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ENGLISH | KANNADA

Akshara Newsletter : November 2012 edition

Akshara Foundation has re-launched it’s monthly newsletter in November 2012. The newsletter covers important events and happenings at Akshara, tells you heartwarming impact stories from the field and highlights efforts put by our volunteering community. This newsletter will reach out to the different sections of our supporters and keep them updated on our activities.

You can read our November 2012 edition newsletter here.

Do write to us with your feedback on the newsletter. We would love to hear it !!

Akshara’s KLP participates in the Open Up ! Conference

Akshara Foundation‘s Karnataka Learning Partnership (KLP)’s Gautam John recently participated in the Open Up! Conference at London. The event was sponsored by the Omidyar Network and the UK Department for International Development, in association with WIRED Magazine.
Gautam John speaking up at the Open Up !

This high-level conference brought together entrepreneurs (civic and business), governments and civil society, to galvanize action in the fast growing field of transparency and open government. Open Up! showed how web and mobile technologies can drive more engagement of citizens in government and showcase entrepreneurs’ innovations and experiences from around the world. Gautam was one of the speakers of the session -‘Participation: Empowering Citizens To Demand Change’. Along with Gautam, few of the other speakers were  Felipe Heusser (Fundacion Ciudadano Inteligente), Gustav Praekelt (Praekelt Foundation), Kepha Ngito (Map Kibera), Yemi Adamolekun (Enough is Enough Nigeria), Jay Bhalla (Open Institute), Chris Taggart (OpenCorporates) and Gavin Starks (Open Data Institute).
         Gautam John and Yemi Adamolekun in conversation with David Rowan

Each speaker had five minutes to share their insights about how to engage citizens and encourage participation. Gautam shared about his experiences of working with Open Data in KLP. His value addition to the session was that the power of open data is unleashed when local organizations can make it meaningful and actionable – institutions do not exist in a vacuum and the best way to achieve scalable, sustainable change is through collective action.

Watch Gautam speak at the conference in the below video.

Also, read more about the conference here.

LEGO Habba begins with a bang..

The LEGO Habba kick-started with a bang on Saturday, 3rd November 2012. The first set of schools to participate were GKHPS Siddapura, GKHPS Handenahalli and GKHPS T.C. Halli.  Around 300 children, 80 parents and 32 volunteers participated in these schools. While employees from Fidelity Information Services organized the Habba in Siddapura, children from Inventure Academy ran the show in Handenahalli and T.C. Halli. The theme revolving around the Habba was “The Land of Stories” and each class had to come up with a model depicting a story using LEGO blocks.


Come Saturday morning and all the locations wore a festive look. Shamiyana, music, colorful festoons created the perfect atmosphere for the Habba to begin. The event started off with a brief welcome to the children, parents, teachers, SDMC members, volunteers and department officials. Soon, teams were formed with each team consisting of a volunteer, teacher and an Akshara librarian. Each such team would coordinate the Habba in each class. It took a while for volunteers and teachers to gently persuade parents to tell stories to their children.  Soon we saw the whole group interacting well with each other to decide on the story and started building different components of the selected stories using LEGO blocks. In a lot of instances, it was so heartwarming to see parents and their children guiding each other and joining hands to build models together.

After 70 minutes, the outcome was  astonishing and satisfying. In front of us, there were highly creative models. Beautiful LEGO models told us stories of ‘Simha Mathu Mola’, ‘Mangoose kills the snake’, ‘Monkey and the Crocodile’, ‘Punyakoti’, ‘Onake Obavva’ and many more..

The models were then displayed and one could see parents beaming with pride. One parent told us that so far, no one had invited them to the school to play. This event helped them to know their child better as they were unaware of their child’s talent. For once, they could interact well with teachers for  a reason other than academics.


The Cluster Resource Person from the Education department Mr. Govindappa, who participated in Siddapura said,”It was a very well organized event. By looking at the LEGO bricks, I was half-tempted to join the children (which I did too) and play with them. And I was surprised with the presence of Parents for such a long period. They are not willing to get back home. So, I thank Akshara Foundation team, and all the Volunteers and School Staff for such a fabulous event.”

