The Karnataka Learning Partnership: what data can do


A parent is trying to decide whether to send her child to the preschool at the end of her street, or the one in a nearby neighbourhood. She’s heard the faraway preschool is better, but it also has higher fees, and she’s not quite sure what “better” means.

An NGO is planning a large-scale feeding scheme. It knows government enrolment data for schools can be wildly inaccurate and wants to be sure it is budgeting enough to feed all children.

A corporate wants to use its CSI budget to upgrade school buildings in the community where most of its employees live, but it doesn’t know which schools are most in need.


In each of these situations, the Karnataka Learning Partnership (KLP), an open online platform that tracks the state of education in Karnataka, India, is a game-changing resource.

It’s premised on the idea that if we pull together “everything we know” about education in one place, and make all that information publicly available, we’ll be more equipped to make factual assessments, galvanise community action, and ultimately improve school quality and learning outcomes.

The KLP was established in 2006 by the Akshara Foundation, an education non-profit based in the state of Karnataka, India. Initially, it was an exercise to tie all of Akshara’s programmes together and share its data openly with stakeholders. The KLP team however soon realised that to truly make a difference, it should open the platform for anyone to contribute, and build partnerships to ensure data is credible, helpful and widely used.

The entire platform is open-source – the database code can even be downloaded on the KLP website – so that other Indian states or countries can build on or replicate it.

Its online database has mapped every public primary and pre-primary school in Karnataka – that’s 46 000 primary schools and 64 000 preschools. It tracks a variety of data, including: basic info (address and landmarks, language of instruction); demographics (including both government and independently-verified enrolment data); infrastructure (including whether schools have drinking water, electricity, toilets, libraries and computer labs, whether they offer mid-day meals, and whether they are accessible to children with disabilities); finances and budgets; programmes run, and outcomes at an aggregate level (individual learner performance is not made public).


The data above is from an English intervention that 28 learners attended in 2010-11. Between the pre-test (bottom) and post-test (top), the average score improved by 23 percentage points, from 58% (below city and area averages) to 81% (above city and area averages). Girls – previously 10 percentage points behind boys – came out 9 percentage points ahead.

It’s also possible to compare two schools:



Anyone can contribute information – NGOs, parents, government – and data is collected in a number of ways.

Akshara’s field staff, who support library and maths programmes in more than 10 000 schools across Karnataka, collect observations each time they visit a school: Is the principal present? Are all teachers present and teaching? Does each classroom have a blackboard?

Information is collected as Yes/No binaries, without quality gradients (“Good”, “Moderate”, “Poor”). The KLP has found that such gradients are not used consistently and don’t work at scale.

Data on Akshara’s programme outcomes is also uploaded, and a few other NGOs share their data, including Akshaya Patra, which provides mid-day meals to 1.4 million children in India each day – so nutrition and health can be cross-referenced with education. (The KLP would love to get more NGOs involved, but despite interest and goodwill, most NGOs’ data collection is still not very strong.)

A new feature called “Share Your Story” allows anyone to enter a set of school observations – via interactive voice response system (IRVS), the website or community surveys. To date, the KLP has collected 157 989 of these stories, the majority from parents. They expect at least 300 000 entries this school year.

I often go on site visits to schools, where I notice things that aren’t working well: a library that’s always locked; blocked toilets; crumbling netball fields. I also see good things: passionate teaching; humming feeding schemes; volunteers helping in classrooms or after school. I’d love a way to report those things as I see them, so my observations become part of a larger body of evidence that can be used to strengthen schools.

Developing and maintaining the platform is no small task: The Akshara Foundation’s fieldworkers do a lot of data collection. KLP has 6 staff who work on programming, and contracts people part-time to enter reams of paper-based data.

The KLP data-entry room in Bangalore – where all the magic happens.

But it has the potential to truly pay off. Here’s one example I loved: in India, local politicians – Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) – have small discretionary budgets to spend on their districts, which are often opaquely spent or unused. A few times each year, the KLP team compiles and delivers hard-copy reports to each MLA, highlighting schools with infrastructure shortfalls and suggesting how politicians could spend their budgets.

In South Africa, cutting edge work with data is also taking place. The Data Driven Districts Dashboard initiative (spearheaded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the New Leaders Foundation and the Department of Basic Education) consolidates information about attendance, grade progression and learning outcomes. It’s now up and running in nearly 25 districts in 3 provinces. For now, the platform is only open to education officials – although long-term, plans for a public version are in the works.

