Akshara’s Summer Camp at the Government Higher Primary School, Hasigalla

A bunch of happy kids at the Summer Camp
The Summer Camp – A Prelude
Children are latecomers that first day of the Akshara summer camp. The Government Higher Primary School, Hasigalla, Hoskote Block, wears a wind-blown, deserted look – dry curls of leaves in the verandah, dust everywhere. Headmaster (HM) Hanumantarayappa is opening doors that have stayed stubbornly locked most of the summer. Akshara’s Cluster Facilitators are there. Srinivas, there are two Manjunaths, Lakshman and Krishnappa. A rock-solid contingent of courage, conviction and purpose. The Akshara banner announcing the summer camp as a part of its Namma Makkalu, Namma Abhimana (Our Children, Our Pride) initiative  flutters against the outside grill, unmistakable and immediately noticeable.

The Cluster Facilitators are arranging the classrooms, shifting the furniture and setting things up for the formal inauguration. The children troop in, faces radiant with expectation, the girls dressed iridescently in flowing, gold-laced skirts or in the latest trends in salwar kameezes, the boys in casual shirts and trousers or shorts. All bedecked for an occasion. Not one of them sartorially inelegant.

They grab brooms made of coconut sticks, stiff from disuse, and buckets and cloths and become a whirlwind cleaning force, thorough and efficient. Triveni of class 6 dusts the furniture and sweeps in a rush, says a friendly, throwaway “Good morning” and continues the focus. Not satisfied, Jayakumari of class 6, repeats the exercise, her rust silk skirt trailing, holding her broom flat against the floor, sweeping every bit of dust out of the room. Jeju of class 5 diligently collects the trash in a bucket. It is difficult to believe, unless told, that he is mentally retarded and has speech impairment. Jeju is vigorous, salutes everyone, keen not to be left behind. Manoj, Pavan, Anusha, Bindu and Darshan gingerly raise their dangling legs for the broom to go under the bench they are sitting on. They are in classes 1 to 3, and exempted from this daily ritual in school.

“Cleaning is a custom in school,” says the HM. Every day groups of children – boys and girls – take turns to sweep the school and the large compound. The principle of self-reliance is instilled early, and that no job is too low or menial to do. The children take pride in their work, they feel a sense of kinship with their school, and it drives them to do a good job.

They are multi-dexterous. The next moment they are settling down on floor mats for other pursuits, other engagements. The Cluster Facilitators organised the room, the chairs are positioned, a small lamp was placed on the table with oil and wicks and a twist of orange flowers around the stem.

Summer Camp Objectives

Akshara designed the summer camp with two key objectives in mind, which Cluster Facilitator Srinivas enunciated at the inauguration. It was a three-day event for children, parents and people, with nearly 25 such camps taking place in May in Hoskote Block and Kushtagi and Mundargi Blocks in North Karnataka. At the GHPS, Hasigalla, the dates were the 24th, 25th and 26th of May.

After a short introduction to Akshara Foundation and its work, Srinivas talked about Akshara’s aim to sustain children’s interest in learning and to preserve unbroken their link with education during the holiday season. It was the centrepiece of the summer camp. It would support, as evidenced at the Hasigalla School, a continuous flow of stimulus, sustenance and strengthening through group learning activities.  The sports competitions punctuating each day were pure fun amidst the cerebral flexing.

The second intention was community participation in education. The event was meant to precipitate awareness and a groundswell response to education, people coming forward and owning a village government school as their cause, their agenda, discussing problems and being part of the solution.

Five volunteers who were local village youths from Hasigalla were intermediaries in the management of the summer camp. The idea was a far-reaching one – to involve local youth in education, get them invested, so that they felt it was their project and that they could be change-propellers.

“A Special Three Days….”
Somashekhara, the President of the School Development Monitoring Committee (SDMC), who is a staunch pillar of support for the school, said the summer camp will increase children’s knowledge. The HM called it “a special event, a special three days favourable to our children.” The school had progressed because of Akshara’s in-school programmes, he said, and prospered because of the SDMC that takes care of it like their own home.

The lamp was lit, and Mounika, class 5, Bhavya, class 7, and Triveni recited a short morning prayer, the accents, the pronunciation and the emphasis impeccable. Sheets of paper went around the 45 children present who wrote down their names and grades.

The Mathematics Quiz

The Mathematics quiz was the first item to start off. The children formed four groups and sat in large circles. Quietude settled, but there was no fear or performance anxiety on any face. These children seemed capable Mathematics students, springing up to answer even before Cluster Facilitator Srinivas had completed his question.

The quiz was developed by Akshara’s resource team and has more than 45 questions compatible with children’s competencies, not of the textbook variety, but questions of a general nature that applied across classes. For instance: What is the seventh month of the year? How many days are there in May? Name the shape that has three sides. How many minutes are there in an hour? What do you add to 999 to make 1000? Triveni, Manjunath, Soundarya, Ananth, Arun – all stood up with agile answers, with confidence.