The event concluded with the distribution of gifts and snacks to all children. Each school was also gifted with a LEGO box.

Overall, the Habba, as the name suggests was like a Habba in the School, and was powerful enough to pull along parents, teachers, children and volunteers to come together to celebrate creativity !! We hope, this Habba is a gateway for better involvement of the parents in their child’s education and will initiative the demand for quality education in the future.

Arvind Venkatadri, Head of Akshara’s library program, participated in the Habba in the GKHPS Handenahalli. Below Arvind shares his joyous experiences of the Habba.

” I reached Handenahalli at 9:10 AM, well in advance of the start time of the Habba, planned for 1130. I was immediately impressed by the level of preparation by the HM, Shri Bhaskar and his staff: a very colorful shamiyana was already up, the LEGO Habba banner was flapping in the breeze over the main gate of the school and the HM’s voice could he heard testing their PA system! The ground was spruce and clean and very soon I spotted Akshara’s Librarians, all smartly dressed for the occasion: Deepa, who works from this school and her colleagues Renuka, Pushpa, BhagyaJyothi, Lakshmi, Manjula and Pankaja from other schools in Anekal Block. 

The SDMC members arrived and so did teachers from the neighbouring schools, Bikkanahalli, Sollepura and Kotaganahalli; I recognized and was greeted by Shri Lakshmipathi of Bikkanahalli.  For this Habba, we were expecting a whole bunch of volunteers from the Inventure Academy, an International School located near Dommasandra. Lavanya Vimala, a teacher at Inventure, called me to tell me they were on the way and soon enough the Inventure bus came rolling to the gate of the school. They were greeted by Shri Bhaskar and welcomed to the Habba. There were some students of Inventure and some parents as well, who were curious to see what this Lego Habba was all about. One of them, Anjana, started a very detailed shooting of the entire event, complete with interviews of participants. By that time a good few parents had also gathered, some grandparents too and were engaged in charming conversations with the Librarians. 

We quickly briefed them as to the plan; Prabha from Inventure agreed to be the compere and took charge at once. She kicked off the Habba by welcoming the assembled parents and the staff members of the neighbouring schools and the SDMC members. She gave a lovely introduction to the Theme of the Habba, “The Land of Stories”. Everybody was excited with the prospect of making Lego models to show off their stories. The children came streaming out of the classes to take their parents there; the teachers quickly took charge, along with atleast one volunteer from the Inventure group. Soon there were keen discussions in many of the classrooms: Children telling ” ajji” to decide on a good story and in some cases, children telling stories to the adults and exhorting them to adopt these as their story for the Habba. The volunteers helped create some wonderful talk: Prabha was very effervescent, as were many of of the other teachers. The Inventure Children sprang their own surprise: they had brought charts and banners of their own, handmade, which they decked up in the classrooms and also on the central stage in the courtyard. 


The stories were decided upon fairly quickly: the Thirsty Crow, the Rabbit and the Lion, from the Panchatantra and The Village Fair, a popular story in our Libraries. People decided upon how to build the stories: what creatures to make and what the surroundings were like and of course, deciding on the main event to depict. The Akshara Librarians then brought in the buckets full of Lego and upturned them on the floor. The surprise and utter delight on the childrens’ faces was a joy to behold, and they cheered as they dug in to get hold of the pieces they needed. The volunteers helped some of the shy adults to come out of their shells and make the models; the Inventure students thoroughly mixed with the children here and helped create some intricate models.                                                       

Soon it was time to bring out the Story Models and display them on the stage. Librarian Manjula had drawn up areas on the stage where each class would arrange its Story Model. 

They were astonishing, the models. The Lion was a sheer delight, with mane and tail, as was the reflection of the lion in the water inside the well. The trees in the forest had been made with a lot of care, and foliage looked very real. The Crow looked very good too, cocky and street-smart. The Village Fair was full of detailed pieces: a merry-go-round, dancers, shops, games, even a mobile tower near the village. Prabha invited children from each class to present their story; each story was cheered by the closely pressed group. Parents delighted in the attention their wards were getting; I also met parents from the nearby anganawadi who had come in to find out what was going on.

Finally, it was time to wind up the show. Prabha made the children cheer when she announced that there were gifts for everyone. The children quickly lined up in a crocodile as they streamed towards the gate. Akshara Librarians smilingly handed out goodies and snacks to each child, from both Schools. Some tiny tots from the anganawadi came up timidly asked for the biscuits too and gleefully accepted the gifts.

It was deeply satisfying. The Children, the Parents,the Teachers and the Volunteers: it was just perfect. I think we will see similar efforts being made by th Govt School teachers themselves at other places, on their own. That will surely make the future Open School Days in Govt Schools a very different and noisy affair !! “

LEGO Habba 2012 : A Community festival in schools


Why a Community Festival?

At Akshara, we create programmes in Government Primary Schools and Pre-Schools (Anganawadi-s), that are intended to help improve educational outcomes at these institutions. Among the aspects of each program is an Outreach to Community, the parents of the children. An involved and engaged parent community helps both children and these institutions do better. A Community Festival is a good way to ensure that Parents and School Staff build a good relationship to ensure that they jointly do the best for the child.

What is the LEGO Habba?

With this intent in mind, Akshara is creating a series of Community Festivals in schools and pre-schools. The festivals, called the LEGO Habba, have been conceived with the aim of having Parents, Teachers and Children engage in a creative LEGO brick activity in school. We believe this Habba will be perceived to be very unusual, curious, and interesting, and should see better participation on part of the parents, as to compared to that during the twice-yearly Open School Day hosted by the Education Department, the SamudaayaDatta Shaaale. Co-located Pre-School staff and the parents of pre-school children are also being invited.

The Habba uses the theme of LEGO model construction wherein Parents, Children, and Teachers are to be invited to play, and create a LEGO model in the school. The Theme of the Habba is entitled “Land of Stories”. Children, their parents and the teachers get together in classrooms, choose a story that is a part of their common cultural memory and decide among themselves how they will depict that story, using LEGO brick-based model construction. The entire Habba lasts for only two hours. In the process of this activity, we believe that the resulting interaction, exchange of views and ideas, and the ensuing conversation will help create a few lasting relationships between parents and school teachers, leading to increased engagement on part of both in the education of their children. The long term benefits of this relationship will surely tell on the children’s learning outcomes in the schools.

The Habba will be witnessed by senior Education Department officials at as many locations. Members from School and Pre-School Monitoring Committees are also being invited. Volunteers from Akshara Donors and Friends are being drafted in to help conduct the Habba at the various locations.

Where is the LEGO Habba?

The LEGO Habba is planned to be held at sixteen Government Primary Schools. The Habba will be held on seven continuous Saturdays, immediately after school hours, starting on the 3rd November 2012 and going up to 15th December, 2012. The list of locations is shown below. The geographical locations of these schools in Bangalore is also shown.

      Schools where LEGO Habba is being conducted

 LEGO Habba location map

Join us and participate in this interesting event to bring together children, parents, teachers and the community to celebrate the creativity of each child !! If you would like to participate, please write to Arvind Venkatadri – arvind@akshara.org.in

Volunteering at the GKHPS, Doddaholluru, Hoskote


The Spirit of Volunteering

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

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

A Quiet Sense of Purpose

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

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

A Targeted Intervention

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Science Room – “It will Instil Scientific Discipline”

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

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

The Story of Lakshmi’s Transformation

A Picture of Lakshmi
  
Lakshmi is four and a half years old. There is cautious anticipation in her eyes as she gazes into the camera – a look that conceals more than it says. Still and obedient she stands, a neat, folded, white handkerchief pinned fastidiously to her shirt, well-groomed, and perhaps tall for her age. This strikes a bit of a contrary picture because Lakshmi is known to jump and clap her hands with abandon, even write, hesitantly but with relish. In the backdrop are the children of Anganwadi III, Girani Chawl, Hubli, Lakshmi’s friends, with whom she mixes and mingles.