The KLP’s approach is deeply democratic at its core: the team believes that the locus of control in education needs to shift from the supply side to the demand side. Instead of waiting to receive services, and sighing and shrugging their shoulders when things don’t work out, citizens – and public accountability – should drive education provision.

Imagine what that kind of demand for education could do for South Africa.

via Head & Heart, by Katie Huston 

Meet Shreyanka Mally

Spotted this piece on women who work at Mu Sigma and were thrilled to see Shreyanka featured:

“Akshara Foundation was her first client. She assessed their pre-school program for Anganwadis (kindergarten) in terms of sustainability and consistency. They had huge bundles of sheets of data consisting of community feedback from parents of government school children in the urban poor regions. Field workers had immense amounts of data that they brought back from their investigations. Akshara wanted to build a dashboard to highlight the problems. Shreyanka created a feedback excel template and committee feedback template for the field staff with questions for them, but first translating all the notes from Kannada (the local dialect) to English. This template was in addition to the ones created for school teachers and parents…”

Read the full piece here.  

In Beta: Exploring DISE Data via KLP

Over the years, we at KLP, have been big fans of the data that the District Information System for Education collects. DISE collects an incredible array of data on all primary schools, public and private, in every state of India and have done so, year on year, for many years. The self-reported data contains variables that cover enrolment to sanitation to infrastructure and more and a full list of these variables can be found in the DISE DCF.

We believe that the data DISE collects is an under-utilised resource and have built this application to allow users to better explore this data set through multiple lenses – by Education Districts, Blocks and Clusters as well as by MP and MLA aggregations and by PIN Codes.

For every aggregation, except PIN Codes, you will also find demographic, finance and infrastructure reports linked to at the bottom of the right panel.

This is a Beta release and we do need feedback to improve. For future versions, we’d like to be able to analyse data at every level of aggregation over time as well and provide easy ways to export data from selected views.

Please do play with our beta release!

How much do we know about Education in India

Via Forbes
Everyone has an opinion on education. Start a conversation at a dinner table, a tea shop, an academic seminar, a global conference, a train, a bus or flight – everyone you meet will have something to say about it. Often, they will know precisely how bad it is, how much worse it has become and what needs to be done to fix the ills. When I say precisely, I don’t mean that – I mean with a great deal of authority. Very definite and well articulated opinions. And they may well be right. Because nobody can really answer (most of) the big questions in education in India with any degree of precision.

The holy grail here is evidence based policy making. It would obviously be great if every decision made had a solid basis in proven hypothesis. If we knew for sure, to take a facetious example, that children study better in white shirts than blue shirts, and this had been tested rigorously, then it would be easy to create a policy that tends towards white shirts as school uniforms. This is also better for policy makers as they have the evidence to fall back upon and even justify their decisions. In practice of course evidence is just one part of the policy making puzzle and may even prove to be inconvenient in some circumstances. Yet, it is what stands closest to fact in the vast unknown.

The first hurdle of course is the availability of data. There is some available on the ministry website and some with affiliated institutions. Some data is gathered in large studies such as those conducted by the Azim Premji foundation, Pratham, Accountability Initiative etc. and these answer specific questions each year. The Karnataka Learning Partnership and Centre for Civil Society are taking the lead on compiling some data that are available to all while investors and private consulting firms have their own data sets that are not available in the public domain. Each of these serves a limited purpose and researchers often find themselves stuck because they have no credible information sources or good data unless they set up a data collection process themselves as part of their studies. That is either very expensive and time consuming or forces them to dramatically reduce the scope of their work.
Read the entire article here.

Interesting Jobs At Akshara…. We’re Hiring!


Akshara Foundation ( was set up with a mission to ensure Every Child in School and Learning Well. Our work at Akshara Foundation is to universalize equitable access to quality pre-school and elementary education for all children through multiple innovative models – these models are developed by people who have different professional backgrounds but one commonality – a high level of social empathy and a clear belief that we now have the unique opportunity to bridge the gaps.

