them some work, usually a writing-based activity (On black board / book)
  • She then focuses her attention on the children in grades 1 & 2. While she teaches grade 2 students using the Tab, grade 1 students observe and listen.
  • She then gives the grade 2 children an assignment. While they are writing, she teaches grade 1 students.
 


This integrated approach has proved helpful for effective class management. She uses the Tab to teach and then assigns a writing activity using the Government textbook.

She has insisted on a copy-writing book for every student, and gives them 1 sentence as practice, every day. Students are required to write the sentence and practice it.

UmmeAttika says, ‘I am happy to attend the workshop. It is a joyful workshop. We meet all the teachers of both the clusters once in a month. We share our experience with teachers and RPs about our learnings. I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the Akshara team. They handle the workshop in an interesting manner. All the RPs are too good. I have learnt a lot from the workshops. Now, my confidence level has increased, and I will converse in English with my colleague as well as with students. It’s an opportunity for us to recap what we had learnt in our school days, also we learn about new methodologies of teaching.”



HM, Shri. Zaheer Pasha regularly visits and observes the English class. He says that, “I have observed that the teacher handles the session beautifully. The way she engage students is excellent. Her approach of teaching is very good.

Students love to sit in her class. I have observed a lot of progress among the students after the implementation of EASY English programme. Students can now understand better, and speak in English. They participate in TPR activities.”

– Nalini Raj N. K.

The Role Model Priest / SDMC President

Here you will find a temple priest and SDMC President who is a role model for the youth of his village.

This is the story of Dayananda Swami who studied only till class 12 and now experiences a world of enjoyment in teaching children in his village. An active 43-year-old, he juggles many roles – a priest at the village temple, one of the main organisers of cultural events in this small, sleepy place, and President of the School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC).



Dayananda Swami has also long had another crucial task, self-assigned and diligently executed. Every day he is at the village’s government school to teach children Mathematics with Akshara’s Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) kit.

He got captivated by the teaching-learning materials in the kit at one of the SDMC meetings he chaired and started interacting with the teachers and Akshara’s Field Coordinators to learn more about it.

A galvaniser in the village, he encourages youth to help children learn Mathematics and banish their fear of the subject. On occasion, he takes up cudgels too, on behalf of education. He once fought to get a teacher back to school, who had been absent for over two years using political influence to stay truant.

A role model and an inspiration to village youth, he motivates them to teach children for free.

– By Ranganath, Akshara Foundation

A Teacher’s Dedication

This is the story of Almas Kousar, the Nali-Kali teacher for classes 1-3, who stresses on cleanliness. She also teaches students of classes 1-5 English at the government primary school in Doranalapalli village, Rashcharevu cluster, Bagepalli taluk.



Every morning, Almas had to confront the sight of students coming to school, unkempt and dirty, without a bath. She tried hard to convince them of the need for good grooming habits. But all her efforts were futile. Her students started giving excuses – no running water at home, no soap, and on it went.

Almas decided she would be the change she sought and bought soap and shampoo at her own expense and started bathing the kids. The parents asked their children to tell her not to get involved in cleaning rituals, to focus instead on teaching. Almas refused to budge. She asked the parents to come to school and discuss matters of hygiene with their kids. The parents said, “We’re not going to change. We won’t take the trouble of bathing our children before they come to school.”

Matters started getting out of hand, forcing Almas to call for a meeting with School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) members and the community and have them convince the parents about the value of hygiene. When the community got involved, the parents realised the importance of their children practising proper self-care routines and coming to school wearing a clean uniform.

Nor was Almas neglecting education. Her dedication to all aspects of her students’ school life is exemplary. She has taught them to converse in English and students speak fluently. Her school wins prizes in almost any competition or event organised at the cluster level. The community too is keenly involved these days in its functioning.

– By Shanbhulinga, Akshara Foundation

A Story of a Tanda

This is the story of an education-oriented community.



In the districts of North Karnataka you can find a tribal community called the Lambanis (http://www.realbharat.org/lambani-the-afghani-lavana-merchants-tribe-of-india-467/). In Dharwad and Gadag districts, the places where they live are known as Tandas.