In the midst of all this certitude, little Sanjay of class 3 floundered on the question to his group. How many hours are there in a day? He pounced on it without consulting his team and said, “Twelve hours,” so sure of its accuracy. His group members fixed him a glaring, unforgiving look. He had spoiled their chances. Sanjay’s eyes welled up in humiliated defeat. As it happened, his group lost the first spot by a single point, further mollifying him.

A Spell of Drawing
Children engrossed in drawing pictures
The whole incident was soon forgotten as chart paper, pencils and sketch pens are passed around for a drawing competition.

Charan of class 7 had swiftly conjured a riotous scene of shrubs, trees and unusual green shoots. There was a house and a sun’s drawn face, like an old man’s, peering between hills, shining down fiercely, blighting all that foliage. It eventually won Charan a prize for its creative amassing.

Madan of class 6 drew a cat. It was a neat delineation, quickly executed. Then, imagination ran out. After a spell of distraction, he added a tail and, in an attempt to thicken it to bushy proportions, he lost steam again.
From a lot of other children, there were essays into the familiar – homesteads, animals, and flowing streams with embellished ducks.

The English Quiz

The children waited with bated breath for the English quiz to begin, wary yet expectant. It was every child’s dream – to become conversant in English. It was also a language that intimidated, as their grounding is weak. Some of the questions had to be interpreted in Kannada, but, overall, they acquitted themselves creditably.

The questionnaire, created by the Akshara resource team, flung its net wide, with overarching questions that children ought to know. Which country do you live in? Which is your city? They were not daunting questions. Name the capital of India. Hands were not raised, no one jumped to attention. Manasa timidly got it right.

A perturbed silence meets the question: Name the President of India. Pratibha Patil, someone suggested. Hamid Ansari, said someone else. The question was passed. Who is Karnataka’s current Chief Minister? The response was immediate. Who wrote the national anthem? Sagar had no doubts in his mind that it is Rabindranath Tagore. Who is your favourite actor? Jayakumari says bashfully, “Ravichandra.” Which planet do you live on? Manasa was sure of it. “Bhoomi,” she said, but couldn’t find its English equivalent. None of the children could, but the point was given.

A Session with LEGO

A session with LEGO, the learning-oriented play material from the world renowned Danish toy manufacturer, LEGO, was exhilarating for the children. It was their first encounter with the multitudes of multi-coloured pieces and bricks. And it was awe-inspiring, confusing and frustrating.

Mounika pored over the LEGO leaflets with instructions in English, referred to the models pictured there and conferred with her team mates. It did not help, but Cluster Facilitator, Manjunath was with them and the bottlenecks were soon dismantled. Houses and towers and trees sprouted on a platform.

Parents participated too, the mothers as collaborative partners, the fathers, reluctant spectators. A middle-aged father with a shock of grey hair pleaded that he was too old for a children’s game, watched noncommittally and retreated. Nagamma, a mother, teamed with students Ambika and Mala to fashion a watch tower with a man on top, possibly a guard. She laughed self-consciously every time she fixed a piece and surveyed the outcome.

Jayakumari and Manasa had a big, impressive creation – a fort with towers and turrets, and bridges spanning roofs. The diffident charting of unknown territory was over, and in thirty minutes children assembled some inspired models, a small, exquisitely made field plough among them.

Opportunities for Self-Expression

Children revelled in the opportunities the summer camp provided for self-expression. Jayakumari was cheered on as she represented her group in a self-chosen creative act. Singing is her forte and her song is about coming to school every day and her experiences – the learning, the knowledge, the fun she has. She teamed with Bindushree for a prayer and a patriotic song. They sang at the top of their voices, their self-esteem soaring, and some of the front row children shut their ears and smiled conspiratorially just to taunt the singers. Manjunath presented a story laced with humour. Bhavya recited a rhyme and Madan would not budge even as a thunderous round of applause tried to get him to go up and say or do something.

Extempore speech making on topics like Education, Health, Environment and School was an activity that provoked a gathering of thought and cogent presentations. Each group got five minutes to marshal their forces.

The older children had an advantage. Anupa, a volunteer, coached her group fervently, asked for pen and paper and wrote down her points furiously on the environment, its beauty and how it is people’s duty to protect it and develop it responsibly. Poornima of class 6 found Anupa’s high-flown Kannada too challenging and handed over the short write-up to Jayakumari to read, who too dries up halfway through.

The boys did a good job with Education and Health, prompted by Cluster Facilitator Lakshman, who handled the session. Monesha, a college student, began her talk about School with a short Sanskrit invocation and emphasised punctuality, discipline and respect to teachers and elders as its corner-stones. She summed up by saying that the onus is on children too to make school a conducive place.

A Solemn Pledge

Cluster Facilitator Manjunath got the children to take an Akshara Foundation pledge that they will learn well and obey and respect their teachers; that they will study their subjects, take part in extracurricular activities and all school programmes and follow the rules of the institution. It was uttered with sanctity and vigour and evoked a solemn response from children as they repeated after Manjunath with a feeling of piety.

