Coimbatore celebrates the Lego Kondattam



 The Bosch CSR team organized a series of Lego games in a few Government schools in Coimbatore. They aptly named the event Lego Kondattam. The idea behind this initiative was to provide opportunity to the Government school students, their parents and teachers to exhibit and display their creativity, team spirit and to improve their presentation skills.
The Lego activity was held at 4 different schools namely
   GHSS, Gandhimanagar,
   GHSS, Saravanampatti,
   GHSS, Idigarai,
   GHSS, Ganapathy.

GHS Gandhimanagar:
The first of the Lego activity was organized at the Gandhimanagar Government High School on 16th Feb. Over 120 students of standard 6th to 10th participated in this activity. The session started with a video on Lego games which created a real momentum for this activity. The success story of the Founder of Lego motivated the students’ big time.  They were then provided with 4 baskets of Lego Bricks and they had to build up a story around the theme “World of Stories”. 120 students were split into 4 groups and given 1 hour time to build their own story on a theme of their choice and 5 minutes to explain their theme.
At the end of the hour, one team explained how the global warming was showing its effects. The other team explained the value of human potential and the innumerable opportunities available for a healthy and wealthy living. While the third team exhibited the colossal effect of deforestation and the forth one exhibited their wish of future ‘Gandhimanagar’ which had everything just like any other modern      high-tech city.
Towards the end of this activity the students, teachers and the parents all had not just enjoyed the group activity with the Lego blocks but also learnt that games and creativity can teach better.

GHS Saravanampatty
The CSR volunteers reached the school at 4pm on a Friday and were introduced about the LEGO Kondattam. The students were packed with excitement and enthusiasm. They were then divided into teams of 4 and given detailed instructions about the activity. The Lego video was shown to the students and the volunteers took special efforts to make this activity an interactive as well as an informative one.
They were given one hour to come up with their own creative model with the Lego kit and to create an imaginative story.  At the beginning it was a clash and mishmash of ideas but then the volunteers made them realize that “United they stand strong and divided they fall”.  The leaders were chosen in each team and they directed the team while the others coordinated them well. Towards the end of the activity each team ended up with an artistic model and story. The parents, teachers and the students all loved the fact that they apart the children were learning important traits like team spirit and leadership skills.

Kids and volunteers at work
GHS Idigarai:
The Lego Kondattam in Idigarai School began at 10am on a fine Saturday morning. The campus was a bright and a cheerful one with lot of trees and birds. The teachers and the alumni of the school greeted and welcomed the volunteers with an infectiously enthusiastic smile. The students had already gathered for the celebration. The room well furnished inside and had sophisticated projector, laptop and speakers lighted up the zeal in the volunteers.
The Lego video was played and explained to the students. They were then divided in groups of fours. The teachers, parents and students all were equally excited to know that learning could be this fun. The students came up with some interesting themes and one team even managed to build the “Idigarai College of engineering and technology”.

GHSS Ganapathy: The Lego kondattam journey marched towards GHSS Ganapathy on a cheerful Saturday at 2.30 pm.  A hearty welcome by the students and the teachers made the volunteers happy. The activity of team building began by grouping the students into four teams and the volunteers were assigned to take care of each team. They were presented with the Lego video so that they could grasp the basic idea of working on with it.
Then as in every school the activity started and the students enthusiastically involved themselves in the activity. The teachers, parents and students contributed greatly to the event making it a huge success.
The teachers, parents and the students were more than happy to have learnt lessons on leadership and teamwork in such a fun way.

The Pilot ICDS programme project takes off in Malur

A training session in  progress

Educating a child isn’t just a decision but an investment on which depends the future of a nation. This simply means improved quality of life of its citizens and a path of planned development to be followed. With this in mind, the Government of India launched the ICDS programme better known as the Integrated Child Development Service on 2nd October 1975. 

ICDS has come a long way over the years, and now is one of the world’s largest programmes working for the holistic development of young children. It has been instrumental in enabling mothers to care for their young children by providing services and appropriate information, support and guidance. The services provided under ICDS have had a positive impact on the health and nutritional status of children, helped in reducing infant mortality, and created awareness in the community on many issues.

The Anganwadi worker is grass root worker. She is the main link person to the community and the several departments like health local government and other government schemes related to woman and child. These include schemes like Bhagya lakshmi, promoting self help groups, opening Bank accounts, health talks on nutrition for adolescent girls, pregnancy and lactating mothers, immunization of the child and pregnant lady, information pertaining to the birth and death of the child and so on. With all this information she is responsible for maintaining the records, and interacting with the community.

