Try, Try, Try My Best

Akshara Foundation’s Easy English programme puts Jayalakshmi in total command.

Jayalakshmi belongs to a small, elite league of government school teachers who know English, her passionate urge for it pushing her to greater ascendancies. Her spoken English is smart, stylish, free-flowing, of current coinage. “Come, you want to talk to me?” she asks mildly, but with total command as she pulls out chairs. “Now tell me,” she says, settling down.

Jayalakshmi is the Headmistress and teacher of a Nali-Kali class of 11 at the Government Kannada Lower Primary School in Gonakanahalli, Hoskote block. The school has 18 children, classes 1-5.

As one of its foremost teachers and strongest supporters, she holds high the torch of EASY English, Akshara Foundation’s Digitised English Programme. In a writing assignment for the programme’s training workshop (6-12-2016), she writes, “EASY English. It is a very effective programme from Akshara Foundation. It is very helpful to all government teachers, especially those who are interested to learn and teach English.

From the beginning, I attended all the 10 training workshops. I learnt small and big letters, English grammar………how to make sentences, how to teach English with the Tab for the children.

The children in our school are enjoying English a lot. It is successful and practical. So once again, I would like to say thanks to Akshara Foundation. We are grateful for the EASY English programme.”

The only spelling mistake in the two-page essay is when Jayalakshmi writes ‘greatful’ for ‘grateful.’ Only two or three places where a word connector is missing, like ‘those,’ ‘a,’ or ‘the,’ or a preposition misjudged, a couple of instances of wrong usage, and just once where a sentence is stranded. Her work shows organised thought, and comments and ideas are couched in separate paragraphs.

“I couldn’t even write one page before EASY English started,” Jaylakshmi says. “Now give me a subject and I can write three or four pages. I write about any topic given at the training. Ask the Resource Person,” she says, signalling to the Akshara team member. From a teacher who completed her B.Ed in English this year, it is not something anybody is disputing. “Not enough. No,” she protests in severe self-disapproval. “I have a lot of work left to do.”

Jayalakshmi’s search for English is assiduous. It began in 2010, a few years before EASY English, when her eldest son, now in engineering, teased her repeatedly, “You can’t even speak English.” Stung, Jayalakshmi enrolled in a two-month spoken English class. The learning there had its limitations, till she became one of the teacher beneficiaries in Akshara’s English programme. Now she is simply in a class of her own.

“I read India Today, The Times of India, comics. I watch English news on my mobile,” she says, tapping her elegant smartphone. That, for a confident, self-assured lady, is the only piece of technology she deals with. “I’m on WhatsApp and Facebook. Mostly I read other people’s posts on FB. I don’t like posting much – it’s like saying everything to everyone. When I get a difficult word, I go to Google.” These are some of the engines that power Jayalakshmi’s English growth.

Few government school teachers in the programme muster the courage yet to declare, as she does, “English is easy to understand.”

“They’re Improving…..” Jayalakshmi’s students have an expert touch with the Tab that is far ahead of what the team finds in many classrooms. When visitors enter class, they speak only in English. “They’re improving day by day,” says Jayalakshmi. “They’re completely engaged with the technology of the Tab.”

The Drive that Keeps her Going:
Jayalakshmi needs neither prodding nor pushing, her answers tumble out before the questions are put. “You tell me,” she says, sitting forward. “How do I improve my English? I want to learn more English, have more fluency.” Her drive keeps her on her feet. At 48, she has her journey mapped and it is strewn with self-affirmative milestones. “I want to do my MEd* in English. After my 60th year, I’ll do my PhD**. Now I’m busy, busy, always busy.”

Today’s chock-full calendar of activity is: doing as much as she can to advance her grasp. “Try, try, try my best. I want to teach my students more English.”


* Master’s in Education.

** Doctor of Philosophy.

Graduation Day for Tiny Tots!

