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An interaction with the MPs and the MLAs

For long has education managed with little. Anganwadis without space or amenities – children cramped in dark, air-tight places which have neither light nor ventilation, neither toilets nor drinking water. Schools that make do with niggardly provisioning – overcrowded classrooms, unimaginative teaching, absentee teachers, no sports facilities, often no basic necessities. For long has education delivered by government compromised on quality.

Education is a mammoth endeavor. Bangalore alone has 1772 ICDS-run anganwadis and over 32,000 children in the 3-6 age group; 1420 government primary schools and approximately 225,000 children. Government alone can be the principal actor here, the primary doer. Akshara’s is at best a support role. It can energize and activate, set directions. Get the ball rolling, do part of the doing. Akshara Foundation has started an attempt to enrol the elected representatives in government-sponsored education in Bangalore and propel active participation in problem-solving by them. Only their writ can ultimately encompass and work.

To assist the decision makers of the state to divert their best resources for the betterment of education, the Akshara team has presented the MPs and MLAs of selected constituencies with three accurate, well-researched reports over the last eight months, one building on the other. It started with the first report on fundamentals – school and anganwadi demographics that throw light on the broad educational profile of the constituencies. The team followed this up at three month intervals with a report on the funds schools receive and their allocation, and another on infrastructure shortages in schools and anganwadis.

And where does the team get the information for its reports from? The Karnataka Learning Partnership’s (KLP) database is the source. KLP is a project incubated in Akshara, but it is a public forum open to organizations to post, share and use data. It is a global concept, an idea Akshara hopes will eventually stand on its own as an independent platform of sharing and exchange.

In the last six years KLP has amassed a wealth of data on education essentials. A structured and systematic build-up. The reports draw strength and caliber from this carefully compiled body of information, which is renewed at least once every year. It also serves as a handy tool when the team has to pull out specific details in a hurry to silence skepticism.

The feedback of our Elected Representatives to these reports have been overwhelming. From “wanting to make mine a Model Constituency” to “please keep me informed about the problems in my area”, such positive responses keep us motivating to do better and re-itetating out belief in the Government system.

Read the story of KLP’s Report Card to MPs and MLAs – a story of challenges, perseverances, hope and belief !! – An Interaction with the Elected Representatives

You can also view the Report card for your constituency here : KLP Reports for MPs and MLAs

