The Malur Project


Neglected geographies where Akshara Foundation aims to set foot in resulted in an entry into Malur Block in Kolar District where a new model of work is being experimentally fashioned. The project is on in 51 anganwadis where Akshara has deployed its own staff of third workers, or volunteers, who, trained and equipped in preschool education, are propelling children along a learning curve that was noted for its absence.

Making do – often with very little – was what these anganwadis had been doing. There was poor quality TLM, or none at all; poor skill-sets to engage and educate children; and insufficient understanding of the value of preschool education.

These anganwadis are now flush with play material that promotes learning, provided by Akshara. The atmosphere is turning vibrant where once dullness and a certain lack of direction reigned. The third workers are handling their responsibilities reasonably well, with the team’s constant monitoring and support. The children have been administered a pre-test, an Akshara assessment tool with 56 activity-based preschool indicators. The answer sheets have been collected and despatched to the data centre. The TLM for the coming year has been distributed.

Some Malur centres are also being supported to become model anganwadis and the volunteers went through a second round of training in the additional TLM.

Challenges in Malur

There were challenges, though. On the 31stof May the team held a day-long meeting with the volunteers to elicit their opinion on the programme and to find out how they were faring. The anganwadi workers had been registering their appreciation of the model anganwadi concept, telling the team that its fundamental theories are sound.

At the meeting, the volunteers, however, gave the impression of being a bit half-hearted about their work. They endorsed the curriculum and the methods and were ready to do things. But there were issues. Some anganwadi workers did not support them enough. There were cracks developing in the team work between volunteers and anganwadi workers – there from the beginning and not healed sufficiently. There were infrastructure problems – no rooms, no space for some centres, and some centres housed in rented places. All of which inhibited their upgrade to model anganwadi status. “It would take time,” noted the team.

There are other challenges surfacing. Two volunteers got married and left. One quit due to personal difficulties. Not that their commitment was in question, just that life’s unavoidable processes create attrition. The number of volunteers has come down to 48. Not a vast reduction, but it raises factors that the team must take cognisance of. If young, active and energetic volunteers are recruited, this is a problem, notes the team. They are not being replaced right now as it is not an easy task organising comprehensive sessions of training for just 3 volunteers. The overheads are unsustainable. The Anganwadi workers are being supported to handle the curriculum.

Community Participation in Malur

But there are strong rays of hope. The community component, so vital in Akshara’s scheme of things, is getting a new boost. The team is active in the community, motivating and invigorating, and now that awareness is seeping in of the need for engagement, contribution is flowing in both as monetary support and effort. These are not people who are wealthy by any standards, or even comfortably off, but they are giving with a fullness that deserves credit.

At a community meeting in Bhuvanahalli, Nagesh, a Gram Panchayat member, came forward with Rs. 5000 for painting the anganwadi in the village. The Stree Shakti Sangha met the labour charges, and Jyothi, a Gram Panchayat member, put up a blackboard in the classroom at her expense. Gram Panchayat members have installed water filters costing around Rs. 1000 each in two anganwadis in Ramenahalli and Hungenahalli.

A discussion the team had with the Gram Panchayat President of Shivarapatna had a galvanising effect. He issued a letter to the anganwadi workers of the five anganwadis in the area stating that their centres should work from 9.30 am to 4 pm. The President also took it upon himself to oversee their day-to-day functioning.

Hanumanayakahalli Anganwadi has registered an unprecedented spurt in enrolment, attributable to the programme. In the last two months, new admissions went up, the number of children rising from eight to nineteen.

Training for Field Staff

The team organised a day’s training for Akshara’s field staff in Bangalore and Malur. Securing their feedback is a window to future implementation; it helps the team modulate practices and devise strategies. Half a day was devoted to problems and their solving, and to plans for an unfolding academic year, the other half to training in LEGO activities.


