The Malur Project

Neglected geographies where Akshara Foundation aims to set foot in resulted in an entry into Malur Block in Kolar District where a new model of work is being experimentally fashioned. The project is on in 51 anganwadis where Akshara has deployed its own staff of third workers, or volunteers, who, trained and equipped in preschool education, are propelling children along a learning curve that was noted for its absence.
Making do – often with very little – was what these anganwadis had been doing. There was poor quality TLM, or none at all; poor skill-sets to engage and educate children; and insufficient understanding of the value of preschool education.
These anganwadis are now flush with play material that promotes learning, provided by Akshara. The atmosphere is turning vibrant where once dullness and a certain lack of direction reigned. The third workers are handling their responsibilities reasonably well, with the team’s constant monitoring and support. The children have been administered a pre-test, an Akshara assessment tool with 56 activity-based preschool indicators. The answer sheets have been collected and despatched to the data centre. The TLM for the coming year has been distributed.
Some Malur centres are also being supported to become model anganwadis and the volunteers went through a second round of training in the additional TLM.
Challenges in Malur
There were challenges, though. On the 31stof May the team held a day-long meeting with the volunteers to elicit their opinion on the programme and to find out how they were faring. The anganwadi workers had been registering their appreciation of the model anganwadi concept, telling the team that its fundamental theories are sound.
At the meeting, the volunteers, however, gave the impression of being a bit half-hearted about their work. They endorsed the curriculum and the methods and were ready to do things. But there were issues. Some anganwadi workers did not support them enough. There were cracks developing in the team work between volunteers and anganwadi workers – there from the beginning and not healed sufficiently. There were infrastructure problems – no rooms, no space for some centres, and some centres housed in rented places. All of which inhibited their upgrade to model anganwadi status. “It would take time,” noted the team.
There are other challenges surfacing. Two volunteers got married and left. One quit due to personal difficulties. Not that their commitment was in question, just that life’s unavoidable processes create attrition. The number of volunteers has come down to 48. Not a vast reduction, but it raises factors that the team must take cognisance of. If young, active and energetic volunteers are recruited, this is a problem, notes the team. They are not being replaced right now as it is not an easy task organising comprehensive sessions of training for just 3 volunteers. The overheads are unsustainable. The Anganwadi workers are being supported to handle the curriculum.
Community Participation in Malur
But there are strong rays of hope. The community component, so vital in Akshara’s scheme of things, is getting a new boost. The team is active in the community, motivating and invigorating, and now that awareness is seeping in of the need for engagement, contribution is flowing in both as monetary support and effort. These are not people who are wealthy by any standards, or even comfortably off, but they are giving with a fullness that deserves credit.
At a community meeting in Bhuvanahalli, Nagesh, a Gram Panchayat member, came forward with Rs. 5000 for painting the anganwadi in the village. The Stree Shakti Sangha met the labour charges, and Jyothi, a Gram Panchayat member, put up a blackboard in the classroom at her expense. Gram Panchayat members have installed water filters costing around Rs. 1000 each in two anganwadis in Ramenahalli and Hungenahalli.
A discussion the team had with the Gram Panchayat President of Shivarapatna had a galvanising effect. He issued a letter to the anganwadi workers of the five anganwadis in the area stating that their centres should work from 9.30 am to 4 pm. The President also took it upon himself to oversee their day-to-day functioning.
Hanumanayakahalli Anganwadi has registered an unprecedented spurt in enrolment, attributable to the programme. In the last two months, new admissions went up, the number of children rising from eight to nineteen.
Training for Field Staff
The team organised a day’s training for Akshara’s field staff in Bangalore and Malur. Securing their feedback is a window to future implementation; it helps the team modulate practices and devise strategies. Half a day was devoted to problems and their solving, and to plans for an unfolding academic year, the other half to training in LEGO activities.
Extending Support to the Department
The team visited 7 anganwadis, urban and rural, in Arakalagudu in Hassan District to observe a pilot, christened Makkala Mane, or Children’s House, initiated in 95 anganwadis last year by the Department of Education and the Department of Women and Child Welfare. The anganwadi workers had been trained by a local non-governmental organisation to upgrade their centres to Upper Kindergarten (UKG) level to avoid the flight of children to private preschools and to wean back those who had left.
The team’s visit was meant to fulfil two objectives. One was to observe and understand the concept, compare it with Akshara’s own preschool strategies and learn from the experience. The second was to extend support to the Department of Women and Child Welfare in its plan to improve preschool education in anganwadis.
Akshara’s Together We Can initiative on the 18thof April, where an anganwadi worker was felicitated for her commitment to excellence, prompted the Department to come up with a vision for anganwadis in 12 selected districts in Karnataka. The Department has requested Akshara for a budget proposal with a financial breakdown, which they can submit to the central government for funds. Akshara’s role is not yet in the picture, but the team is hopeful and ready to offer any support the Department might need.
Child Tracking
A child tracking format that will ascertain a child’s trajectory has been given to all anganwadis in the programme. It is a process that will extract last year’s post-test list of children and check if they are continuing in the anganwadis or have moved to formal schools. This will give the team a more authentic child information directory to work with.