Recently, Akshara Foundation’s Easy English Programme team organised an event called ‘Graduation Day’ of the first graders. The event was organised in GLPS Chikkanahalli school, Mugabala cluster, Hosakote block (Bengaluru Rural district).

The event showcased the learning trajectories of the children. Around 58 students and 13 teachers from 13 government schools of Mugabala cluster were present. The event was attended by the Zila Panchayat president, BEO, BRP and SDMC members of Hoskote block, and a few parents of the first graders.

Each school was asked to represent what they had learnt in the last nine months, using a given theme. While one school represented ‘Parts of the Body’, the other schools did ‘Mixing and Matching’ of objects with object naming, role plays, how to make use of a tab and learn through it (the main component of the Easy English programme), searching and making words from letters randomly placed, etc.


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During these exercises, one could see that these children were able to say a complete sentence and were also able to comprehend.
All the 13 performances were amazing and have changed my perceptions that government school teachers lack creative skills.

In all my classroom observations at government primary schools, never have I seen teachers doing something different to teach children, something other than just a textbook. This could be because of my short stay inside a particular classroom, or my perceived notion, based on ASER numbers.

This experience surely makes me wonder if teachers use such creative skills on a regular basis. If yes, then no one can stop these kids from excelling. This kind of event can aid teachers to incorporate the innovative techniques that they have learnt through this platform in future classroom sessions. More such events like this one can help motivate teachers to teach better.


– Anuradha Mondal, Akshara Foundation

A Visit to GLPS Ilathore

Nalini NK & Suman Nadakarni of the Resource team visited GLPS Ilathore, in Sadahalli Cluster of Devanahalli Taluk.  This is an account of their experience at the school.

  This school is situated in the interior and is around 3kms from the Devanahalli Main Road. The transportation facility to the school is somewhat limited, as the buses travel once in 2 hours and therefore people here either walk, or take 2-wheelers. We reached the school at around 10.30 am.
As soon as we entered the school campus, we were surprised to see the environment inside the school. The school compound is well built. There are trees planted on both the rows of the ground periphery, which houses a beautiful small garden in between.  The school premises are kept very clean and tidy. The floor of the classrooms are made up of tiles and look very attractive and shiny. The school has separate toilets for boys, girls and staff members.
When enquired about the environment here, the Head Master Mr. Shivakumar said that it is a result of the great support and farsighted vision of the SDMC President, members and parents.  Also, each classroom is decorated with TLM materials in a very neat and orderly fashion.
We then visited the Nali-Kali Class. What we observed there stunned us with excitement. The walls of the classroom are divided into small rectangular spaces, which act as a black-board for every child. The Children write on the board, erase and re-use the space and hence making learning not just effective but also a lot of fun. The same pattern is followed in all 3 Nali-Kali classes. The teacher Rajeshwari is a calm and a very enthusiastic lady, and hence is able to pay individual attention to every child.
As we were passing by we saw that class 5 was self-handled by the kids. The children seemed quiet. The class leader was reading a lesson aloud and the rest of the children were following her enthusiastically. The Head Master, then said, that every class in this school followed a similar pattern.    
Outside the classrooms, in the verandah, the school has a small Library which houses story books, newspapers and magazines. The children whenever free visit the library corner and spend time in reading. On the other side of the verandah, there is a cupboard with shelves, where the glasses and plates are kept. After, the children finish their lunch; the utensils are washed and kept in the shelf, vertically allowing the water to dry up. Also, there are sufficient number of plates and glasses for every child in the school.
The Children are enthusiastic and very eager to learn. The teachers also are very supportive of the children. Identity cards are given to each and every child. Both, English and Maths programme are running well in this school. The children are grouped, and then encouraged to use the Teaching Learning Material (TLM) in groups, hence allowing group study and also imbibing traits of teamwork and leadership. Math is been taught in the school using Akshara’s TLM, teachers and children both thoroughly enjoy teaching and learning math this way.