This is the story of one such Tanda in Adavi Soampura (Jalashankar Nagara) in Gadag Rural taluk in Gadag district. With only 100 houses, the village has a population of around 350. It has a government lower primary school with 93 students and 4 teachers.

The students performed quite well during my visit to this school when I gave them questions on basic arithmetic operations. That is rare in a classroom. Almost 95% of the students answered correctly.

Curious, I dug a little deeper to see what their parents’ background is. Almost 80% of the parents go to Goa for daily wage labour and most of the children live with their grandparents. It is interesting to note that the Lambanis have a language of their own and do take some time to understand Kannada. In spite of these hurdles, the kids have mastered the language as well as an abstract subject like Mathematics.

The credit for such incredible performance surely goes to the school’s teachers and the School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) members who take keen interest in the school’s progress and learning outcomes. When asked how they were using the teaching-learning materials (TLMs) in the Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) Mathematics kit, the teacher said that those who were lagging made good use of them.

The final result is that when they graduate to the 6th grade, they join Navodaya Vidyalaya or Morarji Desai Residential School, a chain of prestigious institutions meant for children from underprivileged backgrounds, a much sought-after badge of merit for government school kids, difficult to gain entry as the bar is high. These children make that possible with their dedication and the hard work of their teachers.

– By Maruti Mallapur, Akshara Foundation

Stakeholders laud the impact of Ganitha Kalika Andolana on children.

Akshara Foundation organised a Symposium on Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) to mark the completion of three years of the programme’s implementation. The symposium was inaugurated by Shalini Rajneesh., I.A.S. Principal Secretary, Primary & Secondary Education.
Inauguration Ceremony
In her inaugural address, Shalini Rajneesh said “GKA is reaching schools and children, it is a very useful and innovative programme that helps learning. Through activities and fun learning children are losing their fear of mathematics. The Government of India sent representatives to different States to find out best practices in education and Akshara’s model was one of those picked. One of the most important aspects of the programme is community involvement – people get to understand what is happening in schools and ways in which they can encourage schools and children.”
Shalini Rajneesh., I.A.S. Principal Secretary, Primary & Secondary Education
The symposium on Ganitha Kalika Andolana had three primary objectives.
(1) To share the GKA pedagogy and materials Akshara Foundation has supplied to schools and gauge their impact on teachers and students who are using it in their mathematics classes
(2) To tune into the pulse on the ground and get stakeholder perspectives and deeper insights into implementation
(3) To provide a platform for the learnings of GKA and discuss how to improve the efficacy of the programme in the coming years.

The Symposium featured two panel discussions: Pedagogy and Materials; and Reactions from the Field. The panellists consisted of eminently qualified and experienced people who have implemented several educational programmes. Participants included academics, policy makers, field practitioners and researchers who, as authentic voices of expertise and experience, discussed, deliberated and made recommendations for the way forward.
Panel Discussion: Pedagogy and Materials
Panel Discussion: Reactions from the Field
The panellists included: Dr. P. C. Jaffer, I.A.S. Commissioner For Public Instructions; Shri. Veeranna Jatti Reader – CTE, Chitradurga; Shri. Nagabhushana BEO, Chitradurga; Shri. Channabasava Swamy Gram Panchayat President, Pagadadinni GP, Raichur District; Shri. Manohar Badiger SDMC President, GHPS Bijakal village, Kustagi Block, Koppal District; B.K. Basavaraju, Director Primary Instruction; Dr. G. Vijayakumari Principal, Associate Professor, Vijaya Teacher’s College, Bangalore ; Annapurna Kamath, Math Consultant; Shri. R.V. Makali H.P.S. Suganalli, Bannikoppa, Shirahatti.

