|A bunch of children engrossed in solving a Math problem|
|A bunch of children engrossed in solving a Math problem|
All good things have to end so did Mundargi’s refreshers session which would go a long way down the memory lane! 🙂 “
“ “Welcome to Kushok Bakula Rimpoche Airport, Leh. The temperature outside is -12 degrees Celsius”. I had arrived in Ladakh, but a Ladakhi welcome had already been bestowed on me the previous day at New Delhi airport, where I was met by a smiling Stanzin Norbu from the 17000ft Foundation. I was here at the invitation of Sujata and Sandeep Sahu, founders of 17K, to help them provide a training-orientation to Heads of some 100 Government Primary Schools, where they had set up their School Libraries as part of their programme with rural Ladakhi schools.
It seemed at first sight that there were just two things in Ladakh: ice, and space. From my bedroom window, on the ground floor, I could gaze upon the sunlit spires of mountains on the far shore of the Indus. I had been given a list of clothing material to buy and I got it all from Decathlon here in Bangalore, the most important part being a Goose-Down-Jacket-with-a-hood. I had thermals and skiing-gloves and fleece sweaters and fleece caps and a balaclava and skiing clothing ( form-fit trousers and shirt ) and a baggy waterproof pair of trousers. I had been asked to take Diamox tablets for altitude sickness and I felt no ill effects whatsoever.
I was reading Pankaj Mishra’s An End to Suffering: the Buddha in the World, an apt book for this place. The travels and thoughts of the author mingled with my impressions, as I saw Abbaley and Ammaley, our hosts, sit in the sunshine working the beads and reciting the Name four lakh times. There were shrines with large red and yellow prayer wheels at street corners; a steep hill in upper Leh seemed to have a monastery on top, but it seemed beyond me to attempt to get there. I contented myself with listening and humming Manasa Yetulortune in that lazy morning sunshine and talking to the two house cats in Tamil, who insisted that I part with some of my puri-s.
However, this moment of utopia ended as soon as I entered the next school, which was as small in terms of student and teacher strength but was quite the opposite of the ‘perfect’ school: the girls’ toilet was locked and perhaps unused as there was no drop of water anywhere around the source of water, the staff room was tiny with just one very small desk and one chair, and the children just sat listlessly. When the 5th standard was tested on reading, half were unable to read, some of these were not even able to recognise letters. Similar to this was another school in Koredkera which had a much larger student and teacher strength. But this school had infrastructural issue as its three Nali-Kali sections were squeezed into two rooms of which one room was packed with 64 students gazing blankly at the wall. There was barely enough space for any movement, let alone conduct the classes as per the methods. They are short of rooms, the teacher said. They were also short of two teachers and had a Pupil Teacher ration (PTR) of 1:48 instead of 1:35. The school lacked SDMC support. With a defunct SDMC, the School Development fund was returned to the source. Classes 4 and 5 were merged for the day due to the Samalochana Sabha held in that school. Out of the seven students, four could not read when tested on reading from second standard Kannada text books. In general, I also observed these children to have hygiene issues. Moving on, I had a chat with the Principal of the school where training was on. This school was short on rooms and had no boundary wall, as far as I could see. The toilets were open but seemed unused. The Principal who was into 33rd year of service was very happy to know that I knew Hindi as she was unable to express herself in English. So, we managed to exchange out thoughts. In the first minute of our meeting, she complained about the lack of cooperation from the parents in creating a learning atmosphere at their homes. She said that “children spend 7 hours or so in school and we make so much effort to teach but the moment they go home, all our efforts go waste”. Then she complained about the SDMC’s lack of support towards school development. As she compared the present day attitude of parents with that of 50 years ago, I could see that she was unable to incorporate the change over the year that has led to high enrollments thereby making teachers’ role even more challenging. I cautiously shared my observations of the school in Bailihard to get to know her better, careful not to offend her in any way. She expressed mixed emotions of surprise, defense and helplessness. Even though she had not seen the school herself, she knew it was a small village and the school gets a lot of support in planning and development through SDMC and others. “Our children are also good Madam”, she said when I told her about that 5th standard that was functioning by itself. One of the teachers of this school had a stick in her hand, as she sat and chatted with her colleague, and occasionally did “hey” to shut any noise that disturbed her. None of the teachers taught, instead they sat chatting in pairs while monitoring the classes.