English to be made compulsory in all Government Schools in Karnataka

Via Times of India
Government schools in Karnataka will have to compulsorily teach English as one of the languages from Class 1. However, only some government schools seem to be complying with the rule.
Primary and secondary education minister Kimmane Ratnakar said on Tuesday: “English from class I is among one of the assurances in the Congress manifesto. We must implement it from the beginning of every academic year. This year, we must start the project at the earliest.”

The decision has been taken to prevent students from moving to private schools, he said, adding that there will be no examination for English from classes 1 to 5.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Vidyavahini project under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the minister said that there will soon be around 6,000 schools with community-based interventions like the school-adoption programme.

Read the entire article here.

My Volunteering Experience at a Government School

Medha Bhattacharya, a student of Indus International School studying in Class 12 volunteered at the GKMPS Munichinappa Adugodi School. This is what she had to say about her experience!

I remember the first day I went to the school for (volunteering) very clearly because I had been incredibly sick the night before and just about staggered into the Headmistress’s office. Unfortunately I was entirely unable to understand anything that was being said because my knowledge of Kannada is rudimentary at best and non-existent at worst. But by the end of the meeting it was determined that I was to teach English to children from the fourth to the seventh grade for one period everyday. Needless to say I was quite freaked out. I had never actually taught anyone anything before unless you count helping people remember dates for a history exam. I was also well aware of what kids think of new teachers, especially flaky substitute ones.
My first class was with the seventh graders. I had made a couple of worksheets that I thought they could do. The response I got was incredible. All the kids were intensely competitive, trying to do everything as efficiently and intelligently as possible. Almost all of them got everything right and I knew I had to make stuff a little more challenging. That class was definitely one of the brightest. They were all really helpful and honestly made everything so much less scary.

I think the class that I probably spent the most time with though was the fourth grade. They were the polar opposite of the much better behaved seventh grade. There were only about twenty of them but honestly it felt like there were at least fifty. The first thing I did with them was to give them worksheets with the alphabet and an object beginning with that alphabet written next to it. They traced over the words quite peacefully albeit slightly noisily. And then to make it a little more interesting I put up an alphabet chart with pictures of objects from A to Z. But I left out the words underneath it giving them pieces of paper with the word on the pieces and told them to stick it onto the chart. And that was when all hell broke loose.

Everybody wanted to stick his or her word up at the same time. I think a couple of kids started crying, whether in sheer frustration or because they actually got injured in the mad rush towards the chart I will never know. But after a while we managed to get all the words stuck up there and everyone was really really happy. Yet again their drive and sheer joy in learning and doing something a little different completely surprised me. I think out of all the grades fourth standard were probably the most affectionate, hugging me every time I came and generally being absolutely lovely.

The class I particularly remember when I taught the sixth grade was the one with the (animal) flashcards. I divided them into three teams and the team that could recognize the most number of animals won. There was one boy literally knew the names of almost all the animals on the flashcards. I did the same thing with the fifth grade and when I told them to divide into two teams the boys rushed to one side and the girls to another.  The girls absolutely decimated the boys and were incredibly proud of their victory.

Another particularly memorable class was when I took a chart with the lyrics of a song on it but with some words missing. I gave the kids (seventh graders) the missing words, played the song and they filled it up. Then I played Hello and Goodbye by the Beatles to teach them opposites.

The most fulfilling part about this whole experience though was probably the way they talked to me and asked me how I was. Despite the fact that I don’t really understand Kannada they would talk to me before I left and ask me when I was coming next.

I had a really good experience and I would definitely do it again if I could.

(Medha Bhattacharya is bright 17th year old studying in Indus International School. She volunteered for 10 days and spent a total of 15 hours volunteering at a Government School. She loves to volunteer because she enjoys being with children, she feels that she is lucky to have so many opportunities and would like to contribute something whenever she can)

A Visitor’s Note!

 Geeta Kumar,visited Akshara Foundation a couple of weeks ago. She was a school teacher in Delhi and also a member of the Committee which wrote the Position Paper for teaching of English, under the NCF 2005. This is what she had to say about us.

