Addressing Scale and Sustainability in Early Education in India

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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



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

Ashok Kamath
Chairman & Managing Trustee, Akshara Foundation

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

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

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



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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teachers embracing EASY English

Smt. Umme Attika, is an English teacher at the Government Urdu Lower Primary School (GULPS) Chatripalya, a part of Jadigenahalli cluster, Hoskote taluk.

She regularly participates in the EASY English workshops conducted by Akshara. Our EASY English programme was started in 2016-17, and the programme focused on grade 1 students.

At the start of the programme, it was observed that the teacher was not so versed with English speaking, and was very hesitant to speak in English. But with regular practice during the workshops, especially with respect to spoken English, they have become confident and can hold a conversation with ease.



Smt. Umme Attika participates with an eagerness to learn and is very enthusiastic. After the workshop, she refers to the teacher module and prepares herself for the class.

She takes English for her students six days a week. In Karnataka, grades 1 to 3 sit together and learn with the help of songs and dance. Their class is called Nali Kali. With such a varied class, one needs to have a solid strategy when it comes to teaching Akshara’s EASY English.

Here’s how Smt. Umme Attika goes about it.
  • She starts by giving her attention to grade 3 students. She interacts with them and gives them some work, usually a writing-based activity (On black board / book)
  • She then focuses her attention on the children in grades 1 & 2. While she teaches grade 2 students using the Tab, grade 1 students observe and listen.
  • She then gives the grade 2 children an assignment. While they are writing, she teaches grade 1 students.
 


This integrated approach has proved helpful for effective class management. She uses the Tab to teach and then assigns a writing activity using the Government textbook.

She has insisted on a copy-writing book for every student, and gives them 1 sentence as practice, every day. Students are required to write the sentence and practice it.

UmmeAttika says, ‘I am happy to attend the workshop. It is a joyful workshop. We meet all the teachers of both the clusters once in a month. We share our experience with teachers and RPs about our learnings. I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the Akshara team. They handle the workshop in an interesting manner. All the RPs are too good. I have learnt a lot from the workshops. Now, my confidence level has increased, and I will converse in English with my colleague as well as with students. It’s an opportunity for us to recap what we had learnt in our school days, also we learn about new methodologies of teaching.”



HM, Shri. Zaheer Pasha regularly visits and observes the English class. He says that, “I have observed that the teacher handles the session beautifully. The way she engage students is excellent. Her approach of teaching is very good.

Students love to sit in her class. I have observed a lot of progress among the students after the implementation of EASY English programme. Students can now understand better, and speak in English. They participate in TPR activities.”

– Nalini Raj N. K.

The Role Model Priest / SDMC President

Here you will find a temple priest and SDMC President who is a role model for the youth of his village.

This is the story of Dayananda Swami who studied only till class 12 and now experiences a world of enjoyment in teaching children in his village. An active 43-year-old, he juggles many roles – a priest at the village temple, one of the main organisers of cultural events in this small, sleepy place, and President of the School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC).



Dayananda Swami has also long had another crucial task, self-assigned and diligently executed. Every day he is at the village’s government school to teach children Mathematics with Akshara’s Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) kit.

He got captivated by the teaching-learning materials in the kit at one of the SDMC meetings he chaired and started interacting with the teachers and Akshara’s Field Coordinators to learn more about it.

A galvaniser in the village, he encourages youth to help children learn Mathematics and banish their fear of the subject. On occasion, he takes up cudgels too, on behalf of education. He once fought to get a teacher back to school, who had been absent for over two years using political influence to stay truant.

A role model and an inspiration to village youth, he motivates them to teach children for free.

– By Ranganath, Akshara Foundation

A Teacher’s Dedication

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



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

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

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

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

– By Shanbhulinga, Akshara Foundation

Stakeholders laud the impact of Ganitha Kalika Andolana on children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stars of Easy English: Learning Together

English was once outside the scope of classroom life in Chinnamma’s Nali-Kali* section at the Government Higher Primary School, Kolathur, Hoskote block. The English period went by, 3 to 4 p.m. every day, in dull tedium. The less than 10 children in Nali-Kali – Chinnamma has the 4th grade there as well – did not know a single thing other than the alphabet, she confesses. The class 1 and 2 textbooks open on the floor, most of it going over their heads. It felt weighty and overwhelming. “Very heavy,” as Mangala Mary in another school remarked. Chinnamma was helpless, she says, tied down to matter she could not understand, much less teach.

It was then that EASY English came into class. Chinnamma was open to its methods, its imaginative approach. “It’s a great help to us. In these times you have to know English.” But there was a catch, and that was technology, the new learning matrix in class. Three years away from retirement, she still says, “I don’t want to go into the Internet and all that,” and has used the same basic-edition mobile phone for the last 20 years.



Overcoming resistance was a large part of her conversion story. Today: “I keep the Tab open and the textbook open and integrate. To tell you honestly, I use only the Tab. The same lessons are there in the Tab, and much easier too. I often don’t open the textbook at all.” But Chinnamma continues to be technology-averse. She shuns a smartphone, in fact does not know what it is. Were it not for the inducements of the Tab she would not have crossed her mental barrier.



