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ENGLISH | KANNADA

THRIVING ON CHALLENGES – A case study on a Gram Panchayat Maths Contest

The Biligiriranganabetta Gram Panchayat (GP), Yelandur block, Chamarajanagar district, has two schools in its domain, in tiny villages embedded in wild, untamed jungle. The Government Higher Primary School (GHPS) in Biligiriranganabetta village has 13 students in the 4th, 5th and 6th grade and the GHPS in Yarakanagadde has 40. A total of 53 students.

The Panchayat Development Officer (PDO) Mahadevappa didn’t think it worthwhile to conduct a GP Maths Contest here. He forestalled it, with all good reason. There had to be reach and sweep and scale, an ambition to it. Half the children may not come, he predicted gloomily. They belong to the Soliga tribe, a community of forest dwellers, so rooted to their earth, tied to their culture and identity, the parents, not too keen on education in the first place, may not allow them to participate in an out-of-school, extracurricular event like this. “Let’s not have a Contest in the Biligiriranganabetta GP,” Mahadevappa said, disheartened in advance by the possibility of a poor turn-out and negligible results.

Akshara’s Divisional Field Manager, Ranganath, whose territory this is, Chamarajanagar one of the 11 districts in his field of work, held firm. “Sir, we must not give up. We can’t always have a big attendance. We can’t exclude anyone whatever their circumstances. Our GP Contests thrive on challenges. You will get blessings, good karma, for doing this, Sir.” Ranganath was at his persuasive best. Listening to this rousing assertion, Mahadeva stopped in his tracks, reversed his defeatist stance, and “became a big support,” turning the outlook in a matter of moments from hopelessness to hope.

The stakeholders of education with the question papers


To everyone’s astonishment, all 53 children participated in the GP Contest held on December 3, 2022. It was one of the most meaningful successes for Ranganath and his three-member team who from early December 2022 have catalysed 415+ Contests covering 79,510+ children in their 11 districts. At each Contest, attendance ranges from 80 to 120 children.

What makes the Biligiriranganabetta GP Contest special, spectacular even? Fifty-three is a small denomination, easily lost in prodigious numbers like 79,510+ children. Interwoven in the tapestry of Contests this team has spread across village locations, some way out in the interior, is this that’s in many ways unique.

Biligiriranganabetta or Biligirirangana Hills is a lofty, leafy, emerald region of high peaks and variegated forest land. Biligiri or ‘white hill’ in Kannada represents the rock here over which a near-permanent whiteness settles for much of the time, the colour of mist and cloud. The villages of Biligiriranganabetta and Yarakanagadde are surrounded by a 539.52 sq km wildlife sanctuary[1] of dense forest. The site is also a tiger reserve. Wild elephants, the most ubiquitous animals, roam freely, owning all they see. The Soliga tribe that inhabit this jungle are a gentle, nature-worshipping, animal-loving people, gatherers of forest produce – it’s their livelihood. They venture out shrinkingly, only when necessary, or they’re content to live within, amid the trees and animals.

Their children, among them the 53 in the two schools, are withdrawn and inhibited. More fear, less confidence, Ranganath says. The best way to strike up a conversation with them, he discovers, is to lock into their worldview. “I saw a leopard,” one says in Kannada. “I saw a barking deer.” “I saw a sambar[2].” They become competitively chirpy discussing the animals they see almost every day. “They live with these animals around them,” says Ranganath. “Their relationship is more with nature than with education.”

Placed in the context of their cultural and socioeconomic milieu, it’s hardly surprising. Poverty is extreme, awareness at its weakest, life at a low ebb. But living takes on deeper hues when they can keep their culture intact, supreme and inviolate. They’re suspicious of outside influences, and education they perceive as one such contaminator of lifestyle. “They don’t encourage the education of their children. It’s only the pressure from the government schools that keeps these children in school.”  Their environment keeps them confined and suppressed, says Ranganath. “They don’t want to send their children out of the community.”

