Addressing Scale and Sustainability in Early Education in India

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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



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

Ashok Kamath
Chairman & Managing Trustee, Akshara Foundation

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

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

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



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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Teacher’s Dedication

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



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

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

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

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

– By Shanbhulinga, Akshara Foundation

A Story of a Tanda

This is the story of an education-oriented community.



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

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

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

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

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

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

– By Maruti Mallapur, Akshara Foundation

Stakeholders laud the impact of Ganitha Kalika Andolana on children.

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

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

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

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

About Akshara Foundation: Akshara Foundation was set up with a mission to ensure Every Child in School and Learning Well. We believe that quality education is the undeniable right of every child and children should not be deprived of it just because they do not have access to it or the resources to realise their dreams. Visit: www.akshara.org.in

About SSA: Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is Government of India’s flagship programme for achievement of Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE) in a time bound manner, as mandated by 86th amendment to the Constitution of India making free and compulsory Education to the Children of 6-14 years age group, a Fundamental Right.

Engaging the community to make schools accountable for delivering quality education

Via 

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes: ASER is the largest citizen-led survey in India that provides information on children’s school enrolment and basic learning levels across the country. A gram panchayat is the cornerstone of a local self-government organisation in India of the Panchayati Raj system at the village or small-town level and has a sarpanch as its elected head. In 2014, only 11.8% and 20.1% of students from grades 4 and 5 respectively, could solve division-level problems.

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

STARS OF HOPE – Impact of Progressive Communities on Learning

The Government Kannada Lower Primary School in Marasandahalli, Hosakote block, Bangalore Rural District, has not changed in all these years that Akshara has been working here. It looks like a little village abode even now, an overhang of foliage framing the veranda. Around 25-30 children, classes 1-5, poorly equipped as before, two teachers, and under-resourced.



In a small, half-lit classroom, one of only two in the school, teacher Shyam Shankar directs a Mathematics class for grades 4 and 5 with Akshara’s teaching-learning materials (TLMs) – the square counters, base ten blocks, fraction strips, decimal set and much else making for random choreography on the floor. Shyam Shankar would not have it any other way in his Mathematics class.

Akshara’s Mathematics programme, Akshara Ganitha, ended here two years ago. But this dedicated teacher, who took up Mathematics as his discipline midway into his 15-year career only because he was inspired by the programme, preserves its TLM kit with respect. “I use it every day. Absolutely,” he says.

It shows. Many of his students are achievers. In 2016-17, Chetan gained admission to class 6 in Navodaya and Monisha to Morarji . In 2017-18, Tanushree and Varshini made it to Navodaya. Not many children move meritoriously from government schools to quality-conscious Navodaya and Morarji schools for secondary stage education. The passage is arduous.

“They were able to score well because of the Mathematics coaching with Akshara’s TLMs,” says Shyam Shankar. “Children get a good foundation because of it. Their skills become stronger.”

In September 2016, Tanushree bagged the 1st prize and Varshini the 2nd in the Gram Panchayat Mathematics Contest Akshara Foundation held, in which the Marasandahalli school was one of the 9 participating schools. Close to 100 children from classes 4, 5 and 6 contested. Tanushree and Varshini had already crossed the threshold to bigger things in Navodaya, but represented their old school, holding aloft its flag of merit.

This is not the only banner flying high. As enlightened teachers, Shyam Shankar and his colleague know the value of engaging the community. Akshara’s community engagement team says, “There’s cooperation between the teachers and the people. Parents visit the school regularly to ask about the progress of their children. The teachers have the mobile numbers of all the parents. There’s trust between these two stakeholders.”

The team also acts as a catalyst, bringing together villagers, parents, teachers and students to sustain the momentum for education. In a progressive village like Marasandahalli, it is not hard to do. It has 483 people and a literacy rate of 60.80%, not too high, comparatively. The educational impetus, however, is strong in a village which has hardly any transport connectivity, and where the livelihoods are dairy, silkworm rearing and small-scale trade. “The important thing is the villagers have the enthusiasm to educate their children,” the team says.

Chetan, Monisha, Tanushree and Varshini are the new generation, their aspirational urge nurtured by a good government school, supportive teachers and an education-oriented community.

– Lakshmi Mohan for Akshara Foundation

STARS OF HOPE – Rakshita’s Perfect Scores!