Extending Support to the Department

The team visited 7 anganwadis, urban and rural, in Arakalagudu in Hassan District to observe a pilot, christened Makkala Mane, or Children’s House, initiated in 95 anganwadis last year by the Department of Education and the Department of Women and Child Welfare. The anganwadi workers had been trained by a local non-governmental organisation to upgrade their centres to Upper Kindergarten (UKG) level to avoid the flight of children to private preschools and to wean back those who had left.

The team’s visit was meant to fulfil two objectives. One was to observe and understand the concept, compare it with Akshara’s own preschool strategies and learn from the experience. The second was to extend support to the Department of Women and Child Welfare in its plan to improve preschool education in anganwadis.

Akshara’s Together We Can initiative on the 18thof April, where an anganwadi worker was felicitated for her commitment to excellence, prompted the Department to come up with a vision for anganwadis in 12 selected districts in Karnataka. The Department has requested Akshara for a budget proposal with a financial breakdown, which they can submit to the central government for funds. Akshara’s role is not yet in the picture, but the team is hopeful and ready to offer any support the Department might need.

Child Tracking

A child tracking format that will ascertain a child’s trajectory has been given to all anganwadis in the programme. It is a process that will extract last year’s post-test list of children and check if they are continuing in the anganwadis or have moved to formal schools. This will give the team a more authentic child information directory to work with.

Summer Camps in Kushtagi


Akshara strongly believes that, “Strengthening the community is a long term endeavour”. People of the community become more empowered and responsible to work together to uplift and sustain the quality of education. Thus, Akshara initiated thirteen educational camps in the community for the children of 9 to 14 years in the Kustagi block in the month of May-2013.

Preparation for the camps:
The senior team members from Bangalore trained the team of Kustagi and Mundargi in Dharwad for four days in order to prepare for the summer camps in their particular clusters.
The summer camp training laid special emphasis on
The objectives of the camp.
Stake holders for the Community camps.
The target to conduct the Community camps in Hoskote, Kustagi and Mundargi.
Time line.
Core team for implementing each camp.
A plan to conduct the community camps

Mr. Mukund Maigur held the training on ‘Street Play’. He made everyone the poets, writers, actors and pioneers of the story. The team members found this means to be an effective media to reach out the minds of people concerning the relevance of education.

The Volunteers:
The mixed group of volunteers were identified for this camp. A fruit seller, a mason, a carpenter, members of Gram panchayat, II PUC passed students, Graduates, D.Ed and B.Ed completed candidates were the volunteers who led the camps.

 The Donors:
The team visited the community from door to door, met the SDMC members, the HMs, the teachers and the leaders of the village, explained them about the objectives of the camp and sought the donors to support the camps for three days.

Volunteer Training

Training the sixty selected volunteers:
Even though there was a lot of hesitation among the volunteers in the beginning of the sessions, gradually they all involved themselves in the training, every one participated in all the activities. The group activities, Lego, the tree game and the street play were particularly liked by all.
A session led by Mr.Shankar Narayan for four hours, his motivational speech and several activities made them think about the present status of education in their villages and they were stimulated to take up the new task in the form of village camps.

Camps:
In Kustagi block 13 camps were conducted in different villages. The locations were selected based on the cooperation of the schools, the communities, the SDMC and the availability of the volunteers. Sixty trained and enthusiastic volunteers returned to their places in zeal to conduct the events in their respective villages.

Inaugural function:
The camps began with the procession in the village. The children, the teachers, villagers and the volunteers lead the procession to the camp venue. The inaugural function was held in the schools. The Gram Panchayat Presidents and members, the SDMC President and the members, local leaders, the Self Help Group members, youth club, Cluster Resource Persons (CRP) the school Head Master, the assistant teachers, the media people, cooks of the school and volunteers were present during the function.