     Sitting for their test


Nine years at Akshara, and Ranganath has a toolkit for any conversational impasse. He draws the children out, even manages to talk to the parents. “Talk to the children individually and they understand the idea of a future. ‘What do you want to become?’ and they say, ‘Police officer, teacher, doctor.’ They know.” There’s a chasm, though, between their privately nursed aspirations and where they are now. “It’s a big challenge for these children to study. They don’t understand….. Then they drop out.” The frustration is intense, the pointlessness of it discouraging.

The GP Contest is low-key. Some parents show up impressed most of all by the mental picture they have of prizes. The prizewinning children of each grade receiving cheque rewards is an honour, they realise, and are happy to see them perform well. The marks, 60-70%, don’t mean much, the distinction does. The 1st rank holders get a cheque of Rs. 1000 each, the winners who come 2nd receive Rs. 600, and the 3rd prize-winners Rs. 400, monetary contribution from the GP. All nine of them are awarded certificates of commendation for meritorious performance from Akshara with their name, grade, and school imprinted. The parents can barely contain themselves; they’re indigent and money is manna in hand.

Ranganath uses this softened moment, now that he’s connecting with them, to drive home that “Your children study well. They understand. Now they’ve received Rs. 1000 or Rs. 600. They’ll earn much more going ahead. We respect your culture. But your children need progress. You look on your forests as God. Your children are also God. They can be Forest Rangers or environmentalists.” It makes sense to them – they understand some Kannada. The Akshara team is not so sure however if the parents will allow themselves an emergence from seclusion and isolation.

It goes without saying that most children at this Contest score below 50%, two children are at zero and five at 1-10%. PDO Mahadevappa says, “The Education Department and the GP have given the children a lot of facilities – uniforms, textbooks, midday meals, scholarships. We can’t go in opposition to the people. We have to take their culture along. We have to approach this issue with sensitivity and humanity.”

When enlightened officials like Mahadevappa set the tone and momentum, impacts snowball. His consent for the Contest escalated into a bigger amplification, with the Department of Education and the GP at all levels issuing orders in synergy. Not to ignore the media in this supportive orchestration. Vijayavani, the widely circulating Kannada daily, sent its reporter from Chamarajanagar to cover the Contest and highlighted the news story with a picture of the prizewinning students standing in a row with their cheques and Akshara certificates.

The prize-winners with their cheques and Akshara certificates – At the Yarakanagadde school


For Ranganath and his team, the Biligiriranganabetta GP Contest will remain vivid, etched. All the children participated; Ranganath can’t get over it. Participation at a Contest is not enforced. “These are tribal children.” The forest is their little universe, their radius of awareness, their reference point. “For them to sit in an open ground and do a test collectively is a new experience. But they did it.”

To have taken the GP Contest to this remote area and given the Soliga children a taste of the world they don’t experience gives Ranganath a heightened satisfaction. To have given them a glimpse of what education can do, the possibilities unimagined, that life can be enriched and enlarged – “It made me personally very happy. To see these children receiving their prizes was a very different kind of pleasure.”

– Lakshmi Mohan for Akshara Foundation

  [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biligiriranga_Hills [2] Large deer native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.

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

Unrelenting Commitment towards Children’s Learning – A Volunteer Story

Akshara Foundation’s work has attracted many people who are strongly passionate about education, and who want to make a similar difference in their hometowns. One such person is Mahesh H, a team leader from G. Hosalli village in Gubbi taluk, Tumkur district, close to the Andhra Pradesh border.



Already a community figure, Mahesh had first heard of Akshara’s Ganitha Kalika Andolan (GKA) kit, and felt it to be very effective as a teaching method. He was very impressed upon reading more about the foundation’s work, and resolved to join it in some capacity. He soon achieved his aim, and set to work with gusto. He would go around distributing the GKA maths kit in schools, and have teachers learn how it worked so that they could use it to teach their students effectively.



He also ramped up Akshara training for teachers in the surrounding villages, believing the foundation’s method of pedagogy to be the best option. Not content in just managing things remotely, Mahesh made it a point to drop in and even take part in training the teachers for at least one session a few hours each week. He would also try to instruct children in schools whenever he could.

As a result, the recruitment of volunteers increased, and Akshara’s reputation grew among the locals.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, Mahesh was concerned about the learning loss that children faced during the pandemic and wanted to maximise the amount students could learn in those trying times. He felt the Building Blocks app to be a very effective method to catch up, and worked hard to spread awareness of it. He used a local cable broadcasting network to beam awareness programmes and advertisements about the app into homes in nearby villages.



When the lockdown guidelines were relaxed, he motivated volunteers to personally go to homes and instruct parents and children on what to do to use the app and get the best effects. These incidents show his unrelenting commitment to children’s education.

Mahesh’s determination and strong will makes him a powerful force for education in rural Tumkur. It is the inclusion of such people into our army of Education Volunteers and Team Leads, and their enthusiasm to work that allows our programmes to truly become sustainable movements.

It Takes A Village To Raise A Child

Akshara has always believed in the power of strong engagement with the community way before it became fashionable and enshrined in the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP2020). And it was this power that we put to test in the 22-week period between May 1, 2021 and September 18, 2021.

Akshara’s Education Volunteers and Gram Panchayat (GP) Team Leaders have been our source of strength across the rural landscape. In Karnataka, we have nearly 18,000 of them across 24 districts.

When we sensed there was reluctance amongst the rural populations to take the Covid-19 vaccine, we put our small army to work in a focused manner – their charter was (a) first to get vaccinated themselves; (b) convince and facilitate the vaccination of their neighbours with the help of the local state administration.

And this group worked wonders. In the 22-week period they managed to facilitate the vaccination of 5.12 million people. Here is a table that shows what they have done.

We are now asking ourselves the question – if this group of community volunteers can do so much in such a short time, we think they can be of immense value in ensuring that our children get quality education especially at the foundational stages.

Our thanks to this army and we are sure you, the reader, will also feel good about this life-saving performance.

We’ve been asked by many organisations and volunteers on how they can take this forward similarly, in areas where they work. We’ve created this 10-step guide in the hope that it helps them reach out to as many people as we have, and a step forward towards the entire country being vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus.

– Penned by Ashok Kamath, Chairman, Akshara Foundation

#MissionSuvidya and Akshara Foundation to spread the joy of literacy and numeracy to tribal/Adivasi children in Odisha

The ST & SC Development, Minorities & Backward Classes Welfare Department, Odisha and Akshara Foundation, today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Mission Suvidya.

Launched by Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik on December 4, 2019, #MissionSuvidya aims to bring qualitative improvement in accommodation provided in 6500 hostels managed by the ST & SC Dev. Department, Govt. of Odisha with about 5.7 lakh students. The mission will provide congenial atmosphere by guaranteeing quality services in safety, health, hygiene and food.



In a move that impacts about 225,000 children in the most difficult areas of the state, the ST & SC Development, Minorities & Backward Classes Welfare Department will collaborate with Akshara Foundation to ensure ‘Improvements in the Quality of Education in the Department’s Schools & Hostels across Odisha’.

Under #MissionSuvidya, along with Akshara Foundation, two other MoUs were signed with Quality Council of India (for assessment of ST & SC hostels leading to quality assurance & sustenance for ISO 9001:2015 certification) and TRIFED India (to market linkages of various products created by tribal artisans and entrepreneurs in the state.)



The MoU with Akshara Foundation recognises the organisation as a knowledge partner of the state’s ST & SC department where they will share all their know-how with the department on delivering quality education (Numeracy, Literacy and Library programmes) in government schools that have children purely from tribal/Adivasi communities.



The specific programmes that will be implemented are:
1. School Readiness Programme (SRP) for Grade 1 Students- SRP involves 8 weeks of developmentally appropriate instruction designed to bolster a child’s pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills, with additional modules on motor skills and social skills.

2. Classroom/Hostel Library Programme- Classroom/Reading room set-up for promoting reading habits in children as well as training of teachers in tracking improvements in reading proficiency.

3. Ganitha Kalika Andolana(GKA) in primary schools- GKA is a classroom intervention aligned with Odisha’s state curriculum for mathematics and modalities include provisioning Mathematics Teaching Learning Materials (TLM) to schools, capacity building of teachers on activity based learning and access to online support. This programme is already being implemented in other government schools across the state.

4. Digital Learning Solutions in schools/hostels- Curriculum aligned digital learning solutions for primary grades to be made accessible in hostels for subjects viz. Mathematics & English.

5. Digital Assessments Infrastructure for students in schools/hostels- Develop and implement digital assessment infrastructure which can help teachers in conducting formative assessments and track learners’ progress.

About Akshara’ Foundation’s partnership with DSME: Akshara Foundation is an existing partner to Department of School & Mass Education (DSME), Odisha in implementing Ganitha Kalika Andolana across all government primary schools of the state for creating fear-free math classrooms and improving math learning outcomes. The primary objective of the programme is to remove the math fear from students and provide tools to the teacher for making math enjoyable and will support them in their regular classrooms; in short, to improve foundational numeracy. A pilot was started in 4000 primary schools of Balangir & Rayagada and the programme has been extended to all districts of the state in 2019.

About Akshara Foundation: Akshara Foundation was set up as a Public Charitable Trust in Karnataka in March 2000 and focuses on issues concerning Early Childhood and Primary Education. It has partnered with multiple state governments and has floated programmes at scale namely- School Readiness Programme, Library Programme, Ganitha Kalika Andolana, and digital interventions namely Easy English & Building Blocks. All of these programmes are designed to strengthen foundational literacy and numeracy in students in primary grades and supplement existing government efforts. The programmes involve provisioning of teaching inputs to government primary schools and extensive capacity building of teachers

MY COVID-19 STORY

I was recently admitted in hospital for COVID-19 and fortunately discharged, soon enough. I thought I would put down some personal experiences and thoughts.

In late February 2021 after a long nine-month, literal lockdown at home, my son wanted to hang out for a couple of hours with his friends. We too at home, fed up of seeing a young man not able to breathe the air in the happening world, relaxed the rules, and let him go out for a couple of hours. For the past year, in the neighbourhood and among relatives, our family has been known as the ‘OVER CAUTIOUS COVID FAMILY’. People often made fun of us. Our flower vendor once said it is a rich man’s infection and nothing will happen to the poor!

After he got back home, my son followed COVID home protocols as a precaution and made sure that he didn’t come near any one of us, especially his octogenarian grandmother so that she is protected. After his self-isolation of two days, he said his body was aching and that he had a slight temperature. This was in the third week of February, which was an almost flat COVID period. I had to travel on work and thought maybe it would be a good idea to get him and myself tested before I left.

There came the report which said my son was positive, while I turned out to be negative. Well, we followed the protocols as the doctor prescribed, like home isolation with nutritional supplements and constant monitoring of temperature and saturation levels. He completed 14 days of isolation with very mild symptoms and entered the recovery cycle. The story didn’t stop there! The invisible little virus had weakened his muscles slightly and we had to consult the doctor in-person after 4 weeks. As concerned parents, my husband and I, double masked et accompanied him. By the way, by then my mother-in-law, my husband, and I had already gotten our first jab of the vaccine.

The next day, my husband started getting body aches and a slight feverish feeling. The next day we made a trip to the hospital. My husband tested positive and isolated himself quickly. I started wearing the mask and distancing myself from my mother-in-law. By the evening, I thought of getting tested even though I had no symptoms. The next day, I got a positive report.

My isolation started in another room and now my mother-in-law cooked and my son supplied all that she needed. The first two days were okay, but my fever crept up and I was asked to get admitted. My CT scan showed no patches and I was given Fabiflu and other relevant medicines and discharged saying that I was perfectly fine. The hospital made some small mistakes like messing up my medicine sequencing and not including crucial information in the discharge summary. The CT film and report were not included in the discharge summary as well. The nurse asked me to collect it from the radiology section. Since I was positive, I was not allowed to enter the section so I asked the boy who accompanied me in the lift to collect it and hand it over to me. The section first denied that I had ever had a CT done, but my repeated request to the onlookers (who were supposed to be part of the hospital) got me my report but not the film. Again another round of requests later, I gate-crashed into the section, shouted and finally got it. Those 45 minutes of torture made me wonder, ‘why can’t hospitals get a proper process in place’? By allowing me to be there in the vicinity, I put everyone vulnerable to the infection and also added a load of stress on myself, the patient. Or is it that the system is NOT ready to handle these cases?