On 27th  September 2017, Chinchanooru village in Aland taluk, Kalaburgi district held a school level Gram Panchayat math contest. This was just one of the scheduled GP contests, similar to the ones Akshara Foundation has been facilitating all across the state, this past year. So what makes this one stand out? Read on.

The Govt. Higher Primary School, Chinchanooru played host to the competition this time around. Four government schools come under this Gram Panchayat, and the total number of children who participated in the contest that day was 203.



After the fanfare of an elaborate inauguration ceremony, the question papers were distributed and the contest finally began. When the education volunteers evaluated the answer sheets and the results were announced, the winners’ marks were also disclosed during the prize distribution ceremony.

Rakshita, daughter of Jettappa, a daily-wage labourer, had scored 20 out of 20, pleasantly surprising everyone in the crowd. Now that’s an amazing score to have, considering some of the numbers that come up.

Amidst the cheers and jubilations, one of the GP members, Mr. Shivasharanappa Sajjan objected to the marks scored by Rakshita, saying it is impossible for this girl to score 100% mark in this contest, while many others have scored far fewer marks.

The 2nd and 3rd prize winners were at a considerable distance in terms of marks scored. He insisted that the prize distribution ceremony be stopped at once and Rakshita be made to answer all the 20 questions once again.

And so, a different question paper was given to Rakshita. She set out to take the new test. Scoring a perfect score again, Rakshita put every objection back in its place, and rightly so!



The entire crowd was overjoyed and so were we, at Rakshita’s math prowess. The standing ovation that followed resounded thunderously in the grounds, and went on for a while, amidst bells, whistles and claps, of course.

What followed afterwards was something no one expected.

Not only did Rakshita get the GP contest prize of Rs. 1,000/- which was anyway due to her,but she also got another Rs. 1000/- from the person who challenged her math abilities, Mr. Shivasharanappa Sajjan. Such a  great sport!

The vice president of the Gram Panchayat gave another Rs. 1000/- prize, another GP member Rs. 500/- and a village youth education volunteer Rs. 500/- and the School Head Master  further added Rs. 500/- to this kitty.

Instead of going home with a 1st (cash) prize of Rs. 1,000/- , she mopped up Rs. 4,500/- at the end of the day!

It was a truly memorable GP contest, especially because of the kind of support Rakshita got from the entire village.

Congratulations Rakshita! You are without a doubt, one of our stars.

Please see: All images are a reference to a GP contest held in schools, and not of the one talked about.

The Odisha Chapter Begins 

Stepping into Odisha is an ambitious outreach for Ganitha Kalika Andolana. Balangir and Rayagada, the programme’s terrain, are two backward districts where learning indicators are not so strong.

Setting the course for GKA’s Odisha chapter was the Master Resource Persons’ (MRPs) training that Akshara conducted for 50 teachers from the two districts. They gathered in sylvan Chikkaballapur outside Bangalore, determined to pursue their new course material as a teaching-learning opportunity.



They were GKA’s MRPs who, as master disseminators, will cascade the training to batches of teachers in Balangir and Rayagada. Surya Narayan Mishra, Deputy Director, Planning and Training, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), hand-picked them from amongst the best and brightest in the districts.

They were Mathematics teachers, youngish, enterprising, with an open mind. Most of them had a BSc and quite a few an MSc with Mathematics as their specialisation.

Akshara’s Master Trainer those five intensive days was a seasoned veteran, – her speciality, Mathematics, training, engagement. The teachers were near-perfect trainees, diligent as students, poring over Akshara’s Training Manual, experimenting with the kit, and listening. Profuse note-taking filled square-lined notebooks, the grid and calculus coming up with speedy precision. GKA’s methodology received extensive treatment. They wrote explanations, underlined crucial points, worked through sums.



By Day 2, they had a deeper sense of the value chain they could create when GKA reached 4600 classrooms and 1,98,000 children.

The training content contained the GKA sweep, with the Trainer explaining the methodology in detail. The CRA Cycle – C for concrete, or the teaching-learning materials (TLMs); R for representational, or procedural clarity; A for abstract, or the ultimate conclusions of Mathematics. The 5E Model of Learning – Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate. Group Learning Strategies, and concepts in the class 1-5 Mathematics syllabus.

“Take children in stages,” the Trainer said. “The first two stages are transit places. You can’t have C, R and A going in different directions. So how will you build your bridge? You develop a relationship with the three stages.”

“I teach in a hinterland school. Children don’t understand how many 10s there are in 100,” a teacher despaired. “Teach with colours, take the abacus, take the number line, the base 10 blocks,” said the Trainer. “Linger over the representational stage, that’s where understanding comes. Reinforce.”



The mood had lightened in the first two or three hours of the training. The unfamiliarity with GKA and its TLMs, the unknowing, had dissolved. Participants erupted in the delight of figuring something out or probed further and questioned, groups of them talking together. The Trainer encouraged it. “The energy of excitement is a positive vibe. If children exult in your Mathematics class, it is a eureka moment. It means they have discovered something.”

The days went by in camaraderie, unlearning and learning, and a spirit of inquiry.

In their feedback forms, teachers marked a vigorous Yes for parameters like: usefulness and effectiveness of the GKA TLM kit; group learning; and training content and design.



They felt they were privileged to be a select group that had mastered GKA’s teaching concepts and understood the importance of the andolan, or movement, they could unleash, and were ready to hit the ground as soon as they reached Odisha.

– Lakshmi Mohan  

Spreading the joy of Mathematics to six more districts.

Karnataka State Government rolls out Phase 2 of Ganitha Kalika Andolana in collaboration with Akshara Foundation.

October 20, 2016: The Karnataka State Government and Akshara Foundation, today signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to roll out Phase 2 of Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) – a Public-Private Partnership Programme to improve numeracy skills and facilitate classroom teaching of Mathematics. This phase will include all government primary schools in Bengaluru Rural, Chamarajanagara, Chitradurga, Chikkaballapura, Dharwad and Gadag Districts of Karnataka.

In June 2015, the State Government, supported through the Hyderabad Karnataka Regional Development Board (HKRDB) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) had launched Phase 1 of GKA in the six districts of the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, namely Gulbarga, Yadgir, Raichur, Koppal, Bellary and Bidar.

Following the Honorable Chief Minister of Karnataka’s budget announcement for the year 2016-17 made on 18th March, 2016 related to the ‘expansion of activity based Math Programme for grades 4th and 5th in government primary schools’, Phase 2 of GKA will reach out to approximately 1.36 lakh students of grades 4 and 5, in approximately 4,930 Government Primary schools in Bengaluru Rural, Chamarajanagara, Chitradurga, Chikkaballapura, Dharwad and Gadag Districts.

Akshara Foundation will be in charge of developing and providing the content for the Ganitha Kalika Andolana kits, teacher’s manual and concept cards; developing and distributing math videos that will demonstrate all the math concepts taught till grade 5 with the use of TLMs provided in the kit and monitoring and assessment of the children’s learning levels through the course of the programme.

The State Government through SSA will ensure that the Math Kits are procured and delivered to all the schools in the six districts and that the teachers and resource persons are trained. Akshara Foundation will bring in the Master Trainers for this phase of the programme as well.

The comprehensive teaching methodology envisaged in the GKA programme is compliant with the guidelines prescribed by the National Curriculum Framework 2005 and supports the textbooks and workbooks designed by the Karnataka Department of State Educational Research and Training (DSERT).

Only about a fifth of the children studying in Grade 5 of Government primary schools in India are able to do basic division, putting them behind children in private schools at the same level. Akshara Foundation, in partnership with the Karnataka government and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan aims to bridge this very gap and reach out to all primary schoolchildren across Karnataka by the year 2020 through this programme.

About GKA: Ganitha Kalika Andolana is a model support programme aimed at bridging learning gaps in math among children in grades four and five by using an activity based creative approach and peer learning rather than rote application of mathematical concepts. The programme also aims to build significant math capacity among teachers in the state.

About SSA: Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is Government of India’s flagship programme for achievement of Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE) in a time bound manner, as mandated by 86th amendment to the Constitution of India making free and compulsory Education to the Children of 6-14 years age group, a Fundamental Right.

About Akshara Foundation: Akshara Foundation was set up with a mission to ensure Every Child in School and Learning Well. We believe that quality education is the undeniable right of every child and children should not be deprived of it just because they do not have access to it or the resources to realise their dreams.

Visit: www.akshara.org.in