Making Headway in a new Territory: Training English Teachers in Mundargi

    English Training for teachers
 The in-school programmes at Akshara ia making a headway in Mundargi Block in Gadag District for the academic year 2012-13. The English Programme in particular is being implemented in 97 schools with a reach of approximately 7,500 children. Following is an excerpt from the training session held in June this year.
The Akshara team was in the town of Mundargi , to impart English training aptly titled Swalpa English Thumba Fun. Its innovative training package is designed to give confidence to teachers in speaking English correctly, along with exercises in reading and writing
Dr. Kalavathi B.K., a senior trainer with Akshara for over four years trained a group of 28 MRPs (Master Resource Persons). She is a seasoned hand, with experience in rural areas. Says Kalavathi, “As far as teachers are concerned, government takes the cream of candidates with the best marks, but sustaining quality is the challenge. Rural teachers should not be taken lightly. It depends on the individual, it comes from within. All teachers are continuously trained and upgraded – by SSA, DSERT, DIET, and now by Akshara. There is so much training there’s sometimes no time for implementation.”
The group of teachers are adept in English, though they admit candidly their limitations, their need for augmentation. During the five days of training, they took pains over group effort, their encapsulation of the training and their presentations, polishing and refining them.
The teachers all came with various expectations, varying from wanting to know how to use the English teaching-learning material to self-development to creating an environment for English in school.
The structure of the training covered a gamut of activity and theory, imparted interactively – learning through fun and play interspersed with spurts of serious study; ice breakers, energizers, group exercises, rhymes and hilarity entwined with discussion, lesson plans, role plays and intensive grammar. Listening, speaking, reading and writing, the pillars of language, and the cardinal tenets of Akshara’s English Programme, were expounded by the Guidelines for Teaching Basic English Skills, a guide and companion for teachers in the classroom. Word play, Word Walls and, quite simply, the magic of words all through the five days.
Towards the end of the training, the teachers were motivated and wrote very impressive reports about the training, embellishing them with the sayings of famous people like R.W.Emerson and Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam.
The Block Education Officer of Mundargi Block, M.A. Radder, also attended the training one morning and spent time with the teachers, lending official weight to Akshara’s programmes. He gave a motivational talk to the participants on how to become better English teachers. “Read. Listen. Read English books, newspapers. Listen to the radio, to news on television. Write. Writing is important, man’s most important act. Those who can put words together can achieve a lot. Your target is the children you teach. You have a responsibility to educate them. You are the country’s torch bearers. If teachers fail, India will fail.”
At the end of the 5 day session, it felt good to hear the feedback from the participants. Anand Megadi, one of the teachers said “I did not expect so much English intervention here. I thought it would go as previous training programmes. I got a chance to get familiar with new words. I got a chance to learn.
This programme came as an air-conditioner while we were all just using fans and complaining a lot.
Though the state syllabus is effective and built on strong educational principles, it lacks the curiosity young minds are looking for. Teachers succeed in comprehending the content but fail to transfer it to the students.
Akshara Foundation has come up with innovative strategies and fine techniques that will help students gain competencies at the fastest rate possible in the shortest span of time.”
Swalpa English Thumba Knowledgeindeed!!!!!!!!! A mission successfully completed!

Sports4Smiles : An event for the children of GKHPS Kodigehalli

Target International supports Akshara’s In-school program in Hoskote and libraries in Bangalore. Recently, they organized an event in the GKHPS Kodigehalli school in Bangalore to promote sports by improving their Sports infrastructure and organizing games for children. Read a first-hand experience of the day from one of our Volunteers : GuruPrasad Bhat from Target.
Physical education or Sports is an important part of a child’s life since it promotes good health, relieves boredom and helps kids stay focused. With this belief, the Marketing and Property Developing team of Target International focused primarily on building sports infrastructure of the GKHPS Kodigehalli school on 29th June 2012. The infrastructure improvement included providing a dedicated sports room, sporting equipments as well as organizing a Sports Day for the children. The the full-day volunteering session which saw 39 employees participating, included painting and refurbishing one of the rooms and purchase of sporting equipment like basket balls, a cricket set, footballs, Volley balls Skipping ropes etc. For the sports day, the children competed in various events like cricket, basket ball, aim the wicket, flying disc , athletics and won prizes for each of the events.
The Target team also took the efforts of repairing approximately 30 school benches and desks, which were unused due to breakage and hence  the children were made to sit on the floor. Glad that we could gift them their benches.
All in all, it was a great event, which also taught us a lot.

GuruPrasad Bhat,
Marketing Team,
Target International

Beginning of a new Community initiative in Hoskote

The academic year 2012-13 has a begun. Along with Akshara Foundation’s numeracy and literacy programmes in Bangalore, Hoskote, Devanahalli and regions of North Karnataka, this year, Akshara has also initiated an unique community initiative called Namma Makkalu Namma Abhimaana – “Our Children, Our Pride– in the Hoskote Educational Block in Bangalore Rural District. The idea behind this program is to increase the demand for quality schooling and to create an awareness on the importance of education.

Akshara is collaborating with Phicus, an organization which works in the social impact space, for this initiative. The team has jointly come-up with a calender of communitity enagagement events in the villages of Hoskote for the current academic year. The plan includes visiting communities and schools every forthnight, hold discussions with parents, Gram Panchayats, SDMCs, the teacher community, self-help group members, youth groups, and convince them of the cause and enlist their support for education.