Once I got back home, the doctor was courteous enough to respond to my WhatsApp messages and instructed me on what to do. The problem was I started having a roller coaster ride as far as the fever and cough were concerned. My cough became terrible to the extent that I could not even talk. My appetite went out the window, and I started vomiting. I almost felt like I was being put in a front loading washing machine and getting spun and swirled, thrown up and down.

In my journey so far, the only silver lining was that my saturation level never dropped below 96.

The inconvenience that I was going through made the doctor advise me to repeat the CT. I went back to the same hospital and got it done and there they saw patches and a person in the fever clinic asked me to get admitted. But there were no beds. I almost broke down and by then I was also seeing how patients were requesting for beds and the staff was feeling bad turning them down. So I waited for my doctor to see me in the fever clinic lounge. He saw my CT and said since my saturation was good there was nothing to worry about. He assured me that nothing would happen and asked me to be relaxed and go home. I did so till late that evening. But by night my cough became unbearable and I was completely drained out. I needed to get admitted, asap. Thankfully, we got a bed by the following morning. I was given a room in a Female General Ward with six of us sharing a common washroom.

Another doctor, another scan, another set of investigations followed. The doctor started the treatment. He wanted to start with Remdesivir. He was told at the time of admission that there was Remdesivir in the pharmacy but when he came for the visit he found that there was no stock. I had to wait for a day to see if it got supplied. Somehow we managed to get the first two doses from outside and the remaining supplies from the hospital. My treatment finally began!

The next morning I heard a running commentary from a mom admitted in the next room about how to switch on the gas stove to boil the milk and manage other household chores! She had left her two young children 11 and 5 locked up in the house and was admitted here, with her mother in the ICU. Her husband was away in Hyderabad to take care of his father, who was critical.

Six rooms, 10 human stories. This is a Female General Ward with six rooms and two shared washrooms. A luxury, we felt. A gynecologist admitted in another room, whose husband was in the ICU, a Bank Manager with high blood sugar, a lady in the early stages of pregnancy, a young nurse from the same hospital who turned positive, and an elderly woman who was completely lost in this whole situation. We felt the situation wasn’t different from a war-affected region. ‘Sister, sister where should she go?’ One sister, six patients and all calling her at the same time! Someone wanted her to get them a tablet, someone’s drip had stopped, someone was vomiting and another’s oxygen mask had slipped. In between, she was sending someone to the OT, handling new admissions, and managing discharge summaries.

A night duty nurse told me that post her COVID recovery her blood pressure continued to be high. She had a 10-year-old at home. I feel terrible about the way we treat our frontline warriors. They are risking their lives all the time. The doctor! No words to explain it! Relentlessly visiting us two to three times a day, patiently listening and physically checking us. They are from a different planet!

Coming to medicines, forget critical ones like Remdesivir. Even generic medicines like Dolo fell short. The nurse would go around from room to room, checking if anyone had surplus with them and made small adjustments to make sure we were all medicated as per the prescription.

On my first day in the ward, they kept saying that the very scarce Remdesivir would come. They knew someone who had information from Drugs Control that it would be supplied by the end of the day. The drug didn’t arrive so some patients had to miss the course in between and continue when it was supplied. The scarcity was so bad that one of the hospital staff asked me to keep mine safely in my bag! Scarcity can lead to anything! I saw another patient literally pleading for one vial. Gosh! What was this?

Despite this, I had a great experience in getting to know people, getting emotionally connected and to some extent, being able to extend some help. I felt moved when my neighbour, a doctor-patient, thanked me for emotionally supporting her when her doctor-husband’s condition was critical, and when the elderly lady on the other bed asked me to help her communicate what she needed with the dietitian and getting her fruit bowl adjusted and redistributed….. Small things but they mattered. I call it a COVID connect!