A Village Map

The next item was the delineation of a Village Map, an activity that fostered awareness in children of their surroundings and got their bearings right. It helped them identify important locations, know what is available, where to access services.

Children mapped their world with sure precision and knowledge – access roads leading off the highway and clusters of dwellings and trees drawn with remarkable agility. The village pond, the village square, the temple, the Hasigalla anganwadi, school and higher primary school, the ration shop and health centre were all featured. Prizes are adjudicated on the basis of the most comprehensive picture of their village the groups could come up with.

Playtime – Hit-and-Miss

The rough and tumble of play as the afternoon wore was an exciting time of day for the children. One sports event that went down particularly well with them was hitting the target, a game of misses, as it turned out. That did not dampen spirits. Group representatives were blindfolded and let loose with a long stick in hand with which to hit an improvised target of an inverted bucket. The children wandered here and there, lost, unable to find direction.

Pavan was the only one amazingly on target, walking straight ahead towards his object as if with eyes wide open, causing scepticism in the Cluster Facilitators who suspected he could see through the lower slit of the cloth blindfold. Once his state of temporary sightlessness was tightly ensured, they left Pavan to find his way. He was accurate, did not waver and reached close, a foot or two away, his stick steadily poised for the strike.

A crowd of children cheered him on uproariously. Victory was in sight. The boys urged Pavan, “Come on. Hit.  Bring the stick down.” At the crucial moment Pavan flinched, shrunk backwards a little and the stick came down hesitatingly a couple of inches short of the mark. He sobbed in frustration, all the while watching Jashwant who came next, the last in the line-up. Jashwant went haywire, straying towards a tree and hitting its bark, and Pavan laughed with delight through his tears. He did  not get a prize, but consolation was that no one got as close as he did either.

The Final Episode
Memories of the Summer Camp!
Achievement was woven into the texture of the three days, without making it a paramount consideration. It was not about winning, but about accomplishment, about doing well, though children were spurred by the prospect of prizes and goals attained, the final triumph. The summer camp was about group learning and the freedom to be.

Prize-giving became an egalitarian distribution, all four groups winning the first place in some category or other. Team members were each announced and awarded a prize. Everyone got a chance to be in the spotlight. Children queued up happily in front of their parents and the community for their prizes, more intent on being recognised than in any material reward.

As the momentum abated and the children prepared to leave, this is what they had to say.
Manasa, one of the brightest students in school, who was going to class 8 in June, said, “I liked the summer camp. I felt I had achieved something when I answered questions and felt excited that I might win prizes.” For one who sang so unselfconsciously Jayakumari was tongue-tied. After much prodding she said shyly, “Everything about the summer camp was good. I liked it.” Triveni said, “I liked participating in the quiz. I enjoyed all the games.” Mounika who kept to herself and did not say much, but was an active participant, softly said, “I am happy to be in the group that got the first prize for the Mathematics quiz. I liked the quiz questionnaire. I got to play.” Rashmita of class 4 said, “I liked the summer camp very much. It was really nice.”

Aswathamma, a class teacher at the school, summed it up when she said, “This is a useful activity during the long summer holidays. Instead of merely watching television and playing mindlessly, children did something related to learning. My students enjoyed the summer camp. They were learning without a textbook. The whole year is full of the textbook. This was a welcome break.”

A Word of Acknowledgement

The show in many ways belonged to Akshara’s Cluster Facilitators whose spirit remained undiminished till the end. They scripted its success. They orchestrated it. No detail was too small to be overlooked. They gave the summer camp in the Hasigalla School its structured rhythms, and yet made children feel the days were their own to savour. Learning was interspersed with fun, when the boisterous buoyancies of the children were allowed to flourish. In fact, there were times when it all seemed unmanageable, but order was always calmly restored, the HM and Aswathamma also contributing to the soothing process.

The Cluster Facilitators kept children engaged and animated all through. Krishnappa took them through a resonant recital of rhymes. Srikant, Akshara’s District Facilitator, did a short, powerful cameo. Manjunath had an action song that children enjoyed. Their robust renderings and the children’s enthusiastic accompaniment rented the air.

Seriousness was a mantle never far from reach either as they sat in a tribunal to select the winning teams. Or, as on the final day, Manjunath of the Hasigalla cluster and the other Cluster Facilitators organised a procession of children from the village to the school. The children held aloft the Akshara summer camp banner in an attempt to capture public imagination and draw attention to education.

The major landmarks of the summer camp were plotted out by Akshara’s senior resource team. All the Cluster Facilitators, as implementers, were trained to conduct it. It was their commitment and dedication that saw the summer camp through, with an infallible sense of method and organising skill. For fifteen days prior to the camp, Manjunath of the Hasigalla cluster and Srinivas were in and out of Hasigalla, Vabasandra and Thimmasandra, spreading an awakening in villages somnolent in the sun, motivating children caught in the torpor of summer holidays, disseminating word about the summer camp, requesting everyone’s participation.