Since inception in March 2000, Akshara has worked in the areas of preschool education and in improving learning proficiencies of children in reading in the medium of instruction (Kannada and Urdu), in math and in English. Akshara has also conceived and incubated the path-breaking Karnataka Learning Partnership framework (

Akshara has opportunities open for individuals with passion to improve early education in Karnataka and showcase this as a possible model for the country. Currently, we have positions open for :

Head – School Programmes which currently includes support programmes in primary schools for Math and English ; a Library Programme including a pilot Robotics Lab set up with grant support from the Lego Foundation in Denmark. For more details on these programmes please visit :

The successful candidate will have at least a Master’s degree in Education or Social Development ( a Ph.D. is highly desirable) and a strong passion to improve children’s learning outcomes through an approach of development of human capital.He / she will have strong people skills since the role envisages managing of in-house resource teams , teachers and government education department officials, interacting with communities and running a data-based advocacy effort across various stakeholders. Knowledge of Kannada is essential and the successful candidate will have at least ten years overall experience including some years in independently managing and implementing a programme. While the position is based in Bangalore, there will be a fair amount of travel especially to parts of North Karnataka and to schools in the Bangalore Rural District.

Manager – Robotics Lab.
This is a new pilot initiative and Akshara is setting up a robotics lab to encourage children in government primary schools to engage with concepts in science. The Lab Manager will have a science background and will be familiar with rudimentary concepts in math and science to be able to guide children and support primary school teachers. Knowledge of Kannada is essential and no prior experience is required. The position is based in Bangalore and there will be occasional travel to promote a scientific culture among children.

Interested candidates should apply by e-mail to with a resume and a short one-page note on how they think they could make a difference to Every Child in School and Learning Well. Last date for receipt of applications is 31 August 2013

Akshara’s KLP participates in the Open Up ! Conference

Akshara Foundation‘s Karnataka Learning Partnership (KLP)’s Gautam John recently participated in the Open Up! Conference at London. The event was sponsored by the Omidyar Network and the UK Department for International Development, in association with WIRED Magazine.

Gautam John speaking up at the Open Up !

This high-level conference brought together entrepreneurs (civic and business), governments and civil society, to galvanize action in the fast growing field of transparency and open government. Open Up! showed how web and mobile technologies can drive more engagement of citizens in government and showcase entrepreneurs’ innovations and experiences from around the world. Gautam was one of the speakers of the session -‘Participation: Empowering Citizens To Demand Change’. Along with Gautam, few of the other speakers were  Felipe Heusser (Fundacion Ciudadano Inteligente), Gustav Praekelt (Praekelt Foundation), Kepha Ngito (Map Kibera), Yemi Adamolekun (Enough is Enough Nigeria), Jay Bhalla (Open Institute), Chris Taggart (OpenCorporates) and Gavin Starks (Open Data Institute).

         Gautam John and Yemi Adamolekun in conversation with David Rowan

Each speaker had five minutes to share their insights about how to engage citizens and encourage participation. Gautam shared about his experiences of working with Open Data in KLP. His value addition to the session was that the power of open data is unleashed when local organizations can make it meaningful and actionable – institutions do not exist in a vacuum and the best way to achieve scalable, sustainable change is through collective action.

Watch Gautam speak at the conference in the below video.

Also, read more about the conference here.

The Karnataka Learning Partnership: An Introduction

KLP’s Megha Vishwanath has recently written a blog post for the Open Data India Blog to explain Akshara Foundation‘s Karnataka Learning Partnership project (KLP), which collects open data, aggregates and deploys it to make a difference in Public schooling system in Karnataka.

The post gives an insight on why the KLP project was initiated, how different stakeholders can participate in it, and the various initiatives under the KLP banner. One of the successful initiatives of KLP has been the report cards for the MPs and the MLAs covering a variety of topics like demographics of Government schools and preschools, financial allocations to Government schools and infrastructure in Government schools.

To know more, read Megha’s post here.

Citizen Engagement : Shyama Narendranath

Akshara Foundation and Karnataka Learning Partnership is starting a Citizen Engagement section in our blog from this month. Every month, we would like to showcase extraordinary and inspiring initiatives by regular citizens in the field of education. It is an attempt to acknowledge the efforts put by people to participate in public education and touch the lives of many a children and their families.

This month,we bring you the inspiring story of Shyama Narendranath who tried admitting Monesha, the four-year-old daughter of construction workers, in an anganwadi.The outcome did not turn out as expected, but it is a journey. A journey that has many hurdles, but which can eventually make a change in the thinking and the system. It is stories like these, that we get inspiration from.

Read Shyama’s story here. Shyama has been the change she believes in and has taken her first steps to become a responsible citizen. A citizen engagement Akshara is happy to have facilitated.