As for English, she says, “I’m only learning, still.” Chinnamma’s students too, along with her, are learning. “They’re improving slowly.” That is said with deliberate restraint, even a critical tone there. They are moving up, not as much perhaps as in the other schools, but they can answer most of the 23 questions and instructions Chinnamma has framed for them on a chart.

Some examples: “What is your name?’ “What is your father’s name?” What is your mother’s name?” “What is the first sound of your name?” “Which animal gives milk?” “Can you jump?” “Touch the board.” “Show me your nose.” Though whole-sentence answers are not within reach yet, the programme has made English comprehensible. The children understand the questions posed.



Action songs are their forte, a passion. The children know a repertoire of 10 rhymes, the tally way more than they ever knew before. It does not take much to trigger them, they are willing singers and movers. A regaling happens every time the Akshara team visits, and during the English period. The big, semi-dark room reverberates as the children stand in a circle, singing full-throatedly words they can sometimes only barely grasp or pronounce – this little cameo at the centre, and Chinnamma on the perimeter, like a conductor, raising and lowering her arms.

“Come little children……I will teach you A, B, C……”

“Watermelon, papaya, mango, banana……Fruit salad.”

“We go around the mango tree, the mango tree…..”

……………………………..


* Nali-Kali is a creative learning approach adopted by Government of Karnataka which combines classes 1, 2 and 3 in a single multigrade classroom.

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.

STARS OF HOPE – Impact of Progressive Communities on Learning

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lakshmi Mohan for Akshara Foundation

Far from Maddening crowds:a puzzling rural reality

Nestled in the foothills of the Silicon city, with 15 feet real estate advertisement boards on one side and veggie, flower fields, thick mulberry plantations on the other is a little village. It welcomed us with the serenity we urbanites always long for. From here on, the drive to the village was pleasant with little bumpy mud roads.

As we stepped out of the car, we could sense the excitement of the place. We just hoped that the same excitement would carry us through our school visit. On entering the school premises, we were witness to the playfulness of groups of kids, who probably had their ‘bridge course period’ on.

Wandering around, we spotted a teacher, who is also the Head Teacher. She was eager to accompany us, leaving her class management behind. On my insistence, she continued with her tasks but instructed a child to open her office room which was locked.

This first school of this field visit was a Higher Primary school located in Agrahara (predominantly Brahmin settlement). It houses around 96 children as per enrolment, from SC, BC and Muslim community with four teachers and three cooks.

As I was looking at the enrollment list posted on the notice board, the Head Master quickly said the school has only 82 children. This information still hadn’t been updated on the notice board. My quick math revealed that around 60 were present at that point of time. Two of the four teachers commute from Bangalore; one absent that day. By then the lunch bell rang.



As it usually happens, the children came rushing out on hearing the school bell. They sat in a row in the corridor, where they were served food. All the missing excitement of their classrooms was suddenly replaced by a happy glow that much-wanted food always brings.

The entire school premise turned out to be one large bustling dining area. We were invited for the meal as well. We happily tasted some. The food was simple but was nutritious (with plenty of greens!) and tasteful. I was happy that the teachers had the same food cooked for children. And convinced that the quality was good when we tasted the same food.

What really puzzled us was the logic of having an Urdu School (15 children with two teachers, shut due to Ramadan/Ramazan) within a proximity of 300 meters. 50% of the children in this school are from the Muslim community. There is almost no enrolment till grade 4 and teachers say that children are going to private English medium schools.

Four school buses visit the village every day. The roads are good; the community seems to be open to letting children get admitted to far off private schools. But on the other hand, no one is bothered about the existence of this school, nor are they interested in making the most of the benefits attached to the school.

To top it off, I did not find much learning happening either. It was depressing to see the attitude of the teachers towards children ( we read, write and talk about RTE though) and the dwindling enrollment numbers.

Then we moved on to the second school, which was around 2 kilometres away. This school had four well-built classrooms nicely tucked away inside a compound wall, with 6 children and a cook, managing all of them in a room.

She said the Head Master cum teacher was away on official work and they (she and the teacher) had to beg parents to get their children enrolled. There were at least 2 children who were below 5 and her argument was that ‘nothing much is happening in an Anganwadi anyway, and the children are better off here’.



Finally, the last school that we visited did not have a Head Master/Teacher. The school has two male teachers one regular and another on deputation. The building was child-friendly, colourful, attractive and rich in classroom and outside resources.

To our surprise, we found 10 children, including with one child with special needs. All of them sat in a single classroom, being attended to by one teacher, who was busy filling a register.

In the meanwhile, not a single child seems to have been enrolled this year. In addition, there were no children in the Nali-Kali class. A rich school, no children and little learning. And of course, our TLM kit was lying in the corner, still waiting to be used!

– Vaijayanti K,
Akshara Foundation