Now is the time to take stock of the landscape and see what can strengthen the implementation of the Act. Equally important is to be cognizant of the challenges that come with this ambitious goal and pre-empt some, if not all of them.
There is no dearth of innovations in the education sector and many of these can address systemic gaps. Social entrepreneurs behind these innovations have demon-strated that these can work not just in small settings but even when taken to scale.
A time-tested example is what Rama and Padmanabha Rao have developed through the RIVER (Rishi Valley Institute for Educational Resources) project. As we know, most rural schools are single-teacher schools and have no choice but to take up multi-grade teaching, thus limiting a child’s ability to learn well. RIVER has been able to re-design the teaching methodology so that single teachers who are teaching different grades at once are able to do it effectively. Their success has already been demonstrated in 75,000 schools that are using this model in 13 different languages, and nearly 1,20,000 teachers have been trained to use this approach. Beyond this, the Raos have been able to help develop teaching materials involving the local communities. This makes it low-cost and the children can easily relate to them. All this put together has addressed issues of teacher and student absenteeism, made learning a joy and filled the disconnect between schools and communities.
There are many such innovations, which when coupled with the existing infrastructure, can do wonders. Technology can play a pivotal role too — empowering teachers and students alike. An extensive mapping of these innovations and integrating the truly promising ones into the mainstream is the need of the hour.
Quality and metrics
Efforts like Read India, undertaken by Pratham, emphasize quality and not just the number of children in school. Tracking and monitoring results is integral to the success of what the Act hopes to accomplish. Pratham is also behind the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in order to assess the national success: the numbers as well as the quality of education attained by the children. ASER has served as the proverbial mirror revealing what has worked well and what has not — including the geographic disparities. Pratham also conducts bridge schools for children who are out of school to prepare them to re-enter mainstream schools.
Then there is the issue of those children who fall through the cracks despite the best of intentions of all stakeholders. A case in point is children of migrant labourers. Millions of poor rural Indians migrate from their villages in search of work for up to 8 months every year. They work in brick kilns, sugarcane plantations, salt pans and other labour-intense sectors to provide for their families. Typically, their children migrate with them. Such migration usually results in these children dropping out of school at a very young age and starting work, often under hazardous conditions. The LAMP (Learning and Migration Program),run by the American India Foundation, reaches out to these communities and their children and ensures that they have access to education. Children can stay back in seasonal hostels in their native villages and continue to learn or attend site schools where their parents end up working.
Lessons to learn
While it is a totally different issue, there are some interesting parallels with another major Act passed recently to deliver another social good — employment. The NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) has had mixed results. While some states have been able to access close to 50 per cent of funds available under NREGA, other states have used less than 10 per cent of the funds. RTE could go the NREGA way if not handled well.
There are voices of dissonance being heard in the context of resources. On whom does the burden lie? The centre or the state? What kind of micro-planning is needed? For resources to be allocated, village level planning is needed and aggregated information from villages has to flow upward for allocation of funds. How realistic is this and how will this be executed?
The challenges are many and being cognizant of them is the first step. The Act has not mapped out a plan to address the gap in the number and quality of teachers. Large numbers of teachers must be recruited instantly, trained and retrained adequately, placed rapidly and monitored regularly. Partnerships with private schools can help with setting up such training facilities. The second challenge is incorporating the voice of the marginalised communities in the resource allocation process.
Many of these people are illiterate themselves and therefore unaware of policy changes and unable to comprehend their rights. The government must take steps that include these communities and the civil society must provide a platform for them to be heard. Social awareness is what will close the final gap. Many communities do not see this as an investment in their children’s future. ‘If my child is going to eventually work in the fields, what is the use of years of being in school?’ This is the question posed by many remote rural communities. Other stigma and challenges need to be addressed — such as keeping the girl child in school.
The key is for the government not to reinvent the wheel, but to form partnerships with the stakeholders to replicate, build on and scale up models that work to overcome some of the challenges.
As one leading educationist in the country put it, ‘Stratospheric debates on education and RTE alone are not enough’. Governments, philanthropists, the citizen sector, businesses — all have a major role in enabling India achieve its educational success. It will take lots of resources and many creative solutions to ensure that the children are actually able to exercise their right that the Constitution of India has now handed them.