Akshara found that with so much responsibility the worker could not give time to the preschool children in her centre. Most often the children were left on their own and were found wasting their learning time doing nothing. This simply meant that these children were bound to face more problems in the formal school.

According to the child psychologist age 3 to 6 is a challenging phase for children and this is when the child learns to think, recognize and recite. This in turn will help build a foundation of concepts for his or her formal education. Therefore, pre-school eligible children coming to the center are undergoing formal education after a year or two without the basic foundation of school readiness and self help skills. 

 Akshara foundation plans to support a 3rdworker to this Anganwadi to focus only on preschool education of the children in school readiness and skill based activities.
The preparatory phase included getting a permission letter from the Commissioner. Talking to the district level officer (Deputy Director), CDPO about the program they were informed that this will be a pilot program in Kolar district, ICDS project in Malur taluka, and selected 2-3 circles with a maximum of 60 Anganwadis.

The Execution phase included selection of  2-3 circles with a  maximum of 60 villages, identify eligible candidates, train them with curriculum, class room management, how to handle the children with theory and practical sessions and send them to the field.

Eligibility criteria included a girl who would be a student studying her Pre-University course or completed and be a resident of the same village.Apprentice would undergo training of 14 days with salary. Once the training is complete she will be placed in the Anganwadi.

The duration of the training is 14 working days with practical and theory sessions.Once the training concluded the Anganwadi worker will be given a set of TLM to conduct the activities for the children.
Centre assessments would be conducted before starting the program and towards the end of the program.
Child assessment would be conducted in 2 phases namely pre and post assessment to compare the learning outcome of each child. These results would be shared with the mothers in a meeting along with the CDPO and supervisors.

We succeeded in identifying 40 volunteers from 40 villages, out of the total 40 participants, 37 girls completed the training from 11th– 16th February 2013 and they are now undergoing practical sessions in their Anganwadi.  They will again have two days training on the 25th and the 26th of February for the remaining sessions. Though this is a pilot project it shows great promise and will be a beneficial step for both the Anganwadi workers as well as the children.

Asma’s Balwadi – A Shining Example of Grit and Hard work


This is an inspiring story of Asma who chose to make a difference in her own little way and emerged triumphant.

In an inner enclave beyond busy main roads lies Nehrupuram, its streets scrupulously clean, no garbage heaps, big and small, that Bangalore struggles to clear every day. It is a thriving community that lives here, with a hunger for self-advancement. Asma Moosa lives here and  is a stellar example, a compulsion for public good driving her.

Asma is one of Akshara’s eminently successful independent balwadi volunteers, a person admired and respected by her community. It started way back  in 2000 when Asma was all of eighteen, young, capable, yearning for bigger goals. She was famous for taking tuitions. At one point she had 100 students in three batches. Getting started with an independent Balwadi  was hence something that was soon to follow. This independent balwadi was an opportunity towards educational entrepreneurship, social development and academic grooming of little children. In Asma’s words “A job that takes the community forward.”

The prospect of being stranded at home and doing housework after completing school was not an enticing one, and her mother was already planning her marriage. Asma, in her characteristically mild way, refused to be typecast, to fit into preordained moulds. This simply meant her family was not willing to send her to work. However, an independent Balwadi being a home based venture made things easy for Asma. This simply meant giving back to society while ensuring a modest personal economic stability along with family support.

Asma was quiet familiar with Akshara and the work they were doing. This was when she approached Fatima, an Akshara librarian in a government school nearby. This was indeed the turning point of her life and she realized her true calling.

Akshara’s training for independent Balwadi volunteers not just trained her but also opened new avenues for Asma. It taught her skills she never knew she needed – managing children, extracting the best out of them, helping realize their potential. The significance of preschool education and how it builds foundations for later development was new to her, and she never knew so much was possible with teaching-learning material. It had seemed like child’s play opening a balwadi. Now she knew what it meant. Most importantly the training taught her how to harmonise an entrepreneurial streak with community service.

Asma set up her balwadi in a room in her mother’s house. Akshara provided her with everything she needed to start a preschool. All the teaching-learning material, books, forms, registers, identity cards for the children, even pins and clips, she happily quips. She was out in the community every day searching for children for her balwadi, coaxing parents. “Only three children turned up on the first day,” she says, quietly reliving what could easily have turned into a disaster.