Abandoned in a Public Toilet

But Lakshmi has a speech impairment that hinders her ability to learn. What she says is incoherent. She is a trier though, and makes spirited attempts to speak and sing. Her story has a long history. It began in 2008 when Lakshmi was discovered by Sushila Narayankar in the toilet of a Hubli bus stand, abandoned and crying. She was a little over six months old and had suffered a grave injury to her head. Sushila had been waiting for a bus and the sound of an infant crying wrenched her. She picked up Lakshmi and went around asking people if the child was theirs. No one knew anything about her. 

Lakshmi was an unknown entity, already forgotten, already written off. Someone suggested that Sushila take her to the police station and file a complaint. There, the police advised Sushila and her husband, Mariyappa, to keep the child with them till they could locate her parents or relatives. 

God’s Gift

Till today, no one has come forward to claim Lakshmi, and so she stayed with Sushila and Mariyappa who happily took care of her. For the childless couple, married for twenty five years, this was God’s gift, an answer to their fervent prayers, and they named her Lakshmi. Their recriminations had been endless all those years, directed at a God who had failed them. Now, they believed their Tirupati deity had heard their pleas, a little late in life – Mariyappa is forty eight, Sushila, thirty nine. 

Oh My God”

 As Lakshmi grew the cracks began to show. She had a weak memory and struggled with speech, both of which were attributed to her head injury. Sushila and Mariyappa, a low-income family, peons at Basel Mission School in Hubli, spared no effort to get Lakshmi assessed and treated. They did the rounds of hospitals and tests, but the damage seemed irreversible though doctors held out the hope that Lakshmi would improve with time. 

Sushila and Mariyappa were understandably distraught. “Oh my God,” they despaired. “God has given us a child like this.” They did not have the resources for advanced medical treatment or long-term care-giving. What would become of Lakshmi, they wondered? Sushila and Mariyappa went back to the police station to find out if anything was known about her biological parents. To which the police said, “Why come so late?”

At the Anganwadi

Lakshmi’s faltering development was a big blow to Sushila and Mariyappa but the initial shock, the alienation they felt from their child, soon transmuted to a generosity of spirit and a steely resolve. They began exploring alternative avenues for Lakshmi, in keeping with their means. They noticed that the girl was a friendly child, eager for company her age, with a pronounced interest in school life. Anganwadi III in Girani Chawl, close to where they live, seemed a viable option. Sushila and Mariyappa admitted her there in early 2011 and Lakshmi seemed happy. 

Trouble soon cropped up. It had always been difficult to toilet-train Lakshmi and now at the anganwadi the problem became acute. There were behavioral disturbances as well. Neither Hema Kamble, the anganwadi worker, nor the anganwadi helper were equipped to deal effectively with Lakshmi. Hema would often call Sushila and recommend that they take Lakshmi to a school for children with special needs. Helpless, the foster parents pleaded with Hema to keep Lakshmi in the anganwadi for a while longer. 

Ratna Arrives on the Scene 

It is then that Akshara’s Field Coordinator, Ratna, who is in charge of 26 anganwadis in Hubli, appeared on the scene. Ratna had qualifications that gave her a competent edge in managing Lakshmi – a three-month course in handling children with special needs, a two-year tenure with Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), taking care of such children. 

Ratna had been observing Lakshmi every time she visited the anganwadi. She saw Hema’s fraught attempts at coping, the helper’s helplessness, the lack of positivism in the whole engagement. Being one of the 109 anganwadis in Akshara North Karnataka’s preschool programme in Hubli-Dharwad, Ratna had access and acceptability. She began training Hema in how best to tackle Lakshmi. 

The Transformation 

It took time. And then everything changed. The transformation in Lakshmi is nothing short of a minor miracle. She is today toilet-trained. Her socialization processes with her peer group are well-cemented. Her speech has cleared to some extent. Lakshmi asks her teacher for toys to play with and the words are legible, though there is a long way to go yet. 