A chance conversation  with a Satsang Foundation devotee brought me in touch with this organisation. Scrolling through their website, I felt quite interested , especially because I had wanted to make some difference in the government school education sector but was clueless about how to make it happen.The response from the Managing Trustee was most welcoming and warm, to say the least. A visit to the Foundation’s office and interaction with her was gave me a good idea of the nature and scope of the work that they are doing, and I was truly impressed and thrilled.

For the first time (and I really mean this), I saw evidence of something being done to address the real needs of the student and the teacher in learning and teaching English. It is most exciting to see that a model is being developed  which can make a difference. I was also given an opportunity to visit some schools in Hoskote where the programme is being used presently. There I saw that the commitment of the Foundation members was receiving a very positive response from the teachers and the children.

The personal inter action of the programme executors with their target teachers and students seemed to me  a wonderful way of making learning actually happen at the primary school level. If only our state and national bodies in charge of primary education would care to notice this model and learn a few lessons from them, things will begin to brighten in the dismal scene of primary education in the country.

My congratulations to the team for the great work that they are doing and my prayers that they will reach out to other parts of the state and the country so that the aspiration of millions of students for gaining competence in the use of English  will become a reality.

An Objective Analysis of Swalpa English, Thumba Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ‘Stars’ of Kushtagi: My First Visit to North Karnataka

Last week, Monalisa Hota from our Research team visited our programmes in Kushtagi block, Koppal. Below, she shares her experiences of the school visits and English training.
My visit to Kushtagi on 15th and 16th January 2013 was divided into two parts: Observe the Second round of English training to the Master Resource Persons (MRPs) and school visits. I spent the whole of first day with the 13 who came to participate in the training. Almost all of them were familiar with Akshara Foundation and Kanchan Bannerjee as they were trained before, except one very enthusiastic teacher who was new but insisted on being trained in this round. She seemed qualified enough to grasp the new material even though she was new to the training itself. Their English was far from perfect but their eagerness to learn and teach this ‘foreign’ language was impressive, to say the least. While the group of participants had almost equal male and female participation, more males teachers were better in spoken English, confidence and energy. Since the training was being conducted within a school, availing children for teaching learning purposes was easy and that enriched the whole experience for the participants. Kanchan’s ability to break this complex language into simple digestible pieces and to make the training as hands-on as possible by involving the children of the school played a major role in sustaining the interest of the participants throughout the session.
The process of training itself was very effective. However, the fact that only 50% of the invitees could make it to the training was an issue worth discussing and resolving for future. Despite an agreement with the Government to set some days aside for Akshara Training, only half could attend. One of the teachers called Kanchan to express his discontent with the Principal’s decision to call him back to school while he was on his way to training; he desperately wanted to participate. When such promising, enthusiastic and energetic teachers face unnecessary and avoidable hurdles, it’s a loss to all of us, especially the children. These are the kind of teachers we need in this time of crisis in the teaching fraternity. Is it possible to retain their energies before they are lost to the ‘system’? New as it was to me, I was constantly attempting to process these new pieces of information, reflect, discuss and think of possible solutions.
 Next day was the day of school visit. Based on one article I had read on KLP on the usefulness of School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) in creating an environment for learning, I was curious as to what was the situation in the schools that I visited. Out of the four schools I visited, I found the SDMC active in just one school and that was the school in a 200-households small village named Bailihard. This school was simply mind-blowing. Every single foot of the premise was prim to the last detail; the periphery was lined with trees, shrubs and plants, the playground itself had a volley ball net (wow!), the floors of the corridor and the classes were spotless (not marble floor spotless…but clean), the staff room was no less than a small conference room with green table cover and cushioned chairs, and the toilet too was spotless and shining. I was told that the SDMC was very actively involved in the maintenance of the school; I saw the SDMC President dedicated to beautifying the surroundings, unaffected by the visitors.  Most teachers including the Principal were out for Samalochana Sabha, a monthly meeting on exchange information. However, those who were left behind were quietly and diligently going about teaching; they appeared content and engrossed in their work and kept the children constructively occupied too. While the two primary classes were being taught by teachers, the 5th class sat quietly by itself. All of them could fluently read the text from standard two book. Just as I was about to leave the school premise, I noticed a girl of this class reading from her book with the other students repeating after her. I witnessed a self-managed class in the middle of other schools that were barely able to function even with the teachers. This serendipity felt so perfect that it reminded me of Meluha (an imaginary place in Amish’s Shiva Trilogy where everything goes by the rules and everyone follows them diligently and efficiently). I agree, quite an exaggeration but relatively speaking, it felt a lot like that.