Her house-to-house searches for children and persuasions in the community yielded steady results. Asma’s hard work, and a slowly spreading acknowledgment of it, paid off. Soon students began trickling in and the number changed from 3 to a bunch of 40 kids. Asma charged Rs. 50 per student. She was the proud recipient of  a trophy from Akshara for drawing the highest number of children in the first year of operations.

Asma’s marriage in 2008 seemed to shadow her success as her husband did not want her to work but her dogged determination won.  Today Asma operates out of a new multi-storeyed building the Maulvi of the mosque next door has provided her. Her balwadi has grown. She has 135 students in four sections – pre-nursery, nursery, Lower Kindergarten (LKG) and Upper Kindergarten (UKG), all compartmentalized and in distinct sections with separate curriculums. Asma runs an English medium preschool. It is a professional set-up. 

If her balwadi has grown so has Asma. She has a big reputation for preschool education in Nehrupuram. “I am famous in this area because of Akshara. And yes, people acknowledge me as a good teacher,” she says with humility.

What has made this journey possible? It is her never say die attitude and  hard work. She hopes to be a role model and make her school an ideal example for others to follow. In spite of her rise and the position she holds in her community Asma maintains her humility. She herself laid down terms for herself, but with sensitivity. Today, her 3 ½ year old son does not study in her balwadi because he cannot accept his mother as a teacher, is looked after a lot of the time by her mother, leaving Asma free to shoulder her work. It indeed  is a two-way street but she manages it all with dedication and sincerity.

Asma negotiated with her family for that work-space in her life, to be allowed to do something better, larger, meaningful, without cutting off relationships. “If women are not allowed to go out and do something they can do it at home. But women should do something. They play a decisive role especially in education”.

An Objective Analysis of Swalpa English, Thumba Fun

Dr. Kalavathi B.K, who is the Executive Director of Anveshna Foundationhas been the Master Resource Person for Akshara’s English Program since it’s inception. Here, Dr. Kalavathi, does and objective analysis of the components of the programme – the Teaching Learning Materials and the Training Package. Shares her experiences of the lasting impact created by Akshara’s Swalpa English, Thumba Fun on teachers, which enables them to teach English with ease in the classes.
 
I have been associated with Akshara’s English programme for the past 4 years, right from its inception of designing the package to its implementation towards becoming “Swalpa English, Thumba Fun”. It is always nice to see Ms Kanchan Banerjee, the Managing Trustee, taking personal interest in the program and striving to improvise and upgrade it from year to year, based on the changing needs of the target group. Now, let’s do an objective analysis of the programme:

Training package: The package includes both Teacher’s manual and hands on training for the teachers as well as departmental Resource Person (RP)s . The Training manual is very simple with clear instructions to the teacher and the RPs; it has “Thematic Graded Content” which is teacher-friendly, based on inculcating Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing Skills. It also instructs the teacher regarding the day to day transaction of each lesson very clearly and also mentions which TLM to be used along with the content. The package contains lot of language games and strategies which will enrich the English language environment in the class.
The training is provided in two phases; Initial Orientation and refresher phase. Initial Orientation phase is for 5 days in the month of May and refresher phase for 2 days in the month of October. This is a teacher friendly training using various strategies and interventions in a workshop mode on a one to one basis. The training not only enhances the English Language skills of the teachers but also boosts their self confidence and motivates them to implement the package in the classrooms. It also provides them lot of extra tips regarding implementing the package in the classroom. The Statistics of the English Language Program of past 2 years clearly indicates the success rate of this program and can be validated as it is drawn through a pre-test and post-test design. The program has inbuilt evaluation as the teachers have to plot on”Pragathi Nota” at the end of each lesson.

Teaching Learning Materials (TLM):The TLM includes- Flash cards, Flip over Charts, workbooks, Reading Cards and High Frequency Sight Vocabulary Chart. Each Lesson from the teachers’ manual has been divided into two parts, namely-
  • Rhymes
  • Conversation and TPR Activities.
     
They are supplemented by Stories, Alphabet Phonic Songs, Reading and Writing Material. The rhymes are supported with mobile rhymes to make the teachers recollect the way the alphabet songs and rhymes were sung. The workbooks have been differently graded for classes I, II, III and IV. The material developed has been simple, graded, attractive realistic and suitable to the grass root level- both for the children and Teachers. The print material used is also long lasting and child friendly. Measures have been taken to introduce the vocabulary which is familiar to the rural children. It has been upgraded and improvised on the felt need and feedback received by the stakeholders annually.