We created a small community amongst ourselves in those 7 days! Both the doctor-patient and I felt that after 30 odd years we were back to hostel life all over again. The young nurse-patient brought laughter to the wing with her colleagues visiting her and chatting with her. Though noisy, it reminded us about the life we could look forward to after recovery. As my treatment neared completion, I was eager to leave the place because I knew that there was another patient lined up waiting for the bed. This is indeed an unprecedented time in the country. The health structures have become crippled, governance has collapsed, and this is because we did NOT care to plan for it.

I must acknowledge that during this journey of mine, I am thankful for the many friends I have – some of them even went to the extent offering poojas in my name and prayers at church. I am thankful for my colleagues’ constant support- texting me and asking if I needed anything, my mother-in-law’s prayers and continuous support. I was filled with gratitude in seeing my son suddenly grown up and taking on responsibilities, my brother running around to get the drugs prescribed and lastly my husband and my brother-in-law trying to get me second and third opinions on the line of treatment… I must say I am blessed! I want everyone to be blessed and be out of this terrible situation. Simple planning, communication, and execution of protocols at a decentralized level may solve many of these problems. I understand the enormity of the challenge but can’t we address some of them with proper coordination? We claim that we have advanced medical science at our disposal, advanced technology, access to sophisticated management advice, but…what is really there?

   

– Vaijayanti Head of Research, Akshara Foundation

The App that helps children Understand First, Then Learn

Srinidhi looks every inch the serious, hard-working student she is known to be in school, peering into the Akshara team’s smartphone camera with mildly questioning eyes, a gentle sandalwood dot between slightly worried brows, three horizontal lines of vibhuti – sacred ash – across her forehead. One of the best students in class 4, she is fastidious, not resting till she figures out the last frontiers of her classwork. For the Government Higher Primary School in the village of Yaragera, Kushtagi block, Karnataka, she is an asset.

But, till the other day, Mathematics was not on Srinidhi’s priority list of subjects. A suppressive load held her back. “I have a fear of Mathematics,” she confesses. “Gradually with the App I am learning to be free of fear and I’m finding it interesting.”

The Building Blocks Learning App is capturing the imagination of children like Srinidhi in villages in Hoskote, Kushtagi and Mundargi blocks where it was pilot tested for a year. Not in all the villages and for all school going children, but a selected few, the number sizeable enough for a true picture of where to peg expectations. The pilot was a small, significant prelude – a putting out into the world before wider unveilings.

Building Blocks works on the lowest end martphone that spurs the understanding and learning of Mathematics without the traditional, intermediary devices of textbook, blackboard, notebook and pencil. That for children is a great unchaining, particularly in rural government schools, where change and reformist teaching do not usually make it through, though Akshara’s programmes manage to find a way in.

Building Blocks is making Mathematics simpler, more lucid, approachable, as opposed to being only aspirational, bestowing in children’s hands a fearless experience of those dreaded numbers and their mystifying interactions.

Ask any class 3 or 4 student in Akshara’s pilot if fear was anywhere a part of the Building Blocks equation and the answer is “No.” Almost 80% of the over 1500 participants felt a liberation with Building Blocks, delivered on an Akshara-provided smartphone, for two hours, twice a week. They developed a fluency with Mathematics, a fluidity, a direct connection, and crossing boundaries to the next higher concept was mere child’s play, not a problem of choppy waters and muddy uncertainties as before.

Srinidhi says, “The App is very good. I’m learning with joy. In the App I find addition and subtraction, big and small numbers, ascending and descending order numbers, and number expansion very easy.” This is from a student who had fundamental problems with Mathematics and rock-bottom struggles with simple addition and subtraction, competencies which by class 3 entry she should have acquired. “Division was so difficult,” she says. “It has become easy. But I have to learn some more.”

Srinidhi’s father, Devappa, is a repairer of light vehicles and electrical appliances and a borewell mechanic. Her mother, Syamala, is a volunteer at a women’s self-help group. Both in non-traditional occupations, both aware of trends and changing times. Both have a smartphone each in which they have downloaded Building Blocks. An active community member, Devappa is spreading the message at the school’s parents’ meetings, and tells the Akshara team, “This App is easy. It teaches in an entertaining way. It’s useful for all children to learn Mathematics. The games have a lot of variety. This is more than what we expected.”