Lakshmi is happy, never happier, though, than when she is playing with the toys that are a part of Akshara’s preschool programme kit. But there is a special warmth that Lakshmi reserves for Ratna. She is overjoyed when Ratna makes her frequent visits, jumping and clapping with joy, her face wreathed in smiles. 

What will Lakshmi’s future be like? Sushila and Mariyappa contemplate it with some disquiet, even as they acknowledge with deep gratitude the efforts Ratna and Hema have put in to restore their child to near-normalcy. “We worry if Lakshmi will speak properly,” say Sushila and Mariyappa. “We would like her to be a teacher. It is a noble profession.”

Akshara North Karnataka – Part of this Change

 As for the Akshara North Karnataka team there is a sense of quiet achievement. “This is a great positive story for us. I feel very happy to have been part of this change,” says Angelina, District Facilitator. “This anganwadi is in our preschool programme. That is why we could do so much.” 

As for Ratna she is receiving affirmations for her work with Lakshmi. The Child Development Project Officer (CDPO) told her she was doing a wonderful job, while the Department of Women and Child Welfare commended her for triggering change in Anganwadi III, Girani Chawl, and asked if she would join as their Resource Person.

Shoot for a Cause contest : Nurturing imagination..

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

The Karnataka Learning Partnership: An Introduction

KLP’s Megha Vishwanath has recently written a blog post for the Open Data India Blog to explain Akshara Foundation‘s Karnataka Learning Partnership project (KLP), which collects open data, aggregates and deploys it to make a difference in Public schooling system in Karnataka.

The post gives an insight on why the KLP project was initiated, how different stakeholders can participate in it, and the various initiatives under the KLP banner. One of the successful initiatives of KLP has been the report cards for the MPs and the MLAs covering a variety of topics like demographics of Government schools and preschools, financial allocations to Government schools and infrastructure in Government schools.

To know more, read Megha’s post here.

Citizen Engagement : Tanya Bali

September 8 is celebrated as the International Literacy Day. Its aim is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. This year, on the occasion of the International Literacy Day, one of our volunteers, Ms. Tanya Bali and her two sons conducted a Story Reading session in the GKMPS Akkithimmanahalli. Ms. Bali’s sons study in Inventure Academy, who is a great supporter of Akshara Foundation‘s initiatives and their students regularly volunteer with our Library Program. In the below article, Ms. Bali summarizes her experiences of conducting the reading session.  
 

Inspired by a visit to the Akshara Foundation, having met Arvind Venkatadri, Head of the Library Program, and armed with a hundred Kannada story books from Pratham Books, we landed at the Kannada section of the Government School, Akkithimanahalli, near Nanjappa Circle, Shanthi Nagar. It was 10am on the Saturday morning of 8th September 2012.
It was a day when the teachers had gone for a training program and the head master and a helper were manning the whole school of a hundred odd kids of grade 1-7. As they were expecting us, the headmaster welcomed us and accepted the books. I told him that I wanted Sahil and Varun to read a story to the kids of grade 1-3. He entered the classroom where the kids of grade 1-3 were all seated together.
The boys read out the Story of a Bubble to the children, in English. I helped translate some parts in my broken Kannada. The children were very happy to have us around. And it was probably a new experience for them and a welcome break from their monotony.
We took some group photographs. They were mesmerised by the digital camera I carried. By this time their mid day meal (sponsored by ISKCON) arrived and they ran to queue up. Before they left they asked us to come back “tomorrow”………! 
Minimal facilities, from their homes and in their school….these kids mostly from slum homes around the area were somehow being taught something. Our children, so privileged with limited value for everything they have. What a contrast! Varun, Sahil and I had a sizzling discussion on the way back home.
The time has come for a sensitivity to be aroused in children who have so much, of what they can contribute, at their level, to those who have not!!