Activities in the camps held for three days:
The children were divided into four – five groups. They were instructed to be in their particular groups for all the three days. In the first session, they were made to dance, jump, sing and make jokes to attract them towards the camp. In some of the camps the guest lectures, the doctors, the lawyers, the engineers, the educationists and the Police inspector interacted with the children and inspired them to have an insight about their future.
“Memory Game” was an interesting game for the children. Every one participated in an enthusiastic manner.
The “Village Map” drawn by the volunteers involving the children show cased the picture about the irregular children, drop outs from the school, the educators of the village. This helped to know the present scenario of their village.
The children enjoyed the “Lego Game”. They all jumped with joy to see the Lego kit. They made different models, created a scene and narrated the story. They never wished to leave the camp even though the time was up.
“ASER” test was conducted to all the 727 children of the camp.
“Pick and speak” was an interesting event for all the children. It raised the self confidence in them. This made the children to think, prioritize, exhibit their thoughts and ideas with expressions before the audience.
The ‘Musical Chair’ game, the ‘Outdoor’ games, ‘Indoor’ games, ’Quiz’ in ‘English and Math’ and ‘General  Knowledge’ created healthy competition among the children.
A “Tree Game” was liked by all the children. After the tree game the children took an oath to plant a tree and name it. In Sebinakatti, Kalkeri and Bilagi villages the plants were distributed to all the children by the forest officer.

Community meetings:
In every village, a social gathering was held after 8 PM it went on till 11.30 PM. The parents of the children participating in the camp, the village leaders, youth, the SHG members, the Gram Panchayat members, SDMC members all gathered during this meeting. On the ‘First’ day, the cultural activities by the children were well appreciated. Akshara team members briefed about the purpose of the camp and the significance of education in today’s juncture.

The points mentioned below were highlighted during the meeting.
Monthly parents meetings to be held in schools.
The parents should spend minimum of 30 minutes with their children every day and ask about the learning in their class rooms.
The parents to meet the class teachers every month compulsory.
To conduct a ‘Makkal Sammelana’ once every six months.

On Day 2, the children drew everyone’s attention with their cultural activities again. The volunteers, Akshara team in collaboration with the children performed the street play beautifully. The play was effective in spreading awareness in the minds of the village folk through children.The children expressed their views about the camp. The information collected through the village map was shared with the parents. The results of the ASER test were announced in the community. Mr.Sharanappa Vodagera a famous folk singer, entertained the people with his awareness songs called “Jagruti Geethegalu” concerning the education of the emerging generation.

The annual plan for the academic year was shared with the community and is as follows:
To visit the school once in a month.
To conduct meetings with the educationists.
To provide basic facilities to the school.
To identify the problems in the schools and to provide solutions.
To give more emphasis on appointing teachers to schools.
To look for teachers from the village who can render their services voluntarily.
To help provide books to the children in time.
To recognize the meritorious children and to motivate them as well as the other students.

On Day-3, during the valedictory function the community members and the donors were also present. The prizes were distributed for all the events which were conducted for the children. The dignitaries on the dias delviered their speeches. A word of  thanks to all the people involved in the success of the camps and finally, the oath taking by the volunteers and the people of the community to carry on the same for the next summer camp was the sequence of the day.

About the camps:
The ‘Three Day Camp’ was as good as a festival in the village for the all the people. All the community people gathered in one place without any differences of cast and creed. They all agreed upon the idea of education and its importance. They were cooperated well with the Akshara team. The CRPs, HMs and the community people opined that, a educational programme of this type had never been held before in their villages. The programme went on till 11.30PM. The parents were glad to see their their kids performing various events. Over all they viewed the hidden talents of their children in the community programme.


ASER Result:
727 children benefitted from this camp. All the children were tested with the ASER tool. As per the ASER result of 727 children, 408 (56%) can read Kannada, 86 (12%) can read simple English sentences and 206 (28%) children can do division.