At the Summer Camp – The Community in Hasigalla

Inextricably linked to Akshara’s summer camp at the Government Higher Primary School (GHPS), Hasigalla, Hoskote Block, are the people who made it to the event, endorsed it with their presence and support and participated emphatically. We present a few snapshots.

The Stree Shakti Sangha
Fourteen members of the Aishwarya Lakshmi Stree Shakti Sangha, a women’s self-help group in Hasigalla, attended the summer camp. Their support makes a difference – women of the community taking a stand. As mothers, they are in many ways the backbone of education. The Sangha is a microcredit organisation, giving out loans at low interest rates to members in times of need – for a delivery, a child’s education, for agricultural work or to tide over financial hardship.

The Sangha has built a corpus of Rs. 3 lakhs. “All collected by us,” says Sumitra, its President, with pride. The 20 members of the Sangha contribute Rs. 25 each every week. “This week’s collection is Rs. 2650,” says Sumitra, who used to be an anganwadi worker and is now a cook at a higher primary school nearby.

They are women from modest backgrounds, Sangha members, well turned out, with a fine sense of proportion. A sense of things. Most of them have cleared class 7. “Some of us are not so educated,” they say. “So we don’t understand enough about education. But the school’s teachers keep instilling in us its importance. We are happy when our children do well and get prizes. We are happy that they are learning. We give prizes to the school’s children.” Six of the 14 members have children studying in the school.

All of them expressed satisfaction with Akshara’s work and remark about the improvement it is bringing about. “When children spend time at the summer camp they will learn,” says Sumitra. “Children don’t show up even for the midday meals the school provides during the summer holidays. But for Akshara’s programmes everybody comes. We don’t have to push and coax them.

They are women in a traditional set-up, most of them housewives, with an independent streak and access to moderate means, which keeps the domestic economy at home stable. Their spouses allow them the freedom to operate their microcredit schemes, or work if they wish to. “Our husbands don’t interfere,” they say. “Our policy is: ladies first, gents later,” laughs Vinoda, the Sangha’s smart, trendy Joint President.

Nagaraj and Subramaniam – Two Farmers

Nagaraj and Subramaniam, farmers both, are parents who attended the inauguration of the summer camp to express their solidarity with the school and its children.  Both of them studied in this school and the bond runs deep – Nagaraj till class 7 and Subramaniam till class 3.  “I was from a poor family,” says Subramaniam. “My parents did not support my education, so I had to discontinue. Things could have been different.  I would have been well-educated had my parents supported me.”

Subramaniam is the more prosperous of the two. Nagaraj looks careworn, with a creased face that talks of a hard struggle with life. He is a daily wage agricultural worker. His children, Shilpa and Sridhar, who were students of this school, are now studying for their MCom and BCom respectively.
“I have come to support my school,” says Nagaraj with a head-held-high kind of humility. “My presence is my commitment to it. I would advise its teachers to improve children’s learning and ensure that every child coming here gets a good education. Subramaniam is also a proud tiller of the soil, a pride that his children do not share. He owns two acres of land where he grows ragi, a variety of millet. “When the rain comes. If…” he says, looking up with weary hope, a deflated hand raised skywards.

Subramaniam’s daughter, Anushree, is in class 10, after passing out from this school. His son, Murali, has completed class 7 at the school and will move to the higher primary school. “We can’t afford anything but government education,” says Subramaniam. “Yesterday I enquired at a private school. I wanted to admit my children there. The fees are so unaffordable I have given up that line of thought.My children are not going to support me in agriculture or in tending our cows. It depends on what they want to become in life. I leave it to them.”

“Your Cluster Facilitator called me, so I have come. I have come because I believe children should study. Education is important. It is necessary for life.”

Summer Camps in Kushtagi

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

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

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

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

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

Volunteer Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support of the volunteers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEGO travels to Hubli-Dharwad!

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

The kids at play….

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

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

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

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

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

Children enjoying the grip game with their teacher

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

Children playing communication game in a pair

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

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

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

“Kudos to the Teachers”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the article here:

The Lego Habba Success Story

Source: Shikshana Varthe, Sarva shiksha Abhiyan, Education Dept. 

Akshara Foundation’s  Library organized the Lego Habba in the schools in Bangalore. Out of the 135 schools where the Akshara libraries are functional, the event was held in 16 schools. This event was not just welcomed with enthusiasm and zeal by the students but the teachers were equally happy to participate.

The Lego Habba was more than a celebration, it was an effort that brought together students, teachers, volunteers together but also gave them a chance to bring out their creativity in a manner that was fun and enjoyable for all.
For everyone who has played with the Lego blocks will agree that the first thing they ever made out of the blocks were nothing else but a nice tall tower. The same was the case here.  The bright vibrant colourful Lego blocks brought out colourful smiles and creative ideas out of everyone.
The whole idea of this festival was to trigger the thinking processes in kids with creativity. They had to draw inspiration from all the things they had seen around them, read in books, maybe watched on television, heard to people talk and simply imagined.
The purpose of this Lego Habba was to teach the children some important traits like team spirit and leadership skills in a lucid manner that they understood the significance and importance of these terms. This was also an excellent medium to ensure student-teacher interaction.
The Habba was conducted on every Saturday in November and December 2012.  The first 15 minutes were allotted to creating a story. The teachers along with the students had to create a story and create characters and themes for the same. Once this was done 45 minutes were allotted to form the story setup using the Lego blocks. Once this was done, the remaining 30 minutes were given to them to exhibit their creations and talk about it.
Lego Habba  would not have been successful without volunteers. A number of corporate came forward with their employees who happily volunteered. A big thanks to companies like Robert Bosch, CGI, Fidelity Information Systems, Inventure Academy, Hibu and iGATE for their help and volunteering. This programme would not have been possible without the help of the school teachers and the school authorities.

This was one of those events which had put a smile of just about everyone’s faces. With positive reviews and comments from everyone it was obvious that this effort had been worthwhile and the event a major success. What made this event stand apart from other activities was the fact that it involved the whole community. This wasn’t just a thing for the school children but an opportunity for the entire community to get together and celebrate creativity.
Kudos to the Library team for all their efforts in making this event a grand success! 

Field Experiences in Kushtagi

In a relentless effort to monitor and propel the programmes, Akshara’s resource group and field teams are checking on progress and learning achievements and also capturing experiences from Hoskote, Devanahalli, Kushtagi and Mundargi Blocks. In Kushtagi, where stumbling blocks have been more in evidence. Delays in training have impeded the programmes in this Block, and yet, there are outstanding examples of teachers striving ahead, regardless.

  1. There is a method to monitoring. Schools where the programmes are running are classified as ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’. It is an internal Akshara ranking that helps distinguish between quality schools and poorly performing ones.  
  2. ‘A’ grade schools usually have bright children fighting competitively to answer questions the visiting Akshara teams ask them. They are smart, not to be outwitted by what they do not know, quickly clearing doubts and carrying on. 
  3. In ‘B’ and ‘C’ schools there is markedly less enthusiasm. In the former, children have seen the Akshara teaching-learning material and know how to use it, but need practice before they can become competent. In ‘C’ grade schools children have seen the TLM, but are not aware how to operate it. The method eludes them.

It is difficult for visiting teams to ask teachers directly if they are following the programme methodologies. It would seem like an affront, a doubt cast on credibility. Akshara teams take up the TLM with the children instead and estimate what they have been taught, and how.

The CRP, An Active Promoter

The resource group from Bangalore visited 13 schools in Kushtagi Block. The 3 Urdu medium schools among them were non-starters – the programmes have not moved. The excuse was that training was delayed. But the 10 Kannada medium schools of ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ grades were more invested in the programmes, teachers taking them forward despite the tardiness and, sometimes, the lack of training.

The Cluster Resource Person (CRP) of the Hiregonnagara cluster is an active promoter of the programmes. At the Samalochana Sabhe Saranabasiah Kolli organises every month for the teachers under his watch, he tells them that the English and Mathematics programmes are good, that they will not experience any difficulty if they follow the Akshara TLM. It will be so easy, he tells them.

An Inspired English Teacher

At the Government Kannada Higher Primary School (GKHPS), Habalakatti, the resource group was in for some big experiences. It has 298 children and classes from Std. I to VIII. SaranabasiahKolli was there telling the team that he was getting a definite sense of the programmes benefitting children. Mainly because of an inspired Std. IV English teacher who is a Master Resource Person chosen by the Department of Education for his proficiency, and trained by Akshara.
The children engaged the resource group in conversation by asking them their names. They could identify the parts of the body and point to their functions and rattled off fluently the names of twenty six vegetables, all in English. They even made sentences with them.  The results are obvious, the resource group says. The children are gaining a foothold in English.

A Motivated Mathematics Teacher

The resource group came across another inspired teacher at the school – Rajani of Std. IV. She has not received training in Mathematics. The team could not ascertain why and conjecture that perhaps it is because the school feels there is a lead teacher in Santosh, or it is because Rajani was needed as caretaker teacher when the others went for their training. Her attitude, however, was immensely positive. She was not unhappy about it. Akshara’s Mathematics Teacher’s Manual and the TLM are her daily guide in class and SaranabasiahKolli is always motivating her to follow it. Even if no big impact can be seen, the resource group is full of appreciation for her ongoing efforts.

The Resource Group’s Observations

The team’s conclusion is: Though some of the training in Kushtagi Block took place only in December 2012 and January 2013 due to factors beyond Akshara’s control, teachers who are interested and motivated have made significant progress in the relatively short period of a month or two. The syllabus is being covered by linking the TLM to what is being taught. Solutions are being found through the TLM for doubts that arise from textbooks. This breed of teachers says that the programme-prescribed group work is an effective strategy and that children do their work on their own even if they happen to be absent.

From failure to success!

It has been a busy day at the Government Higher Primary School in Hasigalla, Hoskote Block. Akshara’s Makkalu Habba has just ended. It has been an afternoon of excitement, with Mathematics and English tests, way different from the regular class examinations. . It is also the finale when the prizes would be given out before a small crowd of parents, the Block Resource Coordinator (BRC), the Cluster Resource Person (CRP), the School Development Monitoring Committee (SDMC), out in force, the Akshara team and the school’s Headmaster and teachers.

The children sit on mats spread on the ground in tense anticipation of the results. Manasa of Std. VII is in full flow, extending felicitations and a warm welcome to the visitors on behalf of her school. Standing right behind is Aswathamma, class teacher of Std. VI, shadowy but forceful, prompting, gently steering Manasa as her fluent Kannada hits the occasional rough trough. The prizes are announced. The winners are jubilant, the losers crestfallen. Aswathamma picks up the microphone and sends out a consolatory message. “To those children who have not got prizes, do not lose heart. Failure is a stepping stone to success.”

This final note of sympathetic morale-boosting captures Aswathamma’s teacher-personality, Asha as she is fondly called in school, in her village of Hasigalla and by her family. She has this knack of distilling wisdom for an occasion, for a situation, interpreting it for a young generation.

Ashwatamma or Asha as she is popularly known as by everyone has come a long way. From being a shy, jittery 19 year old teacher to a bunch of motley kids at the government school in GubbiTaluk, to a confident and a creative teacher who is every child’s favourite. She has evolved from being a tongue tied to being an effortless teacher. She proudly exclaims teaching has become the easiest thing. Presenting the textbook imaginatively, or exposing the mysteries of science, it is now as easy as the students’ dance performances she helps compose, or her composite morning assembly.

Today at 42 Asha teaches the students with the same grit and determination with which she stepped into this profession. While she tasted failures in the start she has used these failures to build up her success. Mathematics and science are Asha’s subjects. She has a Trained Teachers’ Certificate, which she acquired after her SSLC or Std. VII examinations. Her students have a 60% – and above – success rate in Mathematics. It has been on-the-job, her learning all these twenty one years as a teacher, eighteen of which have been at this school. Asha has a daughter who is doing her BE (Bachelor of Engineering).

 Asha never wanted to teach young children. She had dreams of higher studies and a lecturer’s post in college. Her mother was her support and her inspiration. With a twinkle in her eye she says her mother would have been happy to see her work and make a difference to those many students she has been teaching.

Asha has been the proud recipient of the Department of Education’s Best Teacher Award in 2003-2004. Mahindra & Mahindra, the prominent corporate entity conferred on Asha the Best Teacher Award in recognition of her skills and service. This changed the opinion of many that government school teachers are weak on fundamentals, not qualified or dedicated enough.