Guest Post – Tooley and his Caricatures

This is a guest Post by E.S. Ramamurthy who is the Founder – Chief Mentor of Sikshana

James Tooley is well known for his book ”A Beautiful Tree” . In fact the publication is one of the most widely quoted by all those who stand for privatization of the public schools. One of the underlying themes of his thesis is the overwhelming apathy of the teachers in the system vis-a-vis those in the private stream. A close reading of the book will show to anyone how many schools and teachers he had worked with and for how long before he reached his conclusions. I have no comment to make on his acquired expertise; I could only offer my credentials in this context: I cover routinely more than 1200 schools and interact with 6000 plus teachers individually and in groups. Based on this, I find that the scenario in the field is nothing like what it is made out to be- in books of this type and/or the media.
The dedication most teachers in the public schools show to their work is really amazing, especially when seen in the light of the extremely frustrating and negative environment in which they operate. Showing individual attention to the weak kids and making home visits in the evenings or the weekends are a routine part of their professional lives and schedules. They get very little credit for all that they do even from the society, let alone the media. I thought I should break this tradition of denigrating them with very little data and no justification.
I would like to narrate two specific anecdotes, which came my way during the course of just one week. The High School program of Sikshana focusses on the so-called weak students in 10th Std and getting them to pass the final examinations. Kiran (Name changed) is one such kid whom I came across in the corridors of a Government High School near Ramanagaram; he was  waiting to get into a classroom. On queried he said he had failed in the examinations of last year and he is going through schooling in 10th a second time. That surprised me since there is no such provision for readmission of a failed student in the school; in the normal course he is supposed to prepare himself on his own and reappear as a private candidate at the next available opportunity. We talked to the teacher in charge of 10th and he had an interesting story for us.
Kiran is the younger of the two sons in the family; his father trades in vegetables in the local market making a decent income. He wanted his two sons to study well and aspire for a better career than his own. Unfortunately his first son showed no interest in studies dropping out after completing 9th; he has since joined his father in the market. Kiran showed similar inclinations until last year; though bright enough to complete schooling with minimal effort he was irregular in attendance missing classes in spite of personal attention and home visits by his Teacher and ended up with an F Grade in the final examinations. In the following weeks, he started visiting the market with his father and brother. Soon he started realizing how tough real life is and how limited the scope for his advancement would be in the absence of good education. He promptly came back to the school and pleaded with the school to take him back and coach him to pass 10th. The Teacher, who was in charge of his class earlier, responded to his plea. Breaking the rules of the Department, he re-admitted the boy unofficially taking him back in his class. Since he was not on the rolls of the school, none of the facilities offered by the state could be made available to him. The Teacher is presently bearing out of his own pocket all expenses that Kiran could not afford so that he does not have to drop out for economic reasons. Both the boy and the Teacher are convinced that they would make it successfully in Mar 13!  The grit and determination Kiran showed while talking to us was truly amazing! All the credit goes to his Teacher who had shown exemplary dedication to his work- at some risk to his own career. (The reason for blocking the name of the student, school and the teacher would by this time be obvious).
Incidentally, the students have to pay a fee for the final examinations – which some of them do not afford. It is routine practice in every Government school for the class teachers to bear this expense from their own resources- even in cases where the student’s performance is so low as not to merit the attempt. This is in stark comparison with private schools where ‘weak’ students are invariably shown the door with a Transfer Certificate!
This difference in approach was even more evident from the second anecdote in a High School near Hubli. We were discussing the possibility of ensuring a 100% pass in the final examinations of ’13. The talk turned to the performance of last year; they had four students failing at the end. In all these cases, the HM had a valid reason for withholding the admission ticket; the students were irregular in attendance and did not meet the minimum stipulated requirements. This would have got the school a 100% pass rate and fetched him laurels. This is in fact what every private school invariably does to ensure good results. The HM said that turning them away may end up in their dropping away for good; on the other hand, if they are allowed to take a chance, they may pass in a few subjects making it easy to get through the remaining ones in a second attempt. It is an amazingly humane approach to the problem; here the HM is placing the welfare of the student over his own! A comparison with schools in other streams here too becomes inevitable.
One could justifiably say that two anecdotes do not make a point; but then I do not see more evidence in Tooley’s book either. Both assertions deserve a dispassionate and independent study; in the meanwhile damning all the teachers in Government schools should come to a stop. That is the least we could do to restore a balance in this highly unequal debate.
Akshara Foundation