The community could perhaps have done more, but the State Assembly elections were just over and it had left political rifts that had not healed. People owing allegiance to one political party declined to be a part of something the other party’s affiliates were going to be involved in. That the Stree Shakti Sangha came in full force and donated prizes; that parents attended the inauguration and the closing ceremony; that mothers made LEGO models with children; that the SDMC Presidents of both this school and the higher primary school came; and that everyone sank their differences to support the cause of educating their children is testimony to the work the Cluster Facilitators put in.

Akshara Foundation bags the prestigious Omidyar Network Award 2013!

Recognition in every form brings a lot of satisfaction to the work done and the Omidyar Network Award is an example of this. The purpose of the Network Award, first awarded at last year’s ONEF, is to recognize and celebrate those members of the Omidyar Network portfolio who have embodied and demonstrated network leadership in their sector and among their own communities – whether in collaboration with other members of the Omidyar Network community, external partners, or as individuals.

Finalists and winners were evaluated based on the SCALE criteria:
Sharing – Regular dissemination of relevant learning’s to others who are likely to benefit.
Collaborating – Working with others on problems or opportunities of mutual interest.
Assembling – Convening others for meetings and conferences that drive measurable action.
Leading – Serving as a network leader by advancing collective network goals, promoting cross-network achievements, celebrating network, milestones and otherwise demonstrating the values of a networked leader.
Energizing – Nurturing the network by building excitement and momentum.

Over the last year, Akshara has demonstrated leadership, innovation and stewardship in the area of public pre and primary school education in India. Akshara has also created partnerships and networks to create both scale and depth of engagement with the space and drive sustainable change in public education in Karnataka.

Gautam John receiving the Omidyar Network 2013 Award,on behalf of Akshara Foundation,from Mr. Pierre Omidyar
The Akshara Foundation makes all of its programmatic work content available under Creative Commons licenses, freely shares its expertise and training and makes much of its data and code available under open licenses for other organizations to build on.

Over the last year, Akshara has anchored a Creative Dialogue on the 8th where multiple organizations, collectively, grappled with the question: How do we nurture and resource the children of Bangalore for a self-sustaining life? The collective insights and capabilities of the participants presented uncommon expertise and perspective and through a co-creative process have begun to essential value drivers and drive a multi-stakeholder change process.

Akshara has used multiple opportunities to bring together various stakeholders in the public education space – the Creative Dialogue, as detailed above, an annual TEDxChange event that has brought together a diverse set of voices tackling multiple problems and internal colloquiums featuring external experts.

Akshara has positioned the Karnataka Learning Partnership as a multi-partner, multi-stakeholder platform that is poised to be the leading driver of change in the public education space in Karnataka. Indeed, our expertise has been drawn upon from diverse parts of India and across the world. Our programs and software platforms have found use across India and the world.

Under the Together We Can banner, Akshara launched a campaign to highlight success stories in public education to energize the larger ecosystem and to show that change is possible – indeed, it already exists. The campaign reflects Akshara’s efforts to replicate a collaborative model of education and it is a focused effort to extend a helping hand to all individuals and organizations that work towards this common goal.

The Omidyar Network Award has been extremely encouraging and Akshara Foundation aims to keep working on their crusade to better pre-schools and primary schools because we at Akshara firmly believe in our motto “Every child in school and learning well”.

Read the entire article here.

Analog Devices India runs for Akshara Foundation at the TCS W10K

 The Runners from Analog Devices India, were an awesome bunch of highly energetic people who ran for Akshara. While most of them were first timers, they all conquered the 10kms within the stipulated time. The inspiration, the music and the dhols kept them going! Sridevi Warrier, Garima Bansal,Himanshu Srivastava, Manu Nair and Dhirendra Tiwari share their experiences.

The energetic Analog Devices India Runners Team
Sridevi Warrier says “Out of 25 who registered for the TCS10K, 23 participated in the race. For most of us it was the first time and all of us finished the race well below 100 minutes target time. Those who have participated in earlier runs clocked their best timings at this year’s event. The crowd and energy at the event was unbelievable. You have to be there to feel it. We hope for many more participants in the coming years”.

Himanshu Srivastava, who participated for the first time says:
Any kind of athletic event attracts you to participate in it and when it gets combined with the charity, it almost become impossible to give it a miss. So when ADI collaborated with the Akshara for this year’s TCS world 10K event, I gave my name as soon as I read the information mail.

This being my first 10K run, I knew that I had to practice a lot. I started with small runs like 2-3K and then increased it to 5-6K. A week before the actual run, I did my longest (and last) practice session, that being 9K.I was bit nervous before the event because practice had made me realized that 10K is lot tougher than the 5K run but then this is how we can test ourselves.