However, this moment of utopia ended as soon as I entered the next school, which was as small in terms of student and teacher strength but was quite the opposite of the ‘perfect’ school: the girls’ toilet was locked and perhaps unused as there was no drop of water anywhere around the source of water, the staff room was tiny with just one very small desk and one chair, and the children just sat listlessly. When the 5th standard was tested on reading, half were unable to read, some of these were not even able to recognise letters. Similar to this was another school in Koredkera which had a much larger student and teacher strength. But this school had infrastructural issue as its three Nali-Kali sections were squeezed into two rooms of which one room was packed with 64 students gazing blankly at the wall. There was barely enough space for any movement, let alone conduct the classes as per the methods. They are short of rooms, the teacher said. They were also short of two teachers and had a Pupil Teacher ration (PTR) of 1:48 instead of 1:35. The school lacked SDMC support. With a defunct SDMC, the School Development fund was returned to the source. Classes 4 and 5 were merged for the day due to the Samalochana Sabha held in that school. Out of the seven students, four could not read when tested on reading from second standard Kannada text books. In general, I also observed these children to have hygiene issues. Moving on, I had a chat with the Principal of the school where training was on. This school was short on rooms and had no boundary wall, as far as I could see. The toilets were open but seemed unused. The Principal who was into 33rd year of service was very happy to know that I knew Hindi as she was unable to express herself in English. So, we managed to exchange out thoughts. In the first minute of our meeting, she complained about the lack of cooperation from the parents in creating a learning atmosphere at their homes. She said that “children spend 7 hours or so in school and we make so much effort to teach but the moment they go home, all our efforts go waste”. Then she complained about the SDMC’s lack of support towards school development. As she compared the present day attitude of parents with that of 50 years ago, I could see that she was unable to incorporate the change over the year that has led to high enrollments thereby making teachers’ role even more challenging. I cautiously shared my observations of the school in Bailihard to get to know her better, careful not to offend her in any way. She expressed mixed emotions of surprise, defense  and helplessness. Even though she had not seen the school herself, she knew it was a small village and the school gets a lot of support in planning and development through SDMC and others. “Our children are also good Madam”, she said when I told her about that 5th standard that was functioning by itself. One of the teachers of this school had a stick in her hand, as she sat and chatted with her colleague, and occasionally did “hey” to shut any noise that disturbed her. None of the teachers taught, instead they sat chatting in pairs while  monitoring the classes.

From what I understand, while blaming and complaining comes naturally to all of us, the solution lies in believing in change and becoming the agent of change. So, even if an active SDMC is instrumental in learning of children, must the school remain dependent on just that or they could be empowered to create an SDMC that works for their children’s betterment? If the school believed in themselves and said ‘we can’ instead of ‘we cannot’, I feel a lot would begin to work out; because only then would they begin to think of ‘how to’.
Educative, informative and thought provoking as it was, my first trip to Kushtagi put me in touch with some really beautiful and positive components or ‘shining stars’ of our system/society: an amazing trainer who simplified learning English and made it fun, a bunch of enthusiastic teachers who wanted to learn this language, one promising teacher who was so upset about not making it to the training, one extraordinary government school where all 5th standard children could read standard two text, and a beautiful start-studded sparkly sky which we city-bred people are so deprived of. All the ‘stars’ were so beautiful and so real. I would love to see more and more of such stars all around us. The challenge is big and there is a long way to go…together. Reminds me of the famous saying “united we stand, divided we fall”.