Since Asha specialises in Mathematics, The Department of Education has designated her as a Resource Person in Mathematics. Asha says she would like to grow further, expand her knowledge base. She says her professional growth is important, for the sake of her students. But often she has to bow to what the government says.

Asha is the driving force of the morning assembly in school, a format she has choreographed of prayer and moral teachings from the lives of seers and saints. She talks about Swami Vivekananda, about respect, service and good thoughts, bringing elevation down to a level comprehensible to children as they embark into a world of moral erosion.

Her morning assembly has an all-round character. Asha places the Deccan Herald and the Kannada daily, Vijayavani, before the children and one by one they read the headlines. She initiates a discussion on sports events making the news. A special concern is health, and every morning Asha asks the children a question related to health and general knowledge.

Her students – she shares an unbreakable and unshakeable bond with them. She envelops them with warmth and support. Her HM commends her as a “hard worker.” In her community her service to students is on public record. They call her “our daughter.”

Asha is indeed a rallying figure for students. It is obvious as they huddle around her, seeking advice, settling an issue, or debating a point with earnest, open faces. And she motivates them to do their best, to excel, as she prepares them for the dance at the MakkaluHabba, pulling a costume into shape, smoothing a stray strand of hair or powdering someone’s face.  Asha gives her students the freedom to be.

 Last year children passing out of Std. VII celebrated her birthday in grand fashion with a cake and gifts and flowers. Her old students shower her with little gifts during New Year and festivals. An outpour of affection, which brings tears to her eyes as she reminisces and revisits fond memories. The photographs in her mobile are a telling commentary.

She wants her students to do well in whatever in do but she reiterates the point that they must be good human beings first.

The Pilot ICDS programme project takes off in Malur

A training session in  progress

Educating a child isn’t just a decision but an investment on which depends the future of a nation. This simply means improved quality of life of its citizens and a path of planned development to be followed. With this in mind, the Government of India launched the ICDS programme better known as the Integrated Child Development Service on 2nd October 1975. 
ICDS has come a long way over the years, and now is one of the world’s largest programmes working for the holistic development of young children. It has been instrumental in enabling mothers to care for their young children by providing services and appropriate information, support and guidance. The services provided under ICDS have had a positive impact on the health and nutritional status of children, helped in reducing infant mortality, and created awareness in the community on many issues.
The Anganwadi worker is grass root worker. She is the main link person to the community and the several departments like health local government and other government schemes related to woman and child. These include schemes like Bhagya lakshmi, promoting self help groups, opening Bank accounts, health talks on nutrition for adolescent girls, pregnancy and lactating mothers, immunization of the child and pregnant lady, information pertaining to the birth and death of the child and so on. With all this information she is responsible for maintaining the records, and interacting with the community.
Akshara found that with so much responsibility the worker could not give time to the preschool children in her centre. Most often the children were left on their own and were found wasting their learning time doing nothing. This simply meant that these children were bound to face more problems in the formal school.
According to the child psychologist age 3 to 6 is a challenging phase for children and this is when the child learns to think, recognize and recite. This in turn will help build a foundation of concepts for his or her formal education. Therefore, pre-school eligible children coming to the center are undergoing formal education after a year or two without the basic foundation of school readiness and self help skills. 
 Akshara foundation plans to support a 3rdworker to this Anganwadi to focus only on preschool education of the children in school readiness and skill based activities.
The preparatory phase included getting a permission letter from the Commissioner. Talking to the district level officer (Deputy Director), CDPO about the program they were informed that this will be a pilot program in Kolar district, ICDS project in Malur taluka, and selected 2-3 circles with a maximum of 60 Anganwadis.
The Execution phase included selection of  2-3 circles with a  maximum of 60 villages, identify eligible candidates, train them with curriculum, class room management, how to handle the children with theory and practical sessions and send them to the field.
Eligibility criteria included a girl who would be a student studying her Pre-University course or completed and be a resident of the same village.Apprentice would undergo training of 14 days with salary. Once the training is complete she will be placed in the Anganwadi.
The duration of the training is 14 working days with practical and theory sessions.Once the training concluded the Anganwadi worker will be given a set of TLM to conduct the activities for the children.
Centre assessments would be conducted before starting the program and towards the end of the program.
Child assessment would be conducted in 2 phases namely pre and post assessment to compare the learning outcome of each child. These results would be shared with the mothers in a meeting along with the CDPO and supervisors.
We succeeded in identifying 40 volunteers from 40 villages, out of the total 40 participants, 37 girls completed the training from 11th– 16th February 2013 and they are now undergoing practical sessions in their Anganwadi.  They will again have two days training on the 25th and the 26th of February for the remaining sessions. Though this is a pilot project it shows great promise and will be a beneficial step for both the Anganwadi workers as well as the children.

Asma’s Balwadi – A Shining Example of Grit and Hard work

This is an inspiring story of Asma who chose to make a difference in her own little way and emerged triumphant.
In an inner enclave beyond busy main roads lies Nehrupuram, its streets scrupulously clean, no garbage heaps, big and small, that Bangalore struggles to clear every day. It is a thriving community that lives here, with a hunger for self-advancement. Asma Moosa lives here and  is a stellar example, a compulsion for public good driving her.
Asma is one of Akshara’s eminently successful independent balwadi volunteers, a person admired and respected by her community. It started way back  in 2000 when Asma was all of eighteen, young, capable, yearning for bigger goals. She was famous for taking tuitions. At one point she had 100 students in three batches. Getting started with an independent Balwadi  was hence something that was soon to follow. This independent balwadi was an opportunity towards educational entrepreneurship, social development and academic grooming of little children. In Asma’s words “A job that takes the community forward.”
The prospect of being stranded at home and doing housework after completing school was not an enticing one, and her mother was already planning her marriage. Asma, in her characteristically mild way, refused to be typecast, to fit into preordained moulds. This simply meant her family was not willing to send her to work. However, an independent Balwadi being a home based venture made things easy for Asma. This simply meant giving back to society while ensuring a modest personal economic stability along with family support.
Asma was quiet familiar with Akshara and the work they were doing. This was when she approached Fatima, an Akshara librarian in a government school nearby. This was indeed the turning point of her life and she realized her true calling.
Akshara’s training for independent Balwadi volunteers not just trained her but also opened new avenues for Asma. It taught her skills she never knew she needed – managing children, extracting the best out of them, helping realize their potential. The significance of preschool education and how it builds foundations for later development was new to her, and she never knew so much was possible with teaching-learning material. It had seemed like child’s play opening a balwadi. Now she knew what it meant. Most importantly the training taught her how to harmonise an entrepreneurial streak with community service.
Asma set up her balwadi in a room in her mother’s house. Akshara provided her with everything she needed to start a preschool. All the teaching-learning material, books, forms, registers, identity cards for the children, even pins and clips, she happily quips. She was out in the community every day searching for children for her balwadi, coaxing parents. “Only three children turned up on the first day,” she says, quietly reliving what could easily have turned into a disaster.
Her house-to-house searches for children and persuasions in the community yielded steady results. Asma’s hard work, and a slowly spreading acknowledgment of it, paid off. Soon students began trickling in and the number changed from 3 to a bunch of 40 kids. Asma charged Rs. 50 per student. She was the proud recipient of  a trophy from Akshara for drawing the highest number of children in the first year of operations.
Asma’s marriage in 2008 seemed to shadow her success as her husband did not want her to work but her dogged determination won.  Today Asma operates out of a new multi-storeyed building the Maulvi of the mosque next door has provided her. Her balwadi has grown. She has 135 students in four sections – pre-nursery, nursery, Lower Kindergarten (LKG) and Upper Kindergarten (UKG), all compartmentalized and in distinct sections with separate curriculums. Asma runs an English medium preschool. It is a professional set-up. 
If her balwadi has grown so has Asma. She has a big reputation for preschool education in Nehrupuram. “I am famous in this area because of Akshara. And yes, people acknowledge me as a good teacher,” she says with humility.
What has made this journey possible? It is her never say die attitude and  hard work. She hopes to be a role model and make her school an ideal example for others to follow. In spite of her rise and the position she holds in her community Asma maintains her humility. She herself laid down terms for herself, but with sensitivity. Today, her 3 ½ year old son does not study in her balwadi because he cannot accept his mother as a teacher, is looked after a lot of the time by her mother, leaving Asma free to shoulder her work. It indeed  is a two-way street but she manages it all with dedication and sincerity.
Asma negotiated with her family for that work-space in her life, to be allowed to do something better, larger, meaningful, without cutting off relationships. “If women are not allowed to go out and do something they can do it at home. But women should do something. They play a decisive role especially in education”.