Dr P.C. Jaffer I.A.S. Commissioner For Public Instructions said “GKA is one of SSA’s major partnerships. We are reaching some of the most backward districts of the State with this programme. We have to ensure capacity building of teachers and have structures for the continued enhancement of mathematics.”
Dr P.C. Jaffer I.A.S. Commissioner For Public Instructions
As Ashok Kamath, Chairman, Akshara Foundation said “The panellists are the voice of the stakeholders. Hopefully we can take GKA to every school in the State in the next two to three years with stakeholder participation and involvement.”
Shalini Rajneesh., I.A.S. Principal Secretary, Primary & Secondary Education in conversation with Ashok Kamath-Chairman, Akshara Foundation

About GKA: Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) is an elementary school mathematics programme designed and developed by Akshara Foundation to improve numeracy skills and facilitate the classroom teaching of mathematics in grades 4 and 5 in government schools. It is currently being implemented in twelve districts in Karnataka and two in Odisha. Visit: http://akshara.org.in/en/what-we-do/gka/

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

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.

Engaging the community to make schools accountable for delivering quality education

Via 

Posted On: 21 Nov 2017
Section: Notes from the Field
Topics: Education
Tags: schooling, Karnataka



K. Vaijayanti
Akshara Foundation
vaijayanti@akshara.org.in

While the dismal quality of primary education in India has received considerable attention at the state and national levels, rural communities still seem to associate school quality with parameters such as physical infrastructure. In this note, K. Vaijayanti describes an initiative in Karnataka that involves publicly-conducted mathematics tests for school children, to raise awareness regarding learning levels and to engage the community in holding schools accountable.

While India has been very successful in improving access to primary education, learning outcomes remain poor and need urgent attention. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)1, brought out every year since 2006, repeatedly highlights the dismal state of public schooling in the country. Some studies (Rosato 2013) argue that besides supply of resources, it is important to identify channels that allow for active participation of parents in particular and the community in general, in improving the quality of school education.

Participatory democracy in education While the supply side of the schooling system in India seems to be strengthening, it is the demand side that needs scaffolding. A sustainable way to improve the quality of school education is an effective decentralised management system. Accountability of the public system is best ensured by directly involving the beneficiaries. Therefore, parents of school-going children need to be involved at the school level in planning, decision-making, execution, monitoring and evaluation. It has to be a voluntary commitment that supplements vigil over public educational institutions by the Gram Panchayats2 (GPs), which needs to be enhanced.

The 73rd Amendment of the Indian Constitution, 1993, contains provisions for devolution of powers and responsibilities to GPs to prepare plans for economic development and social justice, and for implementing the 29 subjects listed in the 11th Schedule of the Constitution, including primary education. People’s Plan Campaign in Kerala, Lok Jumbish in Rajasthan, and the School Development and Monitoring Committees (SDMCs) of Karnataka are some examples of participatory democracy in Indian education.

However, participatory democracy in education may be a challenge because competence hierarchies – as in ‘experts’ and ‘non-experts’ – dominate the sector. It is believed that quality education is understood only by those who are experts and that due to its intangible nature it is difficult to be judged by the masses. There is a need to connect the community with indicators of quality education through simple tools and techniques. A complementary strategy of deliberative democracy may help balance the power relations between the school and the community.

Gram Panchayat mathematics contests in Karnataka Bearing in mind ASER’s results for basic arithmetic competencies in Karnataka, Akshara Foundation, an educational NGO, developed a Mathematics programme called Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) for students of grades 4 and 5 in government schools. The Government of Karnataka adopted GKA in 2015 in the backward Hyderabad-Karnataka region of the state. Community engagement has been an integral part of the programme.

In the year 2016, mathematics contests were conducted by Akshara’s field staff with the help of educated youth (called ‘education volunteers’) from the villages where the children competed. Written, grade-specific, competency-based mathematics tests were administered to children of 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. The tests were designed for 20 marks and the duration was one hour. Education volunteers evaluated the answer papers at the very spot where the test was held and on the same day, thereby ensuring transparency in the whole process. This was followed by a public event involving a prize distribution ceremony to which GP members, parents, SDMC members, donors, and the village community were invited. Top three scorers from each grade were felicitated with financial rewards.

The contests were a way to engage with primary stakeholders by generating awareness of school quality as indicated by learning outcomes. The assumption is that if parents become aware of their children’s numeracy levels, they may demand that the school system delivers better quality education. The experiment also aimed to assess whether such an initiative can be owned by the community so that wide participation is ensured. Contribution of resources in cash or kind by the local community was an indicator to measure collective concern at the GP level around quality education.