My direct experience in the training classroom: The teachers as well as the RPs initially started with an attitude to mean- “Oh! another training!” Later, as they were made comfortable with icebreakers they settled into the comfort zone and got involved in the program. As the training was in a workshop mode with many strategies, they all willingly participated with interest. They found the rhyme sessions very interesting and asked for more new rhymes, they asked for the rhymes between the other activities as a warm up. They enjoyed the individual activities more than the group activities. In their session end feedback they said that they would look forward to more of Akshara English training program as it empowered them to use English in their classrooms. They also felt the workbooks and lessons were simple and realistic. It would help them to transact better as it was graded and attractively presented. They wanted more of Grammar support and to fulfill this requirement Akshara’s monthly worksheets helped them a lot. On the whole the teachers as well as the RPs actively participated in the training. Each one came forward to enact the stories as role plays and enjoyed it. They enjoyed the whole training program and said it was like going back to their school days. It was seen that by the end of the 5th day they were more empowered with spoken English and they also affirmed it by saying that it had built in the confidence and capacity to handle their English classes better, in unison all of them said that they would want this training again and again. They were also in touch with me during the break in between the initial orientation and refresher programs and it has continued to be.
During the refresher sessions most of the participants of the earlier training sessions were present and they said they were looking forward to the refresher training. They said they enjoyed teaching alphabet phonic songs and were equally liked by the children and it made their job of associating the sound –symbol association, easy. They said this training has helped their children more and the children also were motivated to learn more. In the refresher session I noticed all of them spoke in English with confidence though some with errors. I also noticed that the errors had come down.
At this point, I need to share a particular incident which touched me deeply, this happened during the first training program, where I had to train teachers of Bangalore North. The trainees were an assorted lot of all ages and backgrounds. There were elderly people who were about to retire too. The training program was rigorous and all of them had to be treated equally and I did it. The last day, a very senior teacher, who had all the while hesitated to participate freely, and who was not very fluent in English, came voluntarily and told me, “Beti, you are like my daughter and you have done the training very well and this has helped me. I will use it in the class for my children. I pray Allah to Bless you”, and that too in English. My day was made and I was overwhelmed with emotion and this action showed me how successful our training program was. I strongly believe “Action speaks louder than mere words”. Doesn’t this anecdote speak loads about the program?

Response of teachers/ RPs in both sessions:
As I have mentioned in my direct experience, though the teachers and the RPs started with an “attitude”, they quickly realized the simplicity and ease of use and implementation of the program.

They opined :
The way the training was being given (individualistic) had empowered them to speak English and had given them the confidence to take it forward and teach/ train their children/ trainees. The many strategies which were used during the training sessions had given them clear picture regarding how English could be taught in a play-way method in the class. The package was realistic and simple and the training funfiled and interesting which motivated them to actively participate. The rhymes and stories selected were simple and teachable to their students. They also appreciated the “mobile support”. The TPR activities with language games were interesting. The conversation was useful as it involved simple day to day vocabulary. The TLM was attractive and easy to use. The workbooks were well graded with simple but attractive pictures helped them to motivate the children to write.
Changes in teachers by 2nd session:
There was a visible change in their English speaking skills by the second session. They were also eager to learn more English and implement in the class. They asked for clarification regarding the grammar doubts they had collected. They interacted freely and confidently. They shared their happiness regarding how their classrooms were charged with a fun filled English environment and how their children loved the English period now. Their sentence structures had visibly improved.

Interaction with participants during activities:
They found the rhyme sessions and role plays very interested. They also opined that picture reading and story building were highly suitable for their classroom. They said individual activities like pick and speak, dialogue extensions, division of attention activities helped them a lot to enhance their attention and confidence. They found the language web an interesting way to teach grammar and sentences.
They also said that they liked the way hands on trainingwas being provided for each trainee which helped them in carrying over it to the class as well as the training sessions.

Myoverview of the scenario in Mundargi:
We entered the BRC center in Mundargi for the 2day refresher session, only to be welcomed by bright faced trainees who said were very happy to see us back. They spoke in fluent English but ofcourse, with minor errors! Their level of confidence surprised me, each one was eager to share their training experiences as I started asking informally. Infact, we did not need an icebreaker to start the session but as it was in the manual we started, only to get the use of their imaginary money spent in funny ways and some did even say they had spent it on buying books for their school children. They all had used the past tense correctly!

    Next, the class was divided into five groups to share their experiences and each group was asked to brain storm and discuss on- rhymes, flashcards, TPR activities, story telling and workbook, which they effectively did and raised lot of questions, keeping their training perspective in mind and gave their opinions on:
  • How they used the TLM in classroom?
  • Why is TLM important in language learning?
  • Has it helped children learn the English language?