Source : Deccan Herald
Training gets Delivered
While the Akshara team has designed child-friendly Teaching Learning Aids, supporting the programme through constant interaction with the Teachers and measuring the programme through various assessment strategies, the programme is delivered in classrooms by Teachers themselves. A comprehensive training component is developed at Akshara focusing on basic English and Math knowledge that can aid teachers in the classrooms. The training is delivered in a cascading fashion through the education department Master’s Resource Persons (MRPs). A 5-day training in the beginning of the academic year is followed by a refresher training later in the year. This year, over 1500 teachers have been trained in the Akshara methodology and are currently delivering the programme in the classrooms.
“Akshara Foundation’s Training has Given me a new Approach”
We have received overwhelming responses to the trainings. The teachers are very happy with our training and feel the programme will surely benefit the children.
Sridhar, a primary school teacher who teaches English in Std I-VII and has a command over the language, said, “I have undergone so many English training programmes in my six years of service, but Akshara Foundation’s training has given me a new approach and I can teach my students in a simple way.”
Shailaja Patil from the Government Higher Primary School, Nidasheshi, said, “I have never tried speaking in English before, but once I started attending Akshara’s training I got the confidence to speak in English. I assure you that I will do my best in class.”
Mehaboob Sahib, a Master Resource Person, said that he has imparted English training for many teachers, 13 batches of them. “But I enjoyed imparting Akshara Foundation’s training package the most. This package has been designed keeping teachers in mind. Simple and the best.”
A few teachers who underwent our training in the Devanahalli block went a step ahead to compare our training with the British Council training and had the following points to say:
1. British council training was in lecture mode where as the Akshara Foundation training was activity based.
2. The Charts, Flash cards, Teacher’s guide etc provided by British Council were not up to the mark. The Akshara teacher’s guide, cards, charts flash cards etc provided by Akshara Foundation were very good. These are very useful for children’s learning.
3. Importance was not given to the communication skills of the teachers in the training program of British Council. In Akshara Foundation training program importance was given to improve English spoken language abilities of the teachers and English grammar.
4. The techniques of developing basic language skills among children were incorporated in Akshara Foundation training. Akshara Foundation training caters to the needs of improving teacher’s skills in using English language.
We are thankful to all these teachers for finding value in our training and we believe that they will create a positive impact on the learning levels of children.
A Big Success
The LEGO Habba, happening every Saturday from October 2012 to December 2012 in selected government schools in Bangalore, concluded recently. The event had been been conceived with the aim of having Parents, Teachers and Children engage in a creative LEGO brick activity in school. This was good way to ensure that Parents and School Staff build a good relationship to ensure that they jointly do the best for the child.
From schools in Siddhapura, Austin Town and Harappanahalli, reports streamed into Akshara from the library resource team about the festive atmosphere the Habbas were generating, the light, happy mood of children, their buoyant creativity and the quite unbelievable models they designed, the parental participation and the support of volunteers and school managements in making the Habbas a huge success.
Groups of children made thematic models from stories that came out of their memory trove, stories they could best represent through art, design and construction, with the hundreds upon hundreds of bright, multi-colored, interlocking LEGO play-and-learning material before them. Children joined and fixed and connected the LEGO bricks, set elaborate stages for the characters that would live in their stories, the trees and animals that would inhabit them and built towers and forts and simple dwellings.
The Stories They Chose
At the school in Austin Town the children of Std. I, II and III chose The Thirsty Crow from the Panchatantra for their model.
For Std. IV children it was The King and the Parrot, again from the Panchatantra, its characters a bit more complex.
Soleman from the cartoon serial was a more tricky concept to represent, but that is what Std. V children chose to depict.
Std. VI children came up with The Golden Axe, a well-remembered story of theirs, and had a forest ready for the tale of the honest woodcutter who was gifted the golden axe by the river god.
The children of Std. VII did something unique. They devised their own story, made animals their protagonists, assigned each a role and character and had them play out their parts in sequences. Their story was almost similar to The Royal Toothache published by Pratham Books.
“We Loved the Event”
Thirty five parents showed up at the Siddhapura school and though they were all shy and disengaged in the beginning, not knowing what to expect, Akshara staff and Fidelity Information Systems (FIS) volunteers thawed the ice and brought about a great artistic commingling.