The race day environment was just electric. Seeing the elite athletes flying towards the finish line gave the required motivation. And then finally our race started. First half of the race was more or less smooth. As it became little tougher, the other participants kept cheering each other to keep running till the end point. Finally I finished it in 71 minutes, not a great timing as such but good enough for first timer. The experience of running with more than 10K people was worth the effort. Other than the actual run, the cause people were running for were really superb. The best message I read on someone’s t shirt was “Don’t let your maid’s daughter become your daughter’s maid”

  Manu Nair who also ran last year says “TCS 10k 2013 was my best run so far. It was my second TCS 10k run and like last year, the best part of the run was the crowd. It was so colourful, noisy and happy that I could not help but smile stupidly for most of the race. Drummers, dancers, celebrity look-alikes, and music simply made me forget that my legs would really really like a break. Even the sun who has been particularly horrible this summer decided to give Bangalore a break, hiding behind the clouds for most of the run.   I even managed to grab some eyeballs because of the Akshara T-shirt I was wearing. I was “almost” interviewed by a TV reporter who was interested in my T-Shirt! Unfortunately the
Interviewer lady got a call and she probably forgot I was waiting. So it never was actually aired”.

 Garima Bansal, who ran her first long distance run by participating in  TCS world 10K Majja  says “This run was my first long distance run and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 5.7 km seemed to be a tough task in the beginning but being amid an overwhelming crowd made things easy and fun.  It was a pleasure meeting Arvind, Megha and all other Akshara enthusiasts and get insights of Akshara Foundation.  It certainly was very motivating to see Akshara coming up with solutions to fight the root problem of India – Education. I am looking forward to be of some help in fighting for similar cause and also of course the next 10k run.”

 Dheerendra Tiwari shares his experience “It was my first time running 10 kms which by my standards is quite an achievement. I was never sure that I will be able to run and finish the distance but still held on to the thought of participating and I feel really good that I did. On the race day I was fascinated to see people gather in such large numbers, all enthusiastic and enjoying but still I was wary of the distance that I had to cover as I had never managed to do so in several trial runs. Then it began and a surprise was waiting just at the start point.

 It had been a long time since I had heard some good Punjabi ‘dhol’ and that was when my attention drifted from consciously running to just enjoying the scene. I saw people cheering all around and the runners showing dance moves on music that was there all the way long. Throughout the run people kept on motivating runners, who might have stopped if not for the cheer and I wondered what is driving them to shout and clap and cheer everyone they can, for hours. I had heard about collective conscious of masses as if all the emotions and thoughts of a mass form a big pool but this was the day I realized what it is. It was the one that made people cheer, run and dance all along  and it was indeed that drove me to the finish line quite surprised and happy in the end. And the cherry on the cake, it was all done not just for fun but for a good cause as well”!

And we blazed the run in Red at the TCS W10K!

The Akshara team!
Three months ago when we first decided to run the TCS W10K, we were skeptical about a lot of things. However, we decided to brush our skepticism aside and work our way out. We chose to highlight our    pre-school programme, since this one needed more attention and awareness. There were plenty of things to do and we started off by structuring our work by making lists of things to do. The next task was to urge people to run and donate for our cause.

Though the task was a massive one, it definitely wasn’t an impossible one. So we began our work by sending out mailers to everyone informing people about the run. The next thing on the to-do list was to make snazzy posters. We got lucky and found a volunteer from Delhi who happily made the posters for us. The olive green and the yellow poster did stand out and make an impact.

While we were gathering the runners we also wanted to make sure we stood out of the crowd. We had no intentions of merging with the crowd this year unlike last year and so this year we chose a blazing red colour for our t-shirts. What made the T-shirt even better was this awesome design depicting Pre-schools by our very own Megha Vishwanath who is a techie and an awesome painter all at the same time.

Soon we moved to the next task of getting more runners.  In the end, we had a strong contingent of 69 runners, with 36 of them doing the 10kms and the remaining 33 of them participating in the 5.7kms Majja run.Coaxing people to run is not easy, and getting people to run for a cause is a much more difficult a task. But nevertheless, we managed to get runners.  Akshara’s very own Care Champion Gautam John was game for a 10k run again this year.

Our corporate sponsors Analog Devices India helped us not just raise money but also run for us. A mighty team of 20 members chose to run donning the Akshara T-shirt.  The best part about the runners from Analog Devices India was that all 20 of them chose to run the 10k. While most of them were first timers, they were all pumped up to run.  At the end of the race, all of them wore a happy smile irrespective of how much their bones and muscles hurt.
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19th May 2013, a cloudy morning the Akshara team gathered at the Gate A of the Shree Kanteerva Stadium. The 10kms open run began at dot 7.22am. While some were first timers, others were seasoned runners, yet all of them had just one thing on their mind and that was to finish the run no matter what. We all looked a dapper in our blazing red Akshara t-shirts. Armed with our running bibs, placards and kits we were all ready to get started.  While the 10k runners began their run before us, the 5.7kms run was mostly a jolly fun run and hence aptly named the Majja run!

Finally at 8.30am, we moved to towards the stadium with hooting, whistling and lots of noise. It was a sea of people there, all running for a cause.  This time we surely stood apart from most others as we blazed the run route in our bright red t-shirts which talked about pre-school education. Since our crusade this year was to promote pre-school education, we made placards themed around pre-schools and its importance.