Introducing the Sahus to Building Blocks

   

The Sahus were on a train from Vishakhapatnam to Rayagada, out for a family function, a family of four – Pradeep Kumar Sahu is a businessman in Asansol; his wife, Padmavathi, a homemaker who also occasionally helps her husband at work; and their two sons, Durgaprasad (10) and Saiprasad (7), both students at the Delhi Public School (DPS), Asansol. Lipsa Bharati, Programme Manager, Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA), Akshara Foundation Odisha, happened to be on the same train and struck up a conversation with them. Akshara was testing Building Blocks at the time.

She introduced it to the two boys, in a bid to keep them engaged. Durgaprasad was more artistically inclined while Saiprasad was the math pro. Until that moment. Durgaprasad dived straight into a division sum in the App, though math is not his favourite subject. Lipsa observed that he enjoyed Building Blocks much more than Saiprasad, was able to do the sums one by one.

By the end of the ride, Durgaprasad said, “This is a better way of doing math, without all the tension it causes us.” For the few hours they were on the train, Durgaprasad was involved, taking on division with determination. He was amazed at the Fish in a Tank game – a Grade 3 concept. He had to distribute equally the nine purple-coloured fish swimming in the big tank to the three small tanks below. With all that to stimulate him, he exclaimed, “I had never thought of division in this way before.

The concept of division has suddenly become clear after the series of six games with Fish in a Tank. It’s really just equal distribution.” At that juncture, the final form of Building Blocks was still in the crucible, being moulded, and Lipsa could not give them the link just then, though the family was keen. Once Building Blocks was available on Google Play, the Akshara team got in touch with the Sahus who were only too excited to be able to download the app.



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The Electoral Literacy Clubs – Workshop for CSOs

Taking forward its continuous efforts of building an active democratic citizenry in the country, the Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation division of ECI has undertaken a new initiative by the name of Electoral Literacy Clubs for developing a culture of avid electoral engagement and making informed and ethical ballot decisions among citizens of the country.

The Electoral Literacy Clubs or ELCs program was officially launched on National Voters’ Day 2018 in the august presence of the Hon’ble President of India. ELCs are informal learning groups which being set up across the country as direct interventions of ECI for promoting electoral literacy among Indian citizens of all ages by engaging them in interesting and experiential hands-on learning activities in their local languages in a strictly apolitical, non-partisan and neutral manner.

Three different kinds of interventions have been designed under the ELCs program. First is ELC Future Voters which are being set up in Secondary and Senior Secondary Schools all across India to target future voters in the age-group of 14 to 17 years who are studying in Classes IX to XII. These ELCs will have all of the students from Classes IX, X, XI and XII as its members.

The overarching goal of ELCs program is to make the future and new voters of the country fully confident of how, when, where, what and why of democratic elections. They should develop an understanding of the value of their vote, significance of sanctity and secrecy of their vote, and a conviction of making mature, competent and ethical ballot decisions. They should become interested and excited for exercising their very first ballot decision in an ethical and informed fashion as soon as they become 18 years old. In quantifiable terms, the outcome of ELCs would mean increased electoral registration and enhanced voter turnout.

And for reaching out to the population left outside of the formal education structures, ELCs shall be set up at every Polling Station by the name of Chunav Pathshala. Chunav Pathshala will have members from the village or community to which the polling station belongs. While there will be significant focus on school dropouts, the Chunav Pathshala will also aim to be representative of the entire village’s demographic composition.

Election Commission of Karnataka nominated Ms.K.Vaijayanti of Akshara Foundation as a representative of Leading CSOs working in the field of Education. She was nominated to participate in the workshop organised by Election Commission of India, New Delhi during the third week of May. The workshop was called for CSOs from 30 states for State level Master Trainer. The role of the representative would be to develop/contextualise the awareness building modules, find out the master trainers and implementation agencies in Karnataka to enhance the understanding of voting process and importance of voting across the young and future voters. The workshop was participatory and activity based, as well as interactive. The resource material developed at the national level included different interesting strategies like mooch pooling booth, maze helping to understand different processes, games and discussions. The idea was to strengthen the democratic process by building the capacity of different stakeholders.



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.
Akshara Foundation