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

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

Training gets Delivered


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. The techniques of developing basic language skills among children were incorporated in Akshara Foundation training. Akshara Foundation training caters to the needs of improving teacher’s skills in using English language.

  • The methods of reciting rhymes and storytelling models were discussed.
  • The Akshara Foundation gives good guidance.
  • The basic grammar points have been covered. But some more grammar activities could have been included.
  • I feel that this type of teacher’s guide, kit and training for teachers may be given to all the teachers in the state.

We are thankful to all these teachers for finding value in our training and we believe that they will create a positive impact on the learning levels of children.

Volunteering at the GKHPS, Doddaholluru, Hoskote

The Spirit of Volunteering

For people who volunteer for a cause it is the ultimate sublimation. Volunteering is activity on a higher plane, an attempt at an idealized world – the involuntary instinct for the level playing field, breaking down barriers of inequity and deprivation, giving everybody a fair chance, the belief in bringing about systemic change in a system that under-performs, simply drags its feet or outright fails. It is an act of betterment and uplift. Those who have giving to those who do not.
  • Akshara regularly facilitates volunteering in education in Bangalore – at government schools, anganwadis and community libraries, or prepares the ground for homework support classes, English teaching sessions, a sports event. Akshara galvanizes the corporate sector, parents, the student community and citizens and is looking to expand the volunteering base exponentially.
The Larger Question
But looking at the broader scene in the city, is volunteering a case of isolated largesse? Will it remain the occasional wholeheartedness, the odd abundance, not a continuous stream of the spirit?
  • Says Ashok Kamath, Chairman, Akshara Foundation, “For many years Akshara talked about doing learning programmes for children, about building a relationship with government schools. That alone is not enough. If we can get people who have had the privilege of education – teachers, parents, citizens – aligned to a common goal of equitable access to quality education, we can make an impact.
  • The problem is we always think of our glass as half-empty. Can we look at our Indian situation positively? Can we do something? There are 95 lakh people in Bangalore. If 40,000 people could go into a thousand government schools on a regular basis can you imagine the difference it will make? The larger question is: How can we together make the world a better place for government school children?”
What can be done to enlarge the volume of contribution and make volunteering a self-sustaining movement of substantive results? This is what two of the Target India employees who volunteered recently at the Government Kannada Higher Primary School (GKHPS) in Doddaholluru, Hoskote Block, giving freely of their time, energy and resources, had to say.
  • Ann: “Not many people like us know that such opportunities exist, that government schools need such diverse inputs. Everybody wants to help, but we do not know what we can do or which platform to go through. If there is a volunteers’ group that can propose volunteering projects to companies and facilitate the process, or encourage employees to participate in large numbers, that would be great. The message should reach people, and 99% of us – you can even say 100% of us – would come forward to help and support.”
  • Keshav: “We do something like this once in a while and sometimes forget about it. A more consistent approach is called for. A more dedicated approach – the same pool of volunteers in the same school repeatedly so that children and volunteers can come together. So that children can look on us as somebody they can count on. We’re setting all this up in this school – a library, a science room. But we don’t know how these resources will be used by the school and its students. We must come back. We want to come back.
If urban children come here and see for themselves the deprivation they will value everything they have much more. I think students in the city must volunteer. A lot of parents would want their children exposed to the other side of the world, the larger fact.”
  • Asha Sharath who handles donor relations and volunteering activities at Akshara says, “Every small step a volunteer takes is a great stride. A day makes a difference. For long-lasting impact, volunteering has to be on a regular basis.”
  • The crux, however, she says, is to connect citizens to schools. Akshara is positioning itself to do that through the Karnataka Learning Partnership (KLP) framework. What Akshara has learnt from experience is that schools are wary of arbitrary goodwill. They have specific deficits they would like enriched – a drop in Mathematics, language failure, or, as in the GKHPS, Doddaholluru, a library in decline or a thriving science laboratory with no place to call its own.  
  • Says Asha, “KLP intends to bridge this gap in communication with a platform where schools can upload their requirements and interested volunteers can pick up from there and give them what they need. KLP is thinking of coming out with a prototype soon.”
A Quiet Sense of Purpose
It is the 17thof September. A remarkable instance of volunteering is taking place at the GKHPS in Doddaholluru. The thirty five Target India employees who are volunteering here are enablers, providers of opportunity that day, as they go about restoring to pristine condition an old, disused library in the school and a room for science.
The school wears a discreetly festive air. There is a quiet hum of activity and purpose. Visitors are streaming in and Harshita and Manjula, Std. VII students, welcome them with a single red rose and a shy smile and fade tactfully away. Today it is the volunteers who are unwittingly centre stage as, with a hushed sense of mission, they take to completion their self-appointed task.
A Targeted Intervention