Support of the volunteers:

The support of the volunteers was amazing. There are no words to express about them. ‘Fifty five’ of the had attended the training but more than ‘Eighty’ of them joined their hands during the camps leaving behind all their personal work. They helped and enjoyed in the camps without any expectations. The logistic arrangements for Akshara team was taken care by the volunteers. The volunteers said that it was a first educational function in their village and they will take it forward in the days to come.

A volunteer named Anand, a seventeen year old boy, passed his 10th standard with 70% in the year 2012-13, from the Government High School and is now studying in the first year of Pre-University College. He starts his day by distributing news papers from door to door.  His father is an alcoholic and mother supports the family. His parents discouraged him from continuing studies due to the poverty. But, Anand wants to become an ‘Artist’. Therefore he earns money for himself and also continues his studies. He was an active volunteer in the Basavana camp, Tavergera. He donated tea and snacks on all the three days of the camp. “I am ready to invest my time and money for any educational programs. Akshara Foundation gave me an opportunity to be the part of educational program and I totally support their effort”,says, Anand.

Mr.Raghvendra from Kalkeri village has completed his D.Ed says through assuring words, that, “I had heard about the summer camps happening in the towns and the cities, but now it has stepped into the interiors of the village through Akshara Foundation. It is a gift for us. We the youth will continue this tradition”.

The support from the school HMs and the CRPs:
The Head Masters of the schools rendered their support. Some of the HMs stayed till the community meetings got over. A tasty food was prepared by the cooks to the children. In some of the villages the cooks of the schools donated tea and biscuits to all the children.

Donors:
In most of the camps, SDMC President and the Gram Panchayat President were the major donors. Some of them provided breakfast,sweets, tea, snacks, note books, pens, and prizes for the events for all the children

Experience of the Cluster Facilitators:
“It was a wonderful experience to know about myself. I learnt to organize events, gained the confidence and faced people and the media. I felt very happy when I addressed nearly 200 people” says Mr.Govindappa.
Mr.Manjunath gladly says:“Before the camp I was like a tube light but after the camps I have become like a CLF bulb”I have taken up the challenge to give my service the best to schools and community”
Ms.Shailaja says, “I came to know about my strengths and the talents through this camp”.
“Initially, I was not confident about myself but now, I feel that, everything is possible if there is a will”. Explains Mr.Kotresh.
Mr.Shivappa adds, “I was suffering from inferiority complex but these camps have helped me overcome my problem”.
Mrs.Akkamahadevi asserts: “I had the confidence to do any program. But I was worried about how to take this with the support of community and volunteers. I succeeded.”
Mr.Sharanappa shares, “I am impressed by the volunteers. They gave their time without any expectations for the cause of education. So everything is possible if we go with good will”.
Mr.Doddangowda confidently says, “I learnt to organize the events with the support of the community. I was an introvert but now,I feel that I am not”.
“I have gained a lot of knowledge by interacting with the children”. Says a newly joined CF, Mr.Shankarappa.
Today, I feel proud to say that, I am a block facilitator of Kustagi block for Akshara foundation. The camps have thrown the light on the block and many officers, the teachers and the people recognize me” opines, Mr.Umesh Meli the ‘Taluka Facilitator’.

Learning:
It was a firsthand experience and learning to have an exposure through the camps in the community.
The education department officers, teachers, children, the community and the media had a positive view about the camps.
Akshara foundation has shown and sown the way in the community to continue the camps in the days to come.
The team has built up the confidence to take up any challenges on the field.

Challenges faced:
It was a tough task to identify the volunteers in the community. Some said ‘yes’ but did not turn up for the training.
Elections were a hurdle to get the camps started in time.
Some donors assured to donate for the camp but were unable to do so.
Internal conflicts between the SDMC and HM was also an obstacle.
‘Marriages’ and Gram ‘Habbas’ in the villages also intervened the camps.
Basic facilities for the Akshara team was another challenge.