One parent remarked that no one has ever invited them to come and play with their children in school before, referring to the library resource team’s ingenious invitations that went out to them from the school managements’ side. “We loved the event,” the parent said. “It helped us to get to know our children better and also helped us interact with teachers for a reason that was different from academic results.”
Cluster Resource Person (CRP) Govindappa said, “It was a very well-organized event. Looking at the LEGO play material I was half tempted to join the children (which I did too) and play with them. I was surprised by the presence of parents and that they stayed on for such a long time. They were not willing to get back home. I thank the Akshara Foundation team, all the volunteers and school staff for such a fabulous event.”
Pride in Achievement
It was all over in one short hour, the flying sparks and the bursts of ideas translating into solid substance, and the children stood under the marquees with their models, full of pride and achievement and ownership, surrounded by an appreciative and applauding crowd of parents, HMs, teachers, volunteers, School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) members and Akshara staff. They spoke enthusiastically about what they had so spontaneously created, their stories, their models, and how they went about it.
Over 130 volunteers from various organizations like FIS, Robert Bosch, CGI, Hibu, iGate and schools like Inventure Academy organized the habba at 16 schools over Saturdays. Thanks to their high enthusiasm and passion, the habba was a great success !!
As Sharath from Hibu, who had volunteered for the Habba at the Harappanahalli school, noted, “This was an amazing event. I am very excited by the creativity and the talent shown by government school children. My team has volunteered for some events with children before, but the sense of satisfaction and entertainment this event gave us is immense. I wish to participate more frequently in Akshara Foundation events in future.”
The last habbas
The last two LEGO Habbas were conducted at the Community Education Resource Centre (CERC), or community library, at two Bridge Schools run by Samruddhi Foundation. It is an Akshara – supported CERC, run with donor contributions from ING Vysya Foundation. Around 160 children from a local rag-pickers’ colony attend the community library and the team had introduced them to LEGO’s learning and creative opportunities early in the academic year.
Watch the Habba in action
Here’s a wonderful video created by Inventure Academy on the habba. The video tells you the story of the habba and how the children, parents, teachers of GKHPS Handenahalli and the students of Inventure Academy participated in it as a single community.
Come Saturday morning and all the locations wore a festive look. Shamiyana, music, colorful festoons created the perfect atmosphere for the Habba to begin. The event started off with a brief welcome to the children, parents, teachers, SDMC members, volunteers and department officials. Soon, teams were formed with each team consisting of a volunteer, teacher and an Akshara librarian. Each such team would coordinate the Habba in each class. It took a while for volunteers and teachers to gently persuade parents to tell stories to their children. Soon we saw the whole group interacting well with each other to decide on the story and started building different components of the selected stories using LEGO blocks. In a lot of instances, it was so heartwarming to see parents and their children guiding each other and joining hands to build models together.
After 70 minutes, the outcome was astonishing and satisfying. In front of us, there were highly creative models. Beautiful LEGO models told us stories of ‘Simha Mathu Mola’, ‘Mangoose kills the snake’, ‘Monkey and the Crocodile’, ‘Punyakoti’, ‘Onake Obavva’ and many more..
The models were then displayed and one could see parents beaming with pride. One parent told us that so far, no one had invited them to the school to play. This event helped them to know their child better as they were unaware of their child’s talent. For once, they could interact well with teachers for a reason other than academics.
The Cluster Resource Person from the Education department Mr. Govindappa, who participated in Siddapura said,”It was a very well organized event. By looking at the LEGO bricks, I was half-tempted to join the children (which I did too) and play with them. And I was surprised with the presence of Parents for such a long period. They are not willing to get back home. So, I thank Akshara Foundation team, and all the Volunteers and School Staff for such a fabulous event.”
The event concluded with the distribution of gifts and snacks to all children. Each school was also gifted with a LEGO box.
Overall, the Habba, as the name suggests was like a Habba in the School, and was powerful enough to pull along parents, teachers, children and volunteers to come together to celebrate creativity !! We hope, this Habba is a gateway for better involvement of the parents in their child’s education and will initiative the demand for quality education in the future.