The Science lab before the make-over
  • The library used to be a picture of rundown depletion, sadly, for a school with no obvious infrastructure deficits. The volunteers are painting it and stocking it with books. The science room, once painted and invigorated, will accommodate the many projects the children undertake under the guidance of their tireless science teacher, Basavaraj, a live wire of a person. It will be a place for experimentation and discovery, for unravelling science, a subject that is one of the school’s singular strengths.
  • This is example-setting volunteering. Guru, the Target volunteer in charge of reconnaissance, made three fact-finding trips to identify and assess the school’s requirements. The day’s endeavour is a targeted intervention to provide something the school needs and will, hopefully, make use of. Not random goodwill.
An Image Make Over
  • An image make over is in progress in the large, light-permeated library. A preliminary coat of thinner has been applied, but the soiled walls show through the thin translucence, scooped out or peeling in places, which the volunteers have scraped and filled in even-handedly. A painterly landscape dominates, with brushes and big hammers, screw drivers and rollers, and large cans of thinner and synthetic enamel. Mugs half-filled with cloudy blue paint for the room’s many metal windows jostle in the assortment.
  • All bought through volunteers’ contributions, including the elegant, red metal racks and the 2012 books that will go on them. The number 2012 is significant. It signals the year of the library’s resuscitation.
I too Have a Part to Play in their Growth”
  • It is a thoroughly professional approach, not least the painting, though most of the volunteers are first-time painters. Like Stephen, with a protective bandana round his head, about to go up a step ladder to paint the upper reaches with an intuitive sense of the work at hand.
  • A seasoned volunteer, Stephen says, “Volunteering is all about enhancing the next generation, making space for children to learn, providing opportunities for them. I too have a part to play in their growth.”
  • Mormita, part of the painting crew, says, “I feel strongly that what we’re getting we should give back. Everybody should, in whatever way, big or small. I feel satisfied and happy seeing the smiles on children’s faces.”
It’s a Pleasure Doing This”
Outside the library a section of the verandah has been unofficially cordoned off. There, on sprawling mats are the 2012 books meant for children up to Std. VII. They are in Kannada and English primarily, and some in Hindi, straddling fourteen classifications – stories, comics, General Knowledge, science, computers….There are books that build skill-sets too, in grammar and essay writing, for instance. 
Every book is being labelled with a unique code that will ensure that they do not all end up in a disorderly mélange where nothing can be found. Thick, plastic-coated brown paper is being fitted on the racks and the books will be arranged on them.
  • It’s a pleasure doing this,” says Samyukta who is leading this group. “Children come up and say they didn’t have access to such books before. I believe that knowledge shared is knowledge gained. Even we are getting to learn a lot.”
  • Shivaprasad who is sorting and labelling the books echoes much the same sentiment. “I have a passion for volunteering. There is self-satisfaction and fulfillment. I enjoy giving back to society. When we were young we got so much.”
The library was a crumbling institution in school. When this ensemble comes together – the fresh newness of paint, the scenery charts, hand-painted inspirational quotes on education, the gleaming books on smart racks – it will symbolize renewal and create a space for children to read, learn and grow.
I will Improve my Knowledge”
  • Kantalakshmi of Std. VII is excited about the new ordainment. “I am happy. I am looking forward to reading in the library. I will get to understand from library books what my teacher tells me in class. I will go there and find out. I will improve my knowledge. What I don’t know I will get from there.”
  • Harshita has to be goaded into thinking about the benefits of a library by her teachers. She begins hesitatingly and is nudged along. “Library books will be useful for reference, as guides to class lessons. I like reading jokes and short stories very much.”