Conclusion:
Akshara Foundation’s team in Kushtagi, with many experiences was able to successfully conduct thirteen educational camps. Through these camps, we brought a smile on 727 children’s faces. The village map, tree game, ASER, street play, Drawing and Quiz competitions, Lego, Outdoor and Indoor games, Action songs and many other activities have retained in the young minds of the children. The cultural activities performed by the children and the youth, Rangoli competitions for the women in the village were interesting to note. All this showed the enthusiasm of the people. The support of the volunteers, school HM, CRPs, people of the community has doubled the confidence of all the CFs. The regular support of Mr.Shankara Narayan, the stay in the village, his interaction with the people and the motivational speech had people impressed.

Though beginners, Akshara Foundation has made a mark and has created history in all the thirteen villages of  the Kushtagi block.

Do Not Judge them by their Appearances


Monalisa Hota from our Research team shares an interesting anecdote with us.

I visited this school in the Boodegere Cluster during one of my routine visits for supervision of RCT (Randomised Control Trial) Assessment Tests being carried out by our (Akshara Foundation’s) Field Coordinators. This school was a Control school, meaning that Akshara Foundation does not support this school with training and learning materials. The first impression I got of the school was due to its dilapidated pathways within its premises; these were laid with large sharp stones all over the front of the first building which made walking painful and, I should say, wobbly. Walking around this Higher Primary School, one could see a lot of open space waiting to be beautified and utilized for sports, games and gardening. As we approached the classes, it got worse; the classes and corridors seemed as though they have never been swept before; the toilets stank and so did the classrooms situated next to them; and the children were dirty from head to toe with the dust that stuck to their feet and clothes from the floor. Despite these indicators, there was something that felt right about this school. The teachers came across as confident and were found capable of handling a class of about 20-30 kids; and more surprisingly, the children, especially that of standard 4, were all bright eyed and bushy tailed…. brimming with confidence and mischief.

We got a chance to dig a bit further as this standard 4 was not being monitored by any teacher and we were needed to keep them from disturbing the data collector (who sat outside this class testing children). So, we tried to keep them engaged and entertained in ways that we could. We started with performances and the girls came forward to present their group songs followed by solo performances by some boys. They seemed fully in control of their actions and were very entertaining too, despite bantering from an overzealous audience. Surprisingly, there were not just one or two but many children willing to come forward and perform.

The performers!

Once this was over, suddenly one boy’s curiosity spread across the entire class and I found all of their eyes on me. Until then, I was quietly enjoying their performances and interactions. In no time, they surrounded us and started asking my name: nimma hesara yenu, miss? then switching to Hindi- aapka naam kya hai, miss? I quietly looked at all of them and then asked them to ‘guess’. They misunderstood and thought that I am asking them to GIVE me a name. Names started pouring out as I was given a range of names ….Shanta, Savitri, Anuradha …While they excitedly brainstormed, I fumbled to find an expression for ‘guess’! Could not find the word then (but on asking around later on, I found its meaning is close to an Urdu word andaaza). Anyhow, they gave up and started asking my name again. So, Shreedevi intervened with some clues to keep the game going. Clue #1: World-famous lady: Response= Indira Gandhi. I did not see that coming!; Clue #2: Starts with ‘mo’ and has four characters (in Kannada of course); Clue #3: Ends in ‘sa’. Seriously thinking by now, they were taken to the board where she wrote ‘mo’ followed by two blanks followed by ‘sa’. Amidst all that noise that did not sound anywhere closer to the name, I heard it.

Quizzing

It was a little girl’s voice who got shy as I spotted her. She had got it right and that was mighty impressive!! Well done! All of us praised her by applauding and I (ritualistically) took her picture. The quiz ended there (I was happy to see my name find its place in something more useful than just causing raised eye-brows and you-are-kidding expressions). Next time, may be I would carry a picture of the painting itself so they’d have something more to associate it with. Finally, we decided to just quickly see if they could read from their own text book; there was no child who could not read from the Kannada book they were asked to read from. As we left them to read among themselves, I could not help but notice what a lively mix of mischief, discipline and intelligence there was in that class. I no longer got distracted by the unpaved bumpy pathway and wondered what was working there.
Appearances are deceptive: an old adage got re-inforced (once again) by this visit.