Click here to read this story of Akshara’s efforts to work with the community and create a larger impact around education and the children.

Research Findings on the Akshara Library Programme: A Commentary

The Library Programme at Akshara Foundation has been running for more than 6 years. Over this period, we have introduced Libraries into each of the 1420 Government Primary Schools of Bangalore Urban District.

The Libraries were set up in a “hub-and-spoke” fashion, with larger schools (the hubs) providing the physical space to set up and hold the Library assets and smaller schools (spokes) being served by a Librarian operating from the Hub schools. About 365 hubs were set up and the rest were attached to one of these as spoke libraries. About 625,000 colourful books have been bought and provisioned in these Libraries.

The Akshara Library programme included simple, scalable and effective methods for:

  1. Multi-lingual Content Selection and Grading 
  2. Library Operating Processes 
  3. Library Activities for Children 
  4. Assessment and Reporting to Donors and Government authorities 
  5. Randomized Research on the impact of these Libraries. 

The research method was designed by Prof Leigh Linden and his students, then at Columbia University, New York. They have recently published a Working Paper with the National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA, USA. (School Libraries and Language Skills in Indian Primary Schools: A Randomized Evaluation of the Akshara Library Program, Evan Borkum, Fang He, and Leigh L. Linden, NBER Working Paper No. 18183, June 2012, JEL No. I21, I28,O15). 

The Working Paper describes the research methodology of selecting Treatment and Control School Libraries ( approx 200 schools each) and the results of the baseline test conducted at these school libraries before the commencement of the library service. It also describes the metrics that were routinely tracked during the course of the research and the design of the post-test. 
The research drew the following inferences after a Post-test on the beneficiaries that was conducted one and a half academic sessions ( about 16 months) after the start of the project: 

  1. that the program had little impact on students’ scores on a language test. 
  2. (there is) no impact on test scores in other subjects or on school attendance rates. 
  3. (that) the consistency of the results suggests a problem with the treatment itself rather a mismatch between the program and the needs of particular students and schools. 

The Working Paper is available at http://www.nber.org/papers/w18183 

While the inferences from the research are sobering and thought-provoking for organizations such as Akshara that attempt an operation on this scale, and for donors and government departments, there are several benefits that we have realized over the course of the project which, while not part of the research itself, represent undeniable gains the process of improving the performance of public schools.

  1. Awareness about Libraries and systemic change in public schools. All school staff averred that the Akshara Libraries were very helpful, in many cases admitting that their own efforts in this direction had been flawed. In all schools, a “Weekly Library Period” was fairly easily inserted into an already busy weekly schedule. 
  2. Creation of simple, (cost)effective and scalable processes for the setting up and running of school libraries. Techniques for Content Selection and Grading, Creative Activities in Libraries, in-Library Assessments of children and reporting have been verified to work over multiple academic terms and are available from Akshara at no cost. 
  3. Innovative methods of combining ICT with Reading. Specific activities have been created that link educational software packages with book titles in the libraries. A part of this was the innovative use of the Linux operating system to repeatably and quickly install software at each location, in many cases reviving defunct computing hardware that had been lying in schools. 
  4. The programme also became a participation method for the CSR functions of the corporate world. Many large Companies situated in Bangalore routinely volunteer at the school Libraries, helping to bring visibility, attention and accountability into these schools. Many school Heads request for more volunteering from Akshara’s friends as they grapple with changes in curriculum ( English teaching for example) and realize the benefits of technology in teaching. 
  5. Finally, the programme has had an immense, but quiet, social impact: we have trained over 700 young women in the art of running Libraries. In almost all cases, the women we employ report that they have gained respect, stature and voice in their families. They are able to decide on where their own children would study for example. Many speak of ensuring that their daughters shall continue with studies and of saving money from their salaries to ensure this. 

For more information on the Akshara Library Programme, please write to info@akshara.org.in 

(This piece was written by Arvind V who heads the Library Program at Akshara)

The Postcard campaign against Government schools in Delhi

In a radical initiative to expose the apathy and lack of basic facilities in the capital’s government schools two years into the Right to Education Act, Social Jurist, a lawyers’ and social activists’ collective, has enlisted students of government schools through a postcard campaign to hold their schools accountable for denying them quality education and violating the RTE Act.

The purpose of the postcard campaign is to start a “psychological war” so that principals and teachers know that they can be held accountable. This gives the power in the hands of the children to stand up for their rights in the schools and report what is not working so that the right action can be taken.

The response to this campaign which started in May 2012 has been mind boggling. Over 500 students have participated so far exposing common problems like teacher absenteeism, poor hygiene, lack of drinking water facilities, lack of security and lack of proper infrastructure are in government schools. Few of them are:

1. “My English teacher makes students massage her head and press her hand and feet.Are teachers being paid for this?”
2.  “Students have to clean the classroom, roll number-wise, on a daily basis.”
3. “Teachers are always sleeping and when students call them they shoo them away,”
4. “Even though there is a water tank in the school premises there isn’t adequate water available and that students are not allowed to fill their water bottles.”

These are just a few problems. Hoping that such daring initiatives by children will work in their favour and will force the government to take action and implement the Right to Education Act effectively and deliver quality education to children belonging to the weaker sections of the society.

Read the complete article here: The Postcard Campaign in Delhi

Guest Post: Comparing School Performance

This is a guest post by S Anand who is the Chief Data Scientist at Gramener.

Continuing the design jams, we had one at Akshara’s office last weekend. The dataset we decided to pursue was the Karnataka SSLC results, which we had for the 5 years.
We addressed two questions:
  1. How do Government schools perform when compared to private schools?
  2. How does the medium of instruction affect marks in different subjects?
When comparing Government and private schools, here’s the result.
Each box is a school. The size of the box represents the number of students from that school who appeared in the Class X exam. (Only schools with at least 60 students were considered.) The colour represents the average mark – red is low, and green is high.
What’s immediately obvious is that private schools perform much better on average than Government schools, what’s less clear is when this difference starts. The series of graphs below show the number of schools at various mark ranges. The first shows schools with an average of 0 – 30%. The next, from 0 – 40%, and so on until 80%. Then it shows schools with an average of 30% – 100%. The next, from 40% – 100%, and so on until 80% – 100%.
From the first graph, you can see that there are as many poor schools (average 0 – 30%) among the private and Government schools. But from the last graph, you can see that there are far more good private schools (average 80 – 100%) than Government schools.
So, there are poor performing schools among the private schools as well. However, there are very few excellent Government schools.
We compared the impact of medium of instruction against the subjects as well. The table below shows boxes for each subject taken under each medium of instruction. The size of the box represents the number of students taking that combination. The colour indicates the average mark (red is low, green is high.)
Clearly, Sanksrit is a high scoring language. (At least one person at the design jam chose Sanskrit for this very reason.) Kannada scores well too – especially as a first or third language; but not as well as a second language.
On average, English medium students have the highest marks, followed by Kannada medium students. Students studying other in mediums of instruction perform poorly in most subjects barring their language.
There’s clearly a strong correlation between the medium and the subject. Kannada medium students score high in Kannada, Urdu medium students shore high in Urdu, and so on. But while English medium students do score high in English, they tend to score much better at Kannada, Urdu and Sanskrit!
You can explore these results at http://gramener/karnatakamarks/

Think outside the 25% box

RTE implementation must focus on improving standards in government schools

The provision for reserving 25 per cent seats in Class I for private unaided schools in the Right to Education Act is a red herring. About 30 per cent of the 76 lakh primary school children in Karnataka go to unaided private schools, mostly in urban areas, according to District Information System for Education (DISE) data. A 25 per cent reservation in Class I for the marginalised in these schools would impact about 1 per cent of the school-going child population. Based on the current scenario, over the next eight years, this will go up to about 7.5 to 10 per cent. Despite that, it has captured the imagination of the urban middle class, some of whom are paranoid at the possibility of “our kids” mingling with “those children”. Anyone who knows better would see it as a much-needed social leveller in a heavily class-divided school system. So, while this provision has symbolic value and may even be a door opener for some marginalised children, the heart of the matter lies in more mundane stuff.

In the last decade or so, we have seen an unprecedented expansion of the primary school system, largely due to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). With the proportion of habitations having access to a primary school and the number of children enrolled in these schools at all-time highs, the focus should now shift to quality of education, and that too in the government school system, where the bulk of our children will go for the foreseeable future. While most children have reasonable access to a school building, the RTE Act has rightly focussed on availability of basic infrastructure, such as qualified teachers, classrooms, playgrounds, toilets and safe drinking water in these schools. However, it has only gingerly ventured into the very important issue of the learning taking place in these schools. Sure, there are some circuitous attempts at it by mandating qualified teachers and the minimum number of instruction hours, but the matter has not been dealt with head on. Far too many children simply drop out of school because of this — they rightly see going to school as a waste of their time.

The RTE Act is a historic piece of legislation because it gives a legal right to free education to children between the ages of six and 14 and makes the government responsible for providing it. In rights lingo, children are right-holders and the government, mainly state governments, is the duty bearer. The focus, then, as is the case in a rights-based approach, should be to ensure that there is sufficient awareness and empowerment of the right-holders to demand quality education, and that there are sufficient resources and adequate capacity building by the duty bearer to offer quality education. It is when the children and parents (especially the marginalised) start demanding quality education in government schools, and the education department gears up to provide quality education in these schools — not only in terms of school infrastructure but also in terms of learning — that the RTE will be implemented in spirit. Making parents and children aware of their rights is an important first step; empowering them to make these demands is a close second. Similarly, building delivery systems in the government for efficient delivery is important. Civil society and the media have important roles to play here.

This dialogue can be enabled by the availability of accurate data. There is a widespread belief that enrollment numbers are over-reported, while out-of-school numbers are under-reported in government reports. A recent report pegged the number of children out-of-school children in Karnataka at around 40,000. A friend who runs a bridge school for the children of rag-pickers in a Bangalore slum estimates that there are more than 2500 out-of-school children in that one area alone. Similarly, data on infrastructure reports the installed rather than functional infrastructure. It is good to know that a school has toilets, but more important to know if the toilets have running water and whether they are accessible to children or simply locked up. Reporting on learning achievement in schools is only available through surveys such as the Annual Survey of Education Report, which are great for an overview of the system, but grossly inadequate to base focussed, school-level decisions on. The need of the hour is to have all this data at per school and per child levels so that focussed action can be taken to remedy an undesired situation through community empowerment and systemic capacity building. One such attempt at this is the Karnataka Learning Partnership (klp.org.in). This website provides data for all schools in Bangalore and some other locations in Karnataka. A similar database should be available for every school and every child in the state.

It is by addressing day-to-day issues such as these that the RTE can help improve the level of education in our society. One hopes that we move on from discussing the 25 per cent reservation clause to more substantive issues of ensuring that every child is in school and is learning well.

The writer Vikas Maniar is head of the In School programme at Akshara Foundation

Source: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/think-outside-the-25-box/938495/1

New features on the KLP website

So here’s something new that we wanted to share. http://klp.org.in/ has new features and data sets.

1. Demographic and financial reports of preschools and schools for Bangalore. It’s on the homepage or click here for a direct link.
2. The financial reports incorporate data from accountabilityindia.in and their PAISA report.
3. MLA constituency reports available from http://www.indiagoverns.org on our site. You can see them on the home page or click here.
4. Raw KLP data downloads are available too on the home page or from here.

Additional information and links to Accountability India and India Governs can be found at http://klp.org.in/text/reports
Akshara Foundation