On the way we were greeted by a lot of supporters who cheered and clapped for us. That was truly encouraging.  And post the run, there was a nice good breakfast which made the run worthwhile. So, all in all, it was a fun experience with everyone pitching in to do their best.

The run was more than just a run for us. It was our chance to get people’s attention towards our cause. As we ran the course, we knew that our bit was going to be a big help to those little kiddies who are deprived of quality education and basic facilities.

The run was surely a memorable experience for all and we hope that it will help us push our crusade and get help in the form of donations and volunteers. We at Akshara thank each and everyone who helped us put this event together. . A heart-felt thanks to all our donors for helping us raise 6.65 lakhs so far. It’s been an adventurous bumpy ride, but yes a great learning experience too.

LEGO brings Vinod back to School

Another LEGO story from the field!
A happy bunch of kids with colourful LEGO blocks
There have been multiple instances when students go to school half heartedly, most often because parents force the kids to go. This is a story where LEGO was the reason why this kid and many like him got back to school with a smile.

Vinod is a 5 and a half year old child who studies at the Tippur Anganwadi which is located in the Kengeri circle South ICDS project. He comes to the Anganwadi along with his sister, Gowri. His father is an auto driver and his mother works as a maid. It has been two years since Vinod has been a part of this anganwadi.

When Vinod first joined the anganwadi, he was irregular to the centre and didn’t pay any attention nor did he participate in any of the class activities. The only thing he did was to start crying as he stepped into the anganwadi. It took him a good six months to adjust himself to the new environment. The project coordinators spoke to his mother and told her how important it was for the child to attend school. Things got a little better when Vinod’s sister Gowri started accompanying him to the anganwadi.

Things took a totally different turn when LEGO was introduced in this anganwadi. The teachers and the workers at the Anganwadi were trained to teach the children how to use LEGO and the various activities centred around LEGO. Post the pre-school class all these kids would have a session where they were handed the LEGO blocks and allowed to play. The bright, vibrant colours of the LEGO blocks attracted everyone. This time even Vinod couldn’t escape the charm, joy and smiles that the LEGO blocks brought.
An engrossed Vinod building a LEGO tower!
Suddenly, Vinod who until now showed no response in class seemed to be not just responding but also participating in all the activities. This was not all, the not so regular Vinod now had a reason to come to the Anganwadi every day, and this improved his attendance. The Lego games left such a strong influence on this little kid that he now coaxes his mother to send his sister to the anganwadi too. At the anganwadi, he goes to the corner where the LEGO blocks are stacked and shows his sister how to use the blocks to make models of towers and trains.

Though this is one Vinod’s story, it has also been the story of many children who avoided coming to school because they didn’t find the place interesting, says the teacher. LEGO has made anganwadis more interesting, this means that the attendance has increased and so has the interest of the students to learn new things. The teacher proudly quips that LEGO has increased their levels of concentration and creativity.
She also says the game has taught the kids’ traits like sharing, leadership and teamwork. She says LEGO has managed to make not just the students smile but also the teachers, parents and the community members who work together.

LEGO travels to Hubli-Dharwad!

Angelina Gregory, District Coordinator shares her experience at the Siddarameshwarnagar Anganwadi in Dharwad.

The kids at play….
Akshara Foundation introduced the Lego program in Dharwad for the first time by selecting four Anganwadis from each circle. This effort was undertaken mainly to create an interest among the children, parents and the workers in order to make the Anganwadis attractive. All the four Anganwadis are doing their best. They ensure the participation of the parents, the young girls from the community and carry on the program. Among the four, the Siddarameshwarnagar Anganwadi from Hubli has been able to conduct the Lego program the best so far.

Siddharameshwarnagar, is 20kms away from Dharwad, and houses about 300 households. Some “Devdasi” families reside here in this area. Some Devdasis’ children have taken the admission in the Anganwadi center. Most of these children would be irregular to the center in spite of telling the parents. Earlier the Anganwadi would run in a temple but a few months back, with the help of Mrs. Ratna, the Field Coordinator of Akshara and the parents, Netrawathi requested the community leaders and heads to provide an independent place to run the Anganwadi. Now, it has been shifted to a temporarily built shed. Netrawathi feels happy and independent now.

Netrawathi the Anganwadi worker is 52 years of age and has served in rural areas for twenty six years. From the past six years, she is serving in the Siddrameshawarnagar, Anganwadi Hubli. Along with a helper she has struggled to get the children to the center. The worker is very punctual. She has time to spend with the children. She never writes any registers in her working hours. She attends to the pregnant women in the community only after 2 PM. The children at her center know to say the rhymes well complete with actions. They also know their numbers, Kannada and English alphabets well. 4 year olds know to read the simple words. They tell stories spontaneously.

The Lego program has been creatively used by Netrawathi. Every day after lunch Mrs. Netrawathi mingles with the children along with the Lego kit. During my visit to this center, I remained unspoken to see the children’s excitement towards the kit. Every kid there roared in a chorus shouting “LEGO!!! LEGO!!!” Wow! The enthusiasm of the kids was great to see. The worker, told the children to remove the kits from the box, about 5 children went near the box and started removing the Lego materials one by one with their tiny hands at the same time the others stood shouting ‘Lego!!, Lego!!’ no one touched the kit until the teachers told them to do so. These were a bunch of highly disciplined kids who left me amazed.