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”.

Creative solutions for RTE challenges

The fanfare around the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 (RTE Act) is dissipating. Soon the reality will hit as the Act has to become ‘operational’. The powers that be are yet to ascertain the exact modalities of how this will work — the resources, the monitoring and tracking, the exact role of the private schools and a multitude of other issues.

Now is the time to take stock of the landscape and see what can strengthen the implementation of the Act.  Equally important is to be cognizant of the challenges that come with this ambitious goal and pre-empt some, if not all of them.

Enabling factors
There is no dearth of innovations in the education sector and many of these can address systemic gaps. Social entrepreneurs behind these innovations have demon-strated that these can work not just in small settings but even when taken to scale.

A time-tested example is what Rama and Padmanabha Rao have developed through the RIVER (Rishi Valley Institute for Educational Resources) project.  As we know, most rural schools are single-teacher schools and have no choice but to take up multi-grade teaching, thus limiting a child’s ability to learn well.  RIVER has been able to re-design the teaching methodology so that single teachers who are teaching different grades at once are able to do it effectively.  Their success has already been demonstrated in 75,000 schools that are using this model in 13 different languages, and nearly 1,20,000 teachers have been trained to use this approach.  Beyond this, the Raos have been able to help develop teaching materials involving the local communities.  This makes it low-cost and the children can easily relate to them.  All this put together has addressed issues of teacher and student absenteeism, made learning a joy and filled the disconnect between schools and communities.

There are many such innovations, which when coupled with the existing infrastructure, can do wonders.  Technology can play a pivotal role too — empowering teachers and students alike.  An extensive mapping of these innovations and integrating the truly promising ones into the mainstream is the need of the hour. 

Quality and metrics
Efforts like Read India, undertaken by Pratham, emphasize quality and not just the number of children in school. Tracking and monitoring results is integral to the success of what the Act hopes to accomplish.  Pratham is also behind the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in order to assess the national success:  the numbers as well as the quality of education attained by the children.  ASER has served as the proverbial mirror revealing what has worked well and what has not — including the geographic disparities.  Pratham also conducts bridge schools for children who are out of school to prepare them to re-enter mainstream schools.

Porous system
Then there is the issue of those children who fall through the cracks despite the best of intentions of all stakeholders. A case in point is children of migrant labourers.  Millions of poor rural Indians migrate from their villages in search of work for up to 8 months every year. They work in brick kilns, sugarcane plantations, salt pans and other labour-intense sectors to provide for their families. Typically, their children migrate with them.  Such migration usually results in these children dropping out of school at a very young age and starting work, often under hazardous conditions.  The LAMP (Learning and Migration Program),run by the American India Foundation, reaches out to these communities and their children and ensures that they have access to education.  Children can stay back in seasonal hostels in their native villages and continue to learn or attend site schools where their parents end up working.
 
Lessons to learn
While it is a totally different issue, there are some interesting parallels with another major Act passed recently to deliver another social good — employment.  The NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) has had mixed results.   While some states have been able to access close to 50 per cent of funds available under NREGA, other states have used less than 10 per cent of the funds. RTE could go the NREGA way if not handled well.

There are voices of dissonance being heard in the context of resources.  On whom does the burden lie?  The centre or the state?  What kind of micro-planning is needed?  For resources to be allocated, village level planning is needed and aggregated information from villages has to flow upward for allocation of funds.  How realistic is this and how will this be executed?

Teacher recruitment
The challenges are many and being cognizant of them is the first step.  The Act has not mapped out a plan to address the gap in the number and quality of teachers. Large numbers of teachers must be recruited instantly, trained and retrained adequately, placed rapidly and monitored regularly.  Partnerships with private schools can help with setting up such training facilities. The second challenge is incorporating the voice of the marginalised communities in the resource allocation process.

