My Experiences with Akshara

Shruthi Iyer, a Teach For India fellow interned with us for a month and she shares her experience here.

Classroom to cubicle!
Going from teaching my fifth graders in a public school in Pune to working in anoffice in Bangalore, my summer internship with Akshara foundation has been a refreshing and much needed change. Getting caught up with teaching, often one misses the bigger picture, but at Akshara it is exactly what I got, an overwhelming bird’s eye view of the education system and a sense of the education scene in Karnataka. Though I could manage only a brief month at Akshara(a week of which was spent in coming out of ‘class’ and into the ‘cubicle’!), it has been a supremely enriching experience professionally.

What does Akshara do?
As Ashok Kamath, the chairman of Akshara put it, “Even if it is just Ragi Mudde that we offer, we want every child to have the Ragi Mudde”, and that pretty much sums up the scale at which Akshara functions. Impacting almost all the school in Karnataka through its various programs, Akshara leads the way in driving policy changes and designing instructional approach for the state. Some of the programs rolled out in schools include The Preschool (Balwadi) Programme- to make sure kids are school ready when they start grade 1, In-School Programmes – interventions to improve learning levels in numeracy and literacy, Library Programme – to encourage a reading habit to all school children across the state.

Of course, the most innovative of these programs is the KLP or the Karnataka Learning Project. Under the name of KLP, a database has been compiled that covers details about all schools across Karnataka(and Anganwadis in Bangalore), including the number of students, gender profiles, enrolment details, local languages, mid-day meals, SDMC data, and more. All this has been represented in an interactive map and reports with brilliant visualisations. Getting to interact with the team that put all this together was an experience in itself.

What did I do at Akshara?
Akshara has a program in pipeline which aims to provide every public school with a math kit to teach concepts in a concrete way. The teacher in me could not help but be overwhelmed by the effectiveness of the manipulatives. Ranging from teaching place value to decimals, the kit includes lesson plans and workbook for kids. Making sure the kits reