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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

Right to Education

Today, the Supreme Court upheld the Constitutional validity of the Right to Education Act. What this means is that there will be 25% reservation in schools for students from economically weaker sections of the society. The RTE is applicable to government, local authority schools and private schools. This however, is not applicable to Boarding schools.

The law was brought by introducing Article 21(A) in the Constitution which says the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children between 6 and 14 years in such a manner as the state may, by law, determine.According to the petitioners, Section 3 of the Act imposed an absolute mandate on all schools, including private unaided and minority institutions, to admit without any choice each and every child whosoever comes to take admission in the schools in the neighborhood.

What this means is that any type of screening which is necessary for admission is prohibited. If a private school is unable to meet recognition norms, then the RTE Act de-recognises the school and forces it to close down. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has been mandated to monitor the implementation of this historic Right. A special Division within NCPCR will undertake this huge and important task in the coming months and years. 

Education – Open data in action

Anjanamma sits on the floor in her one-room tenement in Bangalore. She has three children – a girl and two boys – who study in nearby government schools and is a strong supporter of education. “It is necessary,” she says. “Let children attain something. Let them study.”
A forward-thinking mother, Anjanamma wants her daughter to complete her education. “We never studied. Let our children study and do well,” she says. Anjanamma feels that if Santosh could study well he could earn well too, get a good job, something other than the construction work his father is engaged in. “Education will help. He should study,” she says. But the public education system has failed them.
Karnataka, a state in southern India, is perhaps most famous for its capital city, Bangalore, and the attention it has received for being the information technology outsourcing capital of the world. Given its international stature, one would naturally assume that primary education is on a strong footing in the city and the state. Indeed, a recent surveyfound over 97% of children in the state attend a school, either private or public. Yet the same survey shows terrible learning levels – close to 60% of children in Standard 5 cannot read Standard 2 level text and over 80% of children in Standard 5 cannot do division. This horrific state of affairs threatens to ruin the lives of millions of children in Karnataka and much larger numbers across the country. The oft repeated rhetoric of elementary education being a fundamental right seems to be accompanied by a chronic inability to make public schools work for most children.
The Akshara Foundation was created in March 2000 as a partnership between government and civil society with a mission of “every child in school and learning well”. Over the past 12 years, Akshara has identified gaps in the availability of preschool and primary school education and provides simple solutions thatcan be delivered through the existing education system. It has also developed a robust analytical culture to demonstrate the impact of its work.
However, we have to acknowledge that all our work has been on the supply side of the education equation and that improving the quality of demand is key to making long term changes. We recognised a lack of publicly available data about public education was causing an imbalance between the education system and its usersand within the system itself, so we set up the Karnataka Learning Partnership.
We need to bring about transparency and use data-based evidence to push for reforms and accountability across the system.Usually, that would mean using existing government data, but our experience has highlighted a lack of technical and legal systems to be able to publish open educational dataand we have had to create the data sets ourselves.
This is a major undertaking and impossible for any one organisation, short of government, to achieve. KLP is now a technology and process platform that allows multiple organisations working in public schools to share data.
The KLP project has grownsince its original roll out in 2006. The project has been unique in its approach to the problem for multiple reasons. First, by design, the project is able to track and analyse educational outcomes of large numbers of children and measure the efficiency of programmes and organisations from the ground up. Second, it was conceived as a partnership and not as a single organisation working alone – this means many organisationsget the benefit of Akshara’s early efforts. Third, it has created a common database and a platform fororganisations working in different areas to pool their data and better analyse correlations across programs and geographies. Fourth, it allows all stakeholders to make decisions based on data and not anecdotal evidence. Finally, in an ongoing effort, it supports the establishmentof communities around the schools and this has helped develop greater accountability and enabled people to push for change.
This article is published by Guardian Professional.Author Gautam John is a qualified lawyer with a focus on intellectual property laws and now works with two non-profits in the primary education and children’s publishing space.

Akshara Foundation – Research Fellowship Programme

Akshara Foundation was set up with a mission to ensure Every Child in
School and Learning Well. Our work at Akshara Foundation is to
universalize equitable access to quality preschool and elementary
education for all children through multiple innovative models – a high
level of social empathy and a clear belief that we now have the unique
opportunity to bridge the gaps. Since its inception in March 2000,
Akshara has touched the lives of over 700,000 children in the state of
Karnataka, India. Akshara is an implementing, advocacy and research
organsiation focusing on elementary education in government schools
and preschools. Akshara is into programme-focused research since we
strongly believe in evidence based, measurable and scalable solutions
for policy implications.

Programmes/ Themes:

Research in Early Childhood Education around the world suggests that
early environment and experiences contribute significantly to child
development. In this context, learning assumes centrality because
child development happens in cognizance with learning. Akshara’s
preschool education programme with this theoretical framework as the
background. In 2011-12 Akshara has worked with over 1800 Anganwadis
run by the government’s ICDS scheme and impacted over 40,000 children.
Akshara maintains time series, panel data of all these children on
their learning outcomes. In addition, data on the community
intervention for improving the school preparedness programme in these
Anganwadis is maintained. This is, therefore, a good opportunity for
young researchers to use the database and produce pioneer research
based on evidence.

In the area of In-School programmes, Akshara’s reading program
implemented in 2006 reached 70,000 children, while the math programme
has impacted 36,000 children so far.  Libraries were set up in 1400
government schools and stocked with high quality age appropriate
content, ion many locations in digital form as well. Over 640,000
books are now in circulation in six languages in these libraries. This
effort has helped us collect census data on children. We also have the
structure in place to conduct qualitative studies, both relating to
primary government school education and preschool education. Akshara
Ganitha and Basic English programmes are implemented in around 700
government schools that are reaching out to 50,000 children. These
programmes are aligned to the objectives specified by the National
Curriculum Framework 2005 and learning outcomes are

Researcher’s Delight:  The excitement is about the working with KLP
data.The Karnataka Learning Partnership – KLP –  (www.klp.org.in)
championed by  Akshara is a dynamic data platform that provides
immense possibilities of researching cross section and time series

Akshara now invites researchers for its Fellowship Programmes.

Possible Researcher roles:
• Developing research designs and proposals , designing of research
instruments, data collection in the field, statistical analysis and
report writing
• Analysis of historical data collected by Akshara and delivering
outputs including both research reports and academic papers.
• Writing of reports and presentation of findings to internal and
external audiences, including policy makers, besides key stakeholders.

Requirements for researchers:
• Strong statistical experience, including knowledge of STATA or SPSS or R
• Knowledge of social policy, education or economics, preferably in a
development context
• Excellent English speaking ,writing and presentation skills
• Initiative and a strong work ethic
• Willingness to live and work in Bangalore for an extended period of
time. And travel within Karnataka.
• Experience of field research in developing countries and knowledge
of Kannada would also be advantageous.  Stipend will be paid for the
stay duration. Please send your resume along with a 1000-word essay on
your opinion on the key issues in elementary education and possible
solutions to :

Ms. K.Vaijayanti at  vaijayanti@akshara.org.in.

And do visit www.akshara.org.in and www.klp.org.in for more
information on Akshara Foundation and Karnataka Learning Partnership.


When primary education minister Mr.Kageri announced that free education for children in the age group of 6 & 14 will be implemented in Karnataka shortly, it was indeed something to cheer for.
At around the same time, we saw the ‘Ba Magu Shaalege’ take off at  Bantwal. For all the non-Kannadigas out there, ‘Ba Magu Shaalege’ means ‘Come to school, child’. This is an innovative project which encourages parents to choose government schools over private ones.
Dakshina Kannada Zilla Panchayat Higher Primary School, Pilimogaru welcomed 11 new students who have taken admission in the school. This school is one of 196 government schools in the taluk that offer a variety of incentives to parents, if they enrol their children in the government schools. Sounds interesting? There’s more…….

Spoken English is taught here once a week and so is Yoga and Yakshagana. The school also conducts mock cabinet sessions and gardening classes too focusing on the overall development of the children. If this isn’t tempting enough for the parents, the School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) also deposits Rs.1000 in the child’s bank account!!!!!!

Generally when people think of government schools, they think of a shanty with no proper utilities. However, the school has all the requisite facilities like purified water, toilets, a playground and library. The government is working on providing quality education and is trying to attract more students to enrol. The block education officer of Bantwal taluk visits every house encouraging parents to send their children to government schools. Parents are welcome to assess the school.

Parents who have enrolled their children so far are satisfied with the quality of education provided and some have even commented on this being better than private schools! Kudos to the administration at Bantwal, who are walking the extra mile to provide quality education to all!

Attending TEDxDomlurChange

Today was an eventful day. Akshara shared TEDxDomlurChange at the Bangalore International Centre. TEDx is a program of local, self-organised events that bring people together to share a TED like experience. This event revolved around education.
To start with, the 90 minute webcast from the main event at Berlin was played. The BIG picture event was convened by Melinda French Gates and hosted by Chris Anderson. Jeff Chapin (IDEO), Sven Giegold ( Member of the European Parliament), Thea Sowa ( AWDF), Babaa Maal (musician) and Melinda Gates (Gates foundation) gave us great insights into their work and the challenges that need to be addressed. At the end of the 90 minutes, we were already overwhelmed and raging to make some contribution to the society.

And to get a closer look at what was happening back home, we had an opportunity to listen to big change makers like Nina Nayak Chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Chanchalapathi Dasa from the Akshaya Patra Foundation, and Tara Kini a well-known educational consultant.

Ms. Nina Nayak spoke about the educational challenges being faced by the rural population around Karnataka. It’s not an easy task to reach out to the entire population and educating them on what’s available. Nor is it easy to get the government to look at the current issues and policies and make concrete changes. She sent out a clear message that the society needs volunteers to help make those changes!

Chanchalapathi Dasa spoke of the story behind Akshaya Patra and the current reach it has. Although most of us in Bangalore know about the Akshaya Patra’s contribution, very few knew about how the entire system works. Through videos and pictures, we were able to visualize the tremendous amount of effort and co-ordination that went behind it. It’s amazing to see how many children benefit out of the mid-day meal programme in India! Needless to say, Chanchalapathi Dasa received a standing ovation for the contribution Akshaya Patra has made to society!

Ms. Tara Kini started off with a beautiful rendition of a folk song. She went to explain how music and culture can be collaborated to bring about a change in the way it is taught. We were introduced to very unique techniques that had been used to reach out to a wider audience. Very simple, yet very powerful methods!

By the end of the session, you could see the motivation in everyone’s eyes. A lot of people enquired about the various volunteering opportunities and were keen on being a part of ‘The Big Picture’ themselves!

Setting up and running a school Library

Here’s an update on what we’ve been upto.

Akshara conducted a training on Library Techniques and Process for a team from Shimoga on March 3rd 2012. The trainees were initially taken for a Visit to a school- GKHPS Dodda Banasawadi where our Library program has been implemented and is functioning smoothly.

After the exposure visit we had detailed training sessions along with hands-on activities.The agenda of the training included the “Programmes of Akshara Foundation, Library Programme – Importance and Implementation, Techniques and Processess of the Library Programme”. 

At the Library ‘GKHPS Doddabanasawadi’
The training session

The training was a success and we hope we’ll get to see the positive impacts really soon.

Reforming Primary Education in India

Live Mint has an extensive piece on the reforms required in primary Education in India by Gulzar Natarajan.

India is a fast developing country with an ever-increasing literacy rate but is it an apt indicator of education in India?

Three independent source-  Annual Status of Education Report brought out by Pratham, the programme for international student assessment (PISA) survey of 15-year-olds, and the Quality Education Study 2011 conducted by Wipro and Educational Initiatives have brought into light the sad state of affairs when it comes to primary education in India.

Education must be done within the context of the culture which it serves. A push-down-curriculum is hardly the answer We need to start looking at education in a more subjective way. Each situation is different and each individual is different and this is where comes the need for differential education.

Read the article here.

Akshara Foundation