Akshara’s data show that 521 contests were held and 70,000 children took the test. On average, about 45% of children across the three grades were found to have acquired grade-appropriate mathematics competencies. Over 25,000 parents, 5,000 SDMC members, and 6,000 youth participated and 9,200 donors contributed Rs. 10 million approximately in cash and kind.

The power of information The information pertaining to learning status is a critical quality indicator to ascertain the effectiveness of schooling. Typically, the understanding of educational status of government school children in rural areas is centred on physical infrastructure, facilities, and the number of teaching staff. The community often tends to equate quality with functionality, as represented by these parameters. The mathematics contests lifted the veil of public perception and became a tool that enabled the community to understand the actual status of learning in schools.

While it is early to assess the impact of the contests, most of the participating GPs experienced an immediate effect. Instances were reported of groups of parents visiting the schools the next day to question the authorities. Elected representatives said that the results were an eye opener and the ‘all-is-well’ myth was destroyed. Preliminary evidence indicates that the initiative is gaining visibility in terms of GP members visiting schools, quality of Mathematics learning being discussed in GP meetings, circulars being sent by GP heads to parents on measures taken to improve school quality, and so on. Within a fortnight, the results were also shared with SDMCs, Taluk Panchayats (block level) and Zila Panchayats (district level) to facilitate discussions on the status of learning in government schools and take follow-up action.

Besides, this intervention was a step towards closing the gap between the ‘experts’ and ‘non-experts’ with regards to education, and strengthened the community and local agencies to push for corrective measures to make schools more accountable.

Concluding remarks Participatory community action is an urgent need of the hour. Efforts such as this can create public spaces for stakeholders to engage; erect a bridge of communication between the school and the community; and enable an environment for development. The contests worked as an instrument to raise awareness among the community regarding children’s learning status, and generate a common resolve to make schools accountable to functioning in a manner that ensures quality primary education. This is especially important in the absence of robust institutional arrangements for accountability.

While quality of education has drawn a great deal of attention from policymakers at the national and state levels, there is still a need to inform local stakeholders regarding the issue and to strengthen them to participate locally to find solutions. GP-level mathematics contests may be a mechanism to enhance the capability of decentralised institutions for local oversight and support.

Notes: ASER is the largest citizen-led survey in India that provides information on children’s school enrolment and basic learning levels across the country. 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. In 2014, only 11.8% and 20.1% of students from grades 4 and 5 respectively, could solve division-level problems.

Further Reading ASER Centre (2016), ‘Status of Education Report (Rural) 2016’, Pratham. Avritzer, L (2002), Democracy and the Public Space in Latin America, Princeton University Press, New Jersey. Baiocchi, G (2005), ‘Participation, activism, and politics: The Porto Alegre experiment and deliberative democratic theory’. Drèze, J, A Sen (2013), An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions, Princeton University Press, Princeton. Govinda, R and R Diwan (2003), Community Participation and Empowerment in Primary Education, Sage Publication. Hadenius, A (2003), Decentralisation and Democratic Governance: Experiences from India, Bolivia and South Africa, Elanders Gotab, Stockholm. Heller, Patrick (2012), “Democracy, Participatory Politics and Development: Some Comparative Lessons from Brazil, India and South Africa”, Polity, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp. 643–665. Nylen, WR (2003), Participatory Democracy versus Elitist Democracy: Lessons from Brazil, Palgrave Macmillan, New York. Johnson, C (2003), ‘Decentralisation in India: Poverty, Politics and Panchayati Raj’, Working Paper 199, Overseas Development Institute, London. Pillai, PP (2006), ‘Democratic Decentralization, Participatory Development and Civil Society: The Story of People’s Campaign for Decentralized Planning in India’, World Society Focus Paper Series, World Society Foundation, Zurich. Rosato, L (2014), ‘School ‘Quality and Effectiveness’ and Parental Attitudes towards Education in Rural India and Insights from the Alice Project’, Working Paper. UNDEF (2013), ‘2013 State of Participatory Democracy Report’, United Nations Democracy Fund. Vaijayanti, K, MN Suma and A Mondal (2016), ‘The Impact of Akshara Ganitha: A Longitudinal Study 2012-13 to 2014-15’, Akshara Foundation. Available here. UNDP (2000), ‘Decentralisation in India: Challenges & Opportunities’, Discussion Paper Series, United Nations Development Programme, New Delhi.