And feedback was collected regarding their usage of TLM and its effectiveness with children. It was surprising to see all of them boldly giving out their views without any inhibition.

The main objective of the refresher course was to orient on reading skills for which the trainees had to use reading cards to blend associated phonic sounds. They clearly asked their doubts regarding blending and enquired why the blend has to be like this and why not like the way they wanted to use, which came as a pleasant surprise to me. It was a proud moment to see the “thinking and assertive teachers” who were showing their professionalism. The session also made the “self” engulfed to reflect and see why a particular activity should be done a particular way, there was also a query regarding the pronunciation of “the” with the vowel sounds and consonant sounds, which was dealt meaningfully and the trainee was contented and happy with the rationale. They also enquired whether we could have a teleconference with them every month to help them further better their English.

The most precious moment was when even the most silent and withdrawn trainee of the previous session had opened up and expressed that the English training program had instilled confidence in him and he had carried it forward to his students and was happy when he saw them speak English with confidence! Isn’t that a wonderful gift?

All good things have to end so did Mundargi’s refreshers session which would go a long way down the memory lane! 🙂

Campaign on Ice: A working trip to Ladakh

Recently Arvind Venkatadri, who heads our Library programme was in Leh to train around 100 Heads of Government Primary schools, where 17000 ft Foundation has set up school-based Libraries. Akshara is their knowledge partner in this initiative.
Read below Arvind’s travelogue to know more about this exciting trip and working in Leh in sub zero temperatures.

Welcome to Kushok Bakula Rimpoche Airport, Leh. The temperature outside is -12 degrees Celsius”. I had arrived in Ladakh, but a Ladakhi welcome had already been bestowed on me the previous day at New Delhi airport, where I was met by a smiling Stanzin Norbu from the 17000ft Foundation. I was here at the invitation of Sujata and Sandeep Sahu, founders of 17K, to help them provide a training-orientation to Heads of some 100 Government Primary Schools, where they had set up their School Libraries as part of their programme with rural Ladakhi schools.
It seemed at first sight that there were just two things in Ladakh: ice, and space. From my bedroom window, on the ground floor, I could gaze upon the sunlit spires of mountains on the far shore of the Indus. I had been given a list of clothing material to buy and I got it all from Decathlon here in Bangalore, the most important part being a Goose-Down-Jacket-with-a-hood. I had thermals and skiing-gloves and fleece sweaters and fleece caps and a balaclava and skiing clothing ( form-fit trousers and shirt ) and a baggy waterproof pair of trousers. I had been asked to take Diamox tablets for altitude sickness and I felt no ill effects whatsoever.

I spent the first day getting used to all the clothing I was wearing and took a walk into Leh. All that rustling of clothing made me turn around more than once, but I was alone. Never have I seen snow-swept, sunlit streets so desolate: there was not a person in sight, it could have been a ghost town. I did trudge up into the market street to finally see some cars and people. Breathing was not easy that first day, and it was not just the cold. The words “thin air” took a new, precise meaning for me once again.

The training began the next day and I spent two days lecturing in Hindi to the Heads from Govt Schools there; some of these schools are located at 15,000 feet ! Training began at 11.20 AM (after the first period; it is after all a college for Teachers) and ended at 4 pm on both days. Most of these HMs are were very young, the average age must have been 25-30 not more. Schools in Ladakh are shut from December to February; that is when the Teachers complete most of their training for the new academic session. The training was held at the DIET (District Institute of Education Training). The training rooms had hot stoves called Bukhari-s, three of them, with chimneys leading through the roof. All the Staff members sat in groups around the bukhari-s and every hour or so, a woman would come in and add firewood to the stoves. Lunch was a strange tea-and-bun affair of 20 mins; on both days we hit the town restaurant for lunch at 4.30 PM. I had some interesting food, the best being a thukpa, a spaghetti laden soup with veggies; very satisfying “winter” food.

The training was on Libraries: how to set them up, how to grade books, match these to children and their reading abilities, and how to measure that the Libraries have impact. We also talked of the various creative activities that we could conduct in Libraries. At the end of the two days, the Principal of the Institute Angmo Phuksong gave me something I was not prepared for: she honoured me with a long silk scarf, called a Khatok, which she formally hung around my neck. It is a very Ladakhi way and also a very big deal, I was told.
 I was reading Pankaj Mishra’s An End to Suffering: the Buddha in the World, an apt book for this place. The travels and thoughts of the author mingled with my impressions, as I saw Abbaley and Ammaley, our hosts, sit in the sunshine working the beads and reciting the Name four lakh times. There were shrines with large red and yellow prayer wheels at street corners; a steep hill in upper Leh seemed to have a monastery on top, but it seemed beyond me to attempt to get there. I contented myself with listening and humming Manasa Yetulortune in that lazy morning sunshine and talking to the two house cats in Tamil, who insisted that I part with some of my puri-s.