Two groups were formed for the children of 4+ years and the other group was for children of 2+ years. 4+ years group was managed by the Anganwadi worker and 2+ years children were managed by the helper.
The play started with the grip game along with the teacher. There was rapt attention then, with all the kids trying hard to concentrate. No one made any noise. I asked them “why are you all keeping quiet”? The children replied,” if we talk, may lose the game”. No child wanted to become out of the game.

Children enjoying the grip game with their teacher
The teacher asked the color, every one said the names of the color one by one.
Communication game was wonderful to note. Children sitting in a pair, while one child gave instructions the other dilligently followed it and created a model.

Children playing communication game in a pair
Shwetha and Rakesh enacted and narrated the story of the thirsty crow.Making the train and the tower building was another wonderful thing. No child complained of hunger even though it was past 2.30 PM. They were all immersed and engrossed in their game.

Interactions with the parents assured me that the parents were equally happy and enthusiastic about sending their kids to the anganwadi. The happy parents also added that Lego was the reason why children didn’t miss school anymore. Infact, they seemed more than eager to go to school every day morning. The hard work and the efforts put forward by the teacher and the helper were appreciated by the parents. The helper is also motivated, that she hopes to be a part of the Akshara training soon. The Anganwadi trainer is all excited about the Lego kit.  This is the first time in her 32 years of service has she witnessed creative teaching like this. The Teaching Learning Material, the work books and the Lego kit have redefined teaching methods she says. The happy faces of the children and the parents make her happy.

The teacher attributes that the Akshara’s support has helped her in more than one ways. The attendance of the children has increased and so has the community involvement. Some parents are regular to the centre and play Lego games along with their children. Mr. Nagappa, a community leader has donated a mirror, mats and plates for the Anganwadi. The Deputy Director of Women and Child Welfare Department, Ms.Annapurna has appreciated the workers efforts and support of Akshara.  Netrawathi’s name has been nominated for the award as the best Anganwadi worker by the Department. Netrawathi, with tears of joy in her eyes says, “Thanks to Akshara for all the support and materials. She also extends her thanks to Mrs. Ratna, the Field Co-coordinator for helping her make this Anganwadi such a joyous place.

“Kudos to the Teachers”

Together, We Can is an Akshara campaign for action in education. It is based on the simple axiom that people when they get together can do far more than when they are out there alone, striving along lonely furrows. This is a platform where stakeholders in education can congregate for a common cause.

On the 18th of April, Together, We Can organised the first of many sustained campaigns to come, with a signature public function to salute two government centres of education,distinguished by their pursuit of excellence. Konankunte Anganwadi in Bangalore and the Government Kannada Lower Primary School (GKLPS) in Marasandahalli, Hoskote Block, function within a system that is known more for poor delivery and under-achievement, and yet they are a cut above, occupying niche spaces,with teachers like Sunanda, Nagarani and Shyam Shankar who uphold the high ideals of the teaching profession.

Journalists from the print media, invited to the event, covered these exemplary newsmakers in the next editions of their newspapers.

The Times of India’s report online generated a wave of enthusiastic reader responses, with 56 comments posted by people from all over India – from the UK and Australia as well – profuse with praise and acknowledgement for three stalwarts who brighten the sometimes tarnished image of the government teaching fraternity.  They are citizens ready to reciprocate to stories that highlight the positive. Especially in a depressing climate when corruption, scams, rape, ineptitude and ignominy never seem to vacate the headlines.

As B. Shiv Kumar from Nizamabad said, “This is a great piece of news. After reading about crimes like molestation, robberies, murder and cheating it is refreshing to read about the good work done by some noble souls. Congratulations to Ms.Nagarani, Mr.Shyam Shankar and Ms.Sunanda for their selfless service.”

Rajesh from Bangalore remarked pungently, “There are at least some dedicated people in the corruption capital of India!”

For most readers it was this overturning of the dark, seamy narrative of everyday news that struck a chord, the story a counter-current to the negativity that permeates national discourse.

ShitijTyagi from Melbourne in his long post despaired of the excessive focus on India’s negative side. “We Indians have talent, ability and success stories, but lack leadership…..” Shitij sought to re-establish India’s confidence and wrote about the country’s inspiring accomplishments in many fields. The sentiments vibrated, sparking a conversation within a conversation, and its own little chain of comments.

GovindBharad of Akola and Bonny Moraes of Goa reminisced about an era when idealism etched the lives people led. They spoke of village teachers whose hallmarks were sincerity, purpose, relentless hard work for an absolute pittance, and selfless service

The people who responded have great reverence for teaching, placing it on a high pedestal, the work the teachers do ennobling them.

Annamalai wrote, “Kudos to the teachers. They are assets to this noble profession. Let other teachers follow in their footsteps.”

Danem Group from Kasargod commented, “These teachers are doing what they ought to do. Teaching is one of the noblest professions and they are doing justice to it by imparting knowledge and learning unselfishly and in a dedicated manner. The schools also should be applauded for their dedication and support to these teachers.”

A little window here then to the three teachers who have aroused such heart-warming responses in The Times of India. Sunanda, the anganwadi teacher, has spent thirty six years of her professional life steering the Konankunte Anganwadi to new heights. She has an unshakeable belief in the transformative power of education and is an unsparing, but fun-filled teacher to her students. Nagarani and Shyam Shankar of the Marasandahalli school travel 42 kilometres every morning to get to school, and are rarely absent. Together they make a formidable team, inculcating in students values, leadership and a desire for goal-oriented academic progression.

It amazes ordinary, concerned citizens that in government there are custodians of education actually doing their job. It restores faith in a system that is increasingly ceasing to inspire.

As Vaibhav Jindal from Mumbai noted in Hindi, “It feels good to hear that there are people in government jobs putting in so much effort.”

Learn something from these role models was a message that rang out, along with the overflow of goodwill and affirmation.

Amol from Delhi said, “These are real heroes. Politicians, corporates and the media should learn something from them.”

Krsna099 from Malura, Dalhousie said, “….government schools are despised and known as ‘jhuggi jhonpdi schools’ (slum schools.) …..the standard of education in these schools is low and that is because the teachers posted there perhaps do not take interest. The examples from Bangalore show that if teachers are really sincere and dedicated and view their employment as social service, they can turn the tide. Education Departments must learn from this story.”

For every reader that responded there must be ten others who chose to remain silent. Akshara hopes this silent majority will also come forth and participate in a process that needs civil society’s active intervention. Sunanda, Nagarani and Shyam Shankar are symbols of hope.They bring fresh momentum to the stagnant status quo of education. Their stories lift morale. People feel restored and uplifted and inspired to do something.

As Gopal B. from Bombay observed, “Such inspiring stories should be given wide coverage so that the public at large get inspired to do their bit. It is depressing to read newspapers with so much of negative news, which affects people and their mindset when working. But these inspiring stories are like a breath of fresh air and will surely inspire people and dispel the gloom.”

Finally, in the words of Pardeep Singh of Ludhiana, “Thank God, something to cheer about.”

Read the article here:

‘Together, We Can’: An initiative by Akshara Foundation

Akshara Foundation today launched ‘Together, we can’, a campaign to highlight success stories of anganwadis and government primary schools and the necessity to replicate such models throughout the state and the country. The event was organized at the Bangalore International Centre on Thursday.

The former Additional Chief Secretary of the Government of Karnataka, Dr. Chiranjeevi Singh, presided over the event and shared some key learning’s from the success of government led initiatives in education and with the ICDS scheme. He also stressed on the importance of learning outcomes and overall development of children. Eminent personalities from the city were present along with distinguished figures from several NGOs, schools, academic and research institutes.  The panel discussions at the event brought to light the necessity for collaboration among various stakeholders.

Ashok Kamath, Chairman, Akshara Foundation reiterated the key findings of the Annual Status of Education Report, emphasizing the poor learning outcomes of students. He said, “Educating children is a social responsibility which rests on ALL of us – parents, teachers, schools, government, ordinary citizens, corporates, industry, academia and the media. The need of the hour is to bring these various stakeholders together to collaborate and put a collective effort into our education system. This collective effort is not just about enrolling children in school but also ensuring they learn well. Here, the onus and accountability lies with us.”

“Every child has the right to be educated and it is our duty to provide quality education to each child. Quality education can be imparted only if we have a sound and efficient system that understands the learning needs of children,” said Kanchan Bannerjee, Managing Trustee, Akshara Foundation. “Akshara Foundation has championed the cause of access to quality pre-school and elementary education as a fundamental pillar for the holistic development of children.   Akshara Foundation’s programmes and initiatives are designed to improve overall learning outcomes and are easily scalable and replicable anywhere.”

The scope of the event reflects Akshara Foundation’s efforts to replicate the collaborative model of education across Karnataka and to make early education a top priority for the state government. ‘Together, We Can’ is a focused effort to extend a helping hand to all individuals and organizations that work towards this common goal.

What does Akshara Foundation do?

Akshara Foundation was established in the year 2000 with a mission to ensure that every child is in school and learning well. Over the last thirteen years, Akshara has run multiple programs that have all been designed to be comprehensive, scalable and cost-effective solutions – both remedial and supplementary education models. All Akshara’s programs are child-centric and are designed to ensure that enrolment in schools increase, drop-outs from schools decrease and that children’s learning outcomes and overall development improve. To date, Akshara Foundation has impacted over 800,000 children in the state of Karnataka with its programmes and has successfully engaged with the government-run anganwadis and government primary schools across Bangalore and also in rural Karnataka especially in Koppal, Gadag and Dharwad districts.
Akshara works in close partnership with the Education Department of the Government of Karnataka and the Department of Women and Child Welfare to supplement existing primary school and pre-primary school programs.