Arvind Venkatadri, Head of Akshara’s library program, participated in the Habba in the GKHPS Handenahalli. Below Arvind shares his joyous experiences of the Habba.
” I reached Handenahalli at 9:10 AM, well in advance of the start time of the Habba, planned for 1130. I was immediately impressed by the level of preparation by the HM, Shri Bhaskar and his staff: a very colorful shamiyana was already up, the LEGO Habba banner was flapping in the breeze over the main gate of the school and the HM’s voice could he heard testing their PA system! The ground was spruce and clean and very soon I spotted Akshara’s Librarians, all smartly dressed for the occasion: Deepa, who works from this school and her colleagues Renuka, Pushpa, BhagyaJyothi, Lakshmi, Manjula and Pankaja from other schools in Anekal Block.
The SDMC members arrived and so did teachers from the neighbouring schools, Bikkanahalli, Sollepura and Kotaganahalli; I recognized and was greeted by Shri Lakshmipathi of Bikkanahalli. For this Habba, we were expecting a whole bunch of volunteers from the Inventure Academy, an International School located near Dommasandra. Lavanya Vimala, a teacher at Inventure, called me to tell me they were on the way and soon enough the Inventure bus came rolling to the gate of the school. They were greeted by Shri Bhaskar and welcomed to the Habba. There were some students of Inventure and some parents as well, who were curious to see what this Lego Habba was all about. One of them, Anjana, started a very detailed shooting of the entire event, complete with interviews of participants. By that time a good few parents had also gathered, some grandparents too and were engaged in charming conversations with the Librarians.
We quickly briefed them as to the plan; Prabha from Inventure agreed to be the compere and took charge at once. She kicked off the Habba by welcoming the assembled parents and the staff members of the neighbouring schools and the SDMC members. She gave a lovely introduction to the Theme of the Habba, “The Land of Stories”. Everybody was excited with the prospect of making Lego models to show off their stories. The children came streaming out of the classes to take their parents there; the teachers quickly took charge, along with atleast one volunteer from the Inventure group. Soon there were keen discussions in many of the classrooms: Children telling ” ajji” to decide on a good story and in some cases, children telling stories to the adults and exhorting them to adopt these as their story for the Habba. The volunteers helped create some wonderful talk: Prabha was very effervescent, as were many of of the other teachers. The Inventure Children sprang their own surprise: they had brought charts and banners of their own, handmade, which they decked up in the classrooms and also on the central stage in the courtyard.
The stories were decided upon fairly quickly: the Thirsty Crow, the Rabbit and the Lion, from the Panchatantra and The Village Fair, a popular story in our Libraries. People decided upon how to build the stories: what creatures to make and what the surroundings were like and of course, deciding on the main event to depict. The Akshara Librarians then brought in the buckets full of Lego and upturned them on the floor. The surprise and utter delight on the childrens’ faces was a joy to behold, and they cheered as they dug in to get hold of the pieces they needed. The volunteers helped some of the shy adults to come out of their shells and make the models; the Inventure students thoroughly mixed with the children here and helped create some intricate models.
Soon it was time to bring out the Story Models and display them on the stage. Librarian Manjula had drawn up areas on the stage where each class would arrange its Story Model.
They were astonishing, the models. The Lion was a sheer delight, with mane and tail, as was the reflection of the lion in the water inside the well. The trees in the forest had been made with a lot of care, and foliage looked very real. The Crow looked very good too, cocky and street-smart. The Village Fair was full of detailed pieces: a merry-go-round, dancers, shops, games, even a mobile tower near the village. Prabha invited children from each class to present their story; each story was cheered by the closely pressed group. Parents delighted in the attention their wards were getting; I also met parents from the nearby anganawadi who had come in to find out what was going on.
Finally, it was time to wind up the show. Prabha made the children cheer when she announced that there were gifts for everyone. The children quickly lined up in a crocodile as they streamed towards the gate. Akshara Librarians smilingly handed out goodies and snacks to each child, from both Schools. Some tiny tots from the anganawadi came up timidly asked for the biscuits too and gleefully accepted the gifts.
It was deeply satisfying. The Children, the Parents,the Teachers and the Volunteers: it was just perfect. I think we will see similar efforts being made by th Govt School teachers themselves at other places, on their own. That will surely make the future Open School Days in Govt Schools a very different and noisy affair !! “