It snowed on two days, both times in the morning and continuing through most of the day. It was not snowing at 6 AM when I awoke, and the garden was bare; by 6.30 AM, there was a carpet of white that grew 2 inches as I watched. Across the Indus, the mountains turned completely white that morning. On both days, when the sun went down, it very rapidly grew really cold. Folks, the geese know what they have on. The goose-down jacket kept me completely comfortable, as did the thermal leg-wear. My shoes however, did not prevent my toes from freezing, despite the double layer of woollen socks that I was wearing ! Blankets in the room were two very heavy razai-s; plus a sweater, a head cap and the room heater was on. After a while, I either lost my head completely or I got “used to” the cold perhaps or the thukpa was working, for I was walking around barefoot in the room and to the tiled loo and even washing my feet each time with cold water. Water was delivered to the room; two buckets of ice-cold water and a half-bucket of hot. Brushing, shaving and laving myself with the cold water was, well, fun. On the last day, the bucket had pieces of ice floating in it too!

The day before I left, we were free, so we drove 30 kms to Nimmu, west along the Leh-Kargil highway. Stupendous scenery with vast open fields and slopes and towering red-brown mountains covered generously with snow. Nimmu has a Bihari-run shop that sells deadly samosas but sadly, the joint was closed that day. While we waited for our friend Dawa to catch up with his friends here, we wandered across the street, the highway that leads to Kargil in the west. An Army truck with snow chains over its wheels was parked there, the driver looking like a Telugu man for all I could tell. Across the street, a tiny and brilliantly coloured J & K Transport bus was parked and ready to go, the driver insistently honking to coax the reluctant passengers out of the tea-shop. Must have been just the thin air, but I thought I saw Mithun Chakraborty drape a blanket over Anita Raj’s shoulders as they both climbed up and sat on the freezing roof-top. Koi shaque? The bus disappeared in a flurry of snow and I hummed Zeehaale Muskin mukon baranjhish, but my voice would just not come out in the cold. My nose was also hurting with an insistent bleeding, a common affliction for me when I visit cold places.

A short drive and here we were at Sangam: the Indus, flowing from the South-East, meeting the Zanskar, coming in from South-West. The already broad Indus was almost completely frozen over but for two 20-feet wide streams separated by icy islands; the Zanskar was laden with pieces of ice, and even the water had a different colour! Paani da, rang vekh ke, Akhiyan jo hanjhu rul de….certainly the sparkling sunlight, the champagne air, the untouched snow and the immense peaks around me had my eyes streaming. I walked as far out on the ice as I could; I swept away the inches of snow to see the frozen ice-glass water of the Indus. And took a GPS reading that put me dead in the middle of the Indus (34.165305N, 77.332089E ). Lovely!

Ladakhi girls are good-looking. Period. And the children are adorable! As I departed, my host’s little grand-daughter culled some “apples” from her rosy Kashmiri cheeks and offered them to me as a parting gift. Abbaley gave me a hug and Ammaley, a handshake.

I know that I will go back there again, to be once again part of the Campaign on Ice.”

Welcome to our new colorful and cheerful office !!

2012 has been a great year for Akshara Foundation. There has been a lot of excitement around our programmes, community events, volunteering events and many other such activities.

One such event was moving into a new, spacious office. Though our current office is very close to the older one, it is more spacious. We occupy the ground and the first floors while our friends at Pratham Books sit in the second floor. 


To make our work environment more appealing and encouraging, we decided to add a splash of color and give a make-over to the office. The once empty walls and pillar are now filled with colorful, attractive paintings. The idea was conceived by Megha Vishwanath of the KLP team and all of us at Akshara joined in to create this transformation. Here’s what Megha has to say:

A little splash of color welcoming you into your work day can never hurt, can it?! And on the contrary it’s that pleasant distraction for those who like to stare at something during those moments of deep or vacant thought. Having moved to our new office in early August, we decided it is no more staring at the white ceiling but staring at this vibrant pillar here in Akshara’s office.