Many of these people are illiterate themselves and therefore unaware of policy changes and unable to comprehend their rights.  The government must take steps that include these communities and the civil society must provide a platform for them to be heard.  Social awareness is what will close the final gap.  Many communities do not see this as an investment in their children’s future.  ‘If my child is going to eventually work in the fields, what is the use of years of being in school?’  This is the question posed by many remote rural communities.  Other stigma and challenges need to be addressed — such as keeping the girl child in school.

The key is for the government not to reinvent the wheel, but to form partnerships with the stakeholders to replicate, build on and scale up models that work to overcome some of the challenges.

As one leading educationist in the country put it, ‘Stratospheric debates on education and RTE alone are not enough’.  Governments, philanthropists, the citizen sector, businesses — all have a major role in enabling India achieve its educational success.  It will take lots of resources and many creative solutions to ensure that the children are actually able to exercise their right that the Constitution of India has now handed them.

Source : Deccan Herald

LEGO Habba 2012 : A big success !!



A Big Success
 
The LEGO Habba, happening every Saturday from October 2012 to December 2012 in selected government schools in Bangalore, concluded recently. The event had been been conceived with the aim of having Parents, Teachers and Children engage in a creative LEGO brick activity in school. This was good way to ensure that Parents and School Staff build a good relationship to ensure that they jointly do the best for the child.

From schools in Siddhapura, Austin Town and Harappanahalli, reports streamed into Akshara from the library resource team about the festive atmosphere the Habbas were generating, the light, happy mood of children, their buoyant creativity and the quite unbelievable models they designed, the parental participation and the support of volunteers and school managements in making the Habbas a huge success.

Groups of children made thematic models from stories that came out of their memory trove, stories they could best represent through art, design and construction, with the hundreds upon hundreds of bright, multi-colored, interlocking LEGO play-and-learning material before them. Children joined and fixed and connected the LEGO bricks, set elaborate stages for the characters that would live in their stories, the trees and animals that would inhabit them and built towers and forts and simple dwellings.

The Stories They Chose

 
At the school in Austin Town the children of Std. I, II and III chose The Thirsty Crow from the Panchatantra for their model.
For Std. IV children it was The King and the Parrot, again from the Panchatantra,  its characters a bit more complex.
Soleman from the cartoon serial was a more tricky concept to represent, but that is what Std. V children chose to depict.
Std. VI children came up with The Golden Axe, a well-remembered story of theirs, and had a forest ready for the tale of the honest woodcutter who was gifted the golden axe by the river god.
The children of Std. VII did something unique. They devised their own story, made animals their protagonists, assigned each a role and character and had them play out their parts in sequences. Their story was almost similar to The Royal Toothache published by Pratham Books.

“We Loved the Event”

Thirty five parents showed up at the Siddhapura school and though they were all shy and disengaged in the beginning, not knowing what to expect, Akshara staff and Fidelity Information Systems (FIS) volunteers thawed the ice and brought about a great artistic commingling.
One parent remarked that no one has ever invited them to come and play with their children in school before, referring to the library resource team’s ingenious invitations that went out to them from the school managements’ side. “We loved the event,” the parent said. “It helped us to get to know our children better and also helped us interact with teachers for a reason that was different from academic results.”
Cluster Resource Person (CRP) Govindappa said, “It was a very well-organized event. Looking at the LEGO play material I was half tempted to join the children (which I did too) and play with them. I was surprised by the presence of parents and that they stayed on for such a long time. They were not willing to get back home. I thank the Akshara Foundation team, all the volunteers and school staff for such a fabulous event.”

Pride in Achievement


It was all over in one short hour, the flying sparks and the bursts of ideas translating into solid substance, and the children stood under the marquees with their models, full of pride and achievement and ownership, surrounded by an appreciative and applauding crowd of parents, HMs, teachers, volunteers, School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) members and Akshara staff. They spoke enthusiastically about what they had so spontaneously created, their stories, their models, and how they went about it.



Over 130 volunteers from various organizations like FIS, Robert Bosch, CGI, Hibu, iGate and schools like Inventure Academy organized the habba at 16 schools over Saturdays. Thanks to their high enthusiasm and passion, the habba was a great success !!

As Sharath from Hibu, who had volunteered for the Habba at the Harappanahalli school, noted, “This was an amazing event. I am very excited by the creativity and the talent shown by government school children. My team has volunteered for some events with children before, but the sense of satisfaction and entertainment this event gave us is immense. I wish to participate more frequently in Akshara Foundation events in future.”

The last habbas

The last two LEGO Habbas were conducted at the Community Education Resource Centre (CERC), or community library, at two Bridge Schools run by Samruddhi Foundation. It is an Akshara – supported CERC, run with donor contributions from ING Vysya Foundation. Around 160 children from a local rag-pickers’ colony attend the community library and the team had introduced them to LEGO’s learning and creative opportunities early in the academic year.

Watch the Habba in action

Here’s a wonderful video created by Inventure Academy on the habba. The video tells you the story of the habba and how the children, parents, teachers of GKHPS Handenahalli and the students of Inventure Academy participated in it as a single community.

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.

LEGO Habba 2012 : A Community festival in schools


Why a Community Festival?

At Akshara, we create programmes in Government Primary Schools and Pre-Schools (Anganawadi-s), that are intended to help improve educational outcomes at these institutions. Among the aspects of each program is an Outreach to Community, the parents of the children. An involved and engaged parent community helps both children and these institutions do better. A Community Festival is a good way to ensure that Parents and School Staff build a good relationship to ensure that they jointly do the best for the child.

What is the LEGO Habba?

With this intent in mind, Akshara is creating a series of Community Festivals in schools and pre-schools. The festivals, called the LEGO Habba, have been conceived with the aim of having Parents, Teachers and Children engage in a creative LEGO brick activity in school. We believe this Habba will be perceived to be very unusual, curious, and interesting, and should see better participation on part of the parents, as to compared to that during the twice-yearly Open School Day hosted by the Education Department, the SamudaayaDatta Shaaale. Co-located Pre-School staff and the parents of pre-school children are also being invited.

The Habba uses the theme of LEGO model construction wherein Parents, Children, and Teachers are to be invited to play, and create a LEGO model in the school. The Theme of the Habba is entitled “Land of Stories”. Children, their parents and the teachers get together in classrooms, choose a story that is a part of their common cultural memory and decide among themselves how they will depict that story, using LEGO brick-based model construction. The entire Habba lasts for only two hours. In the process of this activity, we believe that the resulting interaction, exchange of views and ideas, and the ensuing conversation will help create a few lasting relationships between parents and school teachers, leading to increased engagement on part of both in the education of their children. The long term benefits of this relationship will surely tell on the children’s learning outcomes in the schools.

The Habba will be witnessed by senior Education Department officials at as many locations. Members from School and Pre-School Monitoring Committees are also being invited. Volunteers from Akshara Donors and Friends are being drafted in to help conduct the Habba at the various locations.

Where is the LEGO Habba?

The LEGO Habba is planned to be held at sixteen Government Primary Schools. The Habba will be held on seven continuous Saturdays, immediately after school hours, starting on the 3rd November 2012 and going up to 15th December, 2012. The list of locations is shown below. The geographical locations of these schools in Bangalore is also shown.

      Schools where LEGO Habba is being conducted

 LEGO Habba location map

Join us and participate in this interesting event to bring together children, parents, teachers and the community to celebrate the creativity of each child !! If you would like to participate, please write to Arvind Venkatadri – arvind@akshara.org.in