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

The Asia-Pacific Regional Early Childhood Development Conference

The Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC) is a network established to build strong partnerships across sectors and different disciplines, organisations, agencies and institutions in the Asia-Pacific region to advance the agenda on and investment in Early Childhood.

It covers 47 countries including East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Pacific sub-regions, as well as Central Asia to a smaller extent. ARNEC is supported by the following organisations: UNICEF, UNESCO Asia Pacific Regional Office for Education, Plan International, and Open Society Foundation.

The Asia-Pacific Regional Early Childhood Development (ECD) Conference organised by ARNEC in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Cambodia was held in Siem Reap, Cambodia during the first week of March 2017. The theme of the Conference was ‘The Transformative Power of Early Childhood Development: The Importance of Holistic Interventions’ with three sub-themes covering (i) Policies and Programmes; (ii) Equitable Access and Participation; and (iii) Quality Monitoring.

IMG_0619

The objectives of the Conference were to:

1. Provide opportunities for policymakers and practitioners to contextualise ECD and incorporate it in their own countries as part of the global agenda, 2. Strengthen advocacy for holistic and inclusive ECD, 3. Share knowledge, tools and noteworthy practices on ECD policies and programmes; and 4. Strengthen partnerships for ECD among a large range of existing and potential stakeholders.

Akshara’s Poster on “ECCE – Making Quality in Public Sector Preschools a Reality: Akshara Foundation’s Experience’’ was selected for presentation.

IMG-20170317-WA0027

The conference was inaugurated by Mr. Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo HUN SEN, Prime Minister of Cambodia, who was the Honourable Chair, and closing remarks were presented by Dr. HANG CHUON NARON, Minister of Education, Youth and Sport, Cambodia. Around 650 members from countries ARNEC works with participated in the Conference. The Conference spread across three days. Six key speakers spoke, ten parallel sessions unfolded, and twenty papers were presented. Besides, there were video presentations during the lunch break.

IMG_0620

Pre-conference study visits were organised to two community learning centres and an interaction with community members was facilitated. I visited Leangdai Community Preschool and Taprok Community Preschool. The two centres had around 25-30 children in the age group of 4-5. The community manages the centres and financially supports them by raising funds. The preschool instructors are from the same village. The centres are linked to the local communities. They function out of a space that belongs to the people. The preschools operate from 7 a.m. to 9a.m. five days a week. As explained by an instructor, the curriculum addresses the children’s cultural, emotional and social development, cognitive thinking and language skills, through storytelling, play, art, dance and lessons in basic hygiene.

IMG_0430

IMG_0495

The experience was rich and very useful. I got to share Akshara’s experience and initiatives with many private practitioners, policymakers, researchers and NGO members. I discussed with them the educational issues we face in India and our challenges in addressing them. I spoke about Akshara’s efforts to raise the standards of government pre-schools and schools and our thrust towards creating an eco-system for better teaching and learning outcomes. We design programmes for underprivileged children and try to create a future of opportunities and goals for them. Equipping the community to take on their share of the responsibility is a considerable aspect of our work as well. Our mission statement is: Every Child in School and Learning Well.

IMG_0627

Shared our efforts of harnessing technology to bring about change, and belief in Creative Commons ( and share all that we do in the public space) , our culture of data-driven organisation, research and self-evaluations that matter to us and so on. It was a proud moment for me when I saw the overwhelming reactions of people. They had positive things to say about Akshara’s scale, engagement with government, use of technology, and our belief in an open society.

Click here to see our entire experience there in detail.

– 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.

20170216_130011

20170216_134038 copy

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.

20170216_134312

– Anuradha Mondal, Akshara Foundation