  • Jayalakshmi who teaches all subjects, including Kannada and English, in Std. IV, V, VI and VII says, “It is good to have a library. Every class, I-VII, has a library period once a week. Library books are important for children to learn language, improve reading skills, for understanding and communication. The English books in the library will be particularly useful. Children will learn different kinds of words, difficult words. English is their second language. They have an English period every day.”
Different Hues
  • In volunteering there is also the not-so-exalted department of the mundane – the logistics, the hot food, the cold drinks…… All the eminently forgettable nitty-gritty at times like this. Anantha volunteered magnanimously to organize and provide and clear up. “Too many challenges in that,” he says affably. “What to source, what to provide, at what time. I got beverages, but how would I keep them cold when the school has no refrigerator and there has been no power the whole day?” He worked his way ingeniously around that constraint.
Anantha overlooked nothing – not the drinking water or water cups, the plastic spoons, paper plates or napkins, not the first aid kit. Then there is the humdrum everydayness of garbage, which needed some astute planning. Anantha will take ten bin bags with all the day’s debris back to Bangalore for disposal.
A Science Room – “It will Instil Scientific Discipline”
  • At the far end of the rambling school building is the Science Block, announced in thick, black, declaratory lettering. It underlines the scientific temper of the school, personified by the motivated Basavaraj who leads his students in curiosity-driven exploration. He teaches in Std. V, VI and VII.
  • Propelled by Basavaraj, his students have creatively designed a water recycling plant, a mobile phone tower, a hydel power generating dam with smaller check dams along a river stream to harness water to the fullest. And many more items, besides.
  • Children crowd around their projects eager to explain the scientific principles of each. Now there is a room Target volunteers are recasting and assigning to science. Says Basavaraj, “We did not have a place for all these projects. Earlier I would take the material to the classroom to educate the students. Now there will be a room in honour of science where students can gather and learn. A specially designated space will help children; it will instil scientific discipline.”
I Like Science”
  • I like science, “says Kantalakshmi, showing off the periscope she and her classmates have made. “It is used underwater during war. I learnt how the heart functions also.” Basavaraj was instrumental in spurring the children to make a simple instrument out of a plastic bottle, straws and a piece of fabric. “All low-cost material,” affirms Basavaraj. Kantalakshmi blows through the straws, then takes an inward breath and the pleated folds of the fabric in the bottle expand and contract, simulating the operations of the heart.
  • Harshita too confirms that she likes science, her earlier reticence melting in a flood of words. “I like learning about the heart, about health and nutrition. We carried out an experiment in class that demonstrates the force of air and water. I observe things through the microscope,” she says in wonderment.
I Enjoy the Act of Giving Very Much”
The Target team is in an act of consecration in the science room, dressing it up, painting it. Samir, Anu and Noor also team up to embellish with their art the two pillars that jut out, hand-painting the universe, the earth, a space ship, a rocket taking off.
  • Samir is in Development at Target. He has a speech and hearing impairment. This is his first experience of volunteering. “I am an artist,” he says, hands flying in communication. “I want to do art with children in schools.” A paint-flecked khaki smock over a long-sleeved, dull red shirt bespeaks a heightened awareness of colour. Samir is painting a half-sun on the edge of a pillar in the science room, a yellow semi-circle with dancing orange flames – half the world in light.
  • I like it very much,” he says. “I enjoy the act of giving very much. I am extremely happy doing it.”