The pillar was perfect for the build up of a horizon – all the way from green grass to blue skies. But the fact that one can go round a pillar lent to our imagination an interesting challenge. What goes round and round? Our very colorful answer turned out to be – “The carousel”! It’s one of those fun experiences – you put a coin in it, it takes you up and down, round and round and makes you feel all happy at the end of it. And what joy it brings to children! There were other elements a kite and a festoon that brought to the pillar the sense of a merry fair – an escapade and a moment of being a child again!
 

Under the staircase, in keeping with the theme, we had the larger than life expressions of some of the elements represented on the pillar as well – a dandelion (inspired by the KLP logo), clouds and the sun, a butterfly and colorful kites! 

While they fast disappear in the rest of this city, we decided to paint ourselves a line of trees – in different sizes and shapes all the way leading upto the pillar. Half a dozen little ones from a nearby Anganwadi graciously left us thumb-prints for the fall colors of the foliage. And that’s what will make these trees special for us! Note there’s an owl along the way – one of our colleagues insisted on having one – to negate the myth and superstition around this beautiful creature – and in the true spirit of co-existing with nature as splendid as it is!
 

A true collaborative effort, it had so many of our colleagues standing funnily sometimes, squatting, kneeling and in other unusual yogic stances to bring ourselves some happy times and reminder of who the benefactors of all our work are really!


Our office address is:
No. 621, 5th Main Road,
OMBR Layout,
Bangalore – 560043
Karnataka, India   


Do visit us at our new office and experience a great colorful, enthusiastic and cheerful work atmosphere !!

Teachers Training : An important tool of Akshara’s In-school programme

This year Akshara Foundation’s Inschool programme, focusing on basic numeracy and literacy skills in lower primary grades between 1 to 5, is going on in full swing in over 600 Government schools in Hoskote, Devanahalli, Kushtagi and Mundargi blocks in Karnakata. The programme is impacting over 43,000 children.

Training gets Delivered

 

While the Akshara team has designed child-friendly Teaching Learning Aids, supporting the programme through constant interaction with the Teachers and measuring the programme through various assessment strategies, the programme is delivered in classrooms by Teachers themselves. A comprehensive training component is developed at Akshara focusing on basic English and Math knowledge that can aid teachers in the classrooms. The training is delivered in a cascading fashion through the education department Master’s Resource Persons (MRPs). A 5-day training in the beginning of the academic year is followed by a refresher training later in the year. This year, over 1500 teachers have been trained in the Akshara methodology and are currently delivering the programme in the classrooms.

“Akshara Foundation’s Training has Given me a new Approach”


We have received overwhelming responses to the trainings. The teachers are very happy with our training and feel the programme will surely benefit the children.

Sridhar, a primary school teacher who teaches English in Std I-VII and has a command over the language, said, “I have undergone so many English training programmes in my six years of service, but Akshara Foundation’s training has given me a new approach and I can teach my students in a simple way.”
Shailaja Patil from the Government Higher Primary School, Nidasheshi, said, “I have never tried speaking in English before, but once I started attending Akshara’s training I got the confidence to speak in English. I assure you that I will do my best in class.”
Mehaboob Sahib, a Master Resource Person, said that he has imparted English training for many teachers, 13 batches of them. “But I enjoyed imparting Akshara Foundation’s training package the most. This package has been designed keeping teachers in mind. Simple and the best.”



A few teachers who underwent our training in the Devanahalli block went a step ahead to compare our training with the British Council training and had the following points to say:

1. British council training was in lecture mode where as the Akshara Foundation training was activity based.

2. The Charts, Flash cards, Teacher’s guide etc provided by British Council were not up to the mark. The Akshara teacher’s guide, cards, charts flash cards etc provided by Akshara Foundation were very good. These are very useful for children’s learning.

3. Importance was not given to the communication skills of the teachers in the training program of British Council. In Akshara Foundation training program importance was given to improve English spoken language abilities of the teachers and English grammar.

4. The techniques of developing basic language skills among children were incorporated in Akshara Foundation training. Akshara Foundation training caters to the needs of improving teacher’s skills in using English language.
  • The methods of reciting rhymes and storytelling models were discussed.
  • The Akshara Foundation gives good guidance.
  • The basic grammar points have been covered. But some more grammar activities could have been included.
  • I feel that this type of teacher’s guide, kit and training for teachers may be given to all the teachers in the state.
We are thankful to all these teachers for finding value in our training and we believe that they will create a positive impact on the learning levels of children.

Creative Dialogue : How do We Nurture and Resource the Children of Bangalore for a Self-Sustaining Life for the Next Fifteen Years?





A Creative Workshop
 
On the 8th of November Akshara Foundation organized a Creative Dialogue at the National Institute of  Advanced Studies, Bangalore, a vibrant, day-long exchange and cross-fertilization of ideas on How do We Nurture and Resource the Children of Bangalore for a Self-Sustaining Life for the Next Fifteen Years? By end of day they were ideas that transcribed into concrete goals – to be achieved and accomplished.
Participants were drawn from a cross-section of organizations, government and non-governmental, and from among individuals with a role to play.

Outcomes and Outputs – The Purpose of the Meet

The purpose of the workshop was to co-create within and across public and private sectors, an interconnected nurturing and resourcing of the children of Bangalore, fit for the next five to fifteen years. The main objectives were to increase understanding, determine future threats and identify a way forward with the future of the children of Bangalore in mind.

The catalyst for the day was Matt Clarke from the Nowhere Group based in the United Kingdom who emphasized the purpose of the meet as an immersion in the unknown from where participants would traverse together with their collective knowledge,  insight and experience, mindful of themselves as creative participants but connected with fellow travelers, in this indeterminate, uncharted space, and emerge at a breakthrough moment in outcomes and outputs. Matt Clarke characterized outcomes as the intangible achievements of mutual understanding, desire and energy to co-create and continue, and outputs as the tangible projects and agendas “to move through current barriers and resisters to change elegantly into a projected future reality.”

Discussion and Group Work


Participants were each engaged in discussion for a minute in which they stated well-founded positions on child-centered issues that ranged, among others, over the status of children, mental and developmental perspectives, health and nutrition, what government could do better and what citizens could do to galvanize, and learning from successful initiatives in order to create new and better jobs for children.

Facilitating the day’s exploratory seeking of definitive end goals was the next round of group work, an exercise “based on the works of the psychologist Kurt Lewin who laid out that the present is strongly affected by the pressures of change and these pressures are constantly offset by the forces that are the resisters to change. That is what defines the present for all of us.”

Participants had to systematically identify the various factors that would affect the collective aim of creating a self-sustaining life for the children of Bangalore. Bangalore, which, as a sub-set of India and the world, has been and will be affected by local, national and international events.  The groups ideated, deliberated, set up conversations and dialogues and zeroed in on key areas on which they presented.

A Flawed Delivery System

A dialogue of constructive depth and detail started around health and nutrition which came up as a common concern.

Ashok Kamath, Chairman, Akshara Foundation, shared one of the serious limitations to afflict this sector, which is the extremely low pay of employees working in child healthcare. He said that even though there was no argument in anyone’s mind about the importance of ensuring good nutrition, this anomaly in the delivery system interferes strongly with the deliverables.

He then stressed on synergistic efforts towards uplifting the basic learning and nutrition levels of children, as they are staggeringly low. It is not about money as there is enough of it. It is about the collective efforts that we are yet to make, he emphasized.

Speaking of nutrition he turned towards corruption in government departments, particularly in Bangalore, as an important factor preventing any development despite the resources and the laws.

On Good Governance

A discussion took place on good governance, and Kanchan Bannerjee, Managing Trustee, Akshara Foundation, suggested that government use the good examples already developed by non-profit organizations and put them into effect.
Decentralizing delivery models, government transparency, the shortcomings in our education system in creating children who are inquisitive, and questions of design, structure and leadership entered the dialogue.

Key Value Drivers

The four value drivers that emerged to be taken up at a macro level were:  Governance and Leadership; Education; Health and Wellness; and Data Transparency. The groups were asked to place on record their level of self-belief in these as the issues they must coalesce around, these as the issues which would bring about an actual difference in nurturing and resourcing the children of Bangalore for a self-sustaining life. 

There was some hesitation, an occasional lack of confidence, a lack of preparedness to commit; there were divergent views, tangential views, a critical note even, sometimes a mismatch with what was on the table and a lack of collectivism. Matt Clarke steered the groups to coherence and clarity and they laid down objectives, actions that would be taken, and a time-frame to achieve them. 

End of Day

The importance of each of the four value drivers were discussed and tangible deliverables were identified. The groups committed to take this creative dialogue forward, agreeing to meet in April 2013, Matt Clarke as catalyst once again. The report concludes that in culmination participants shared their feelings about this experience. The day had been long and packed, but the focus, the thoughts that found expression and the excellent design package of the activities left most of them energized, enriched and inquisitive.

Akshara Newsletter : November 2012 edition

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

You can read our November 2012 edition newsletter here.

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

LEGO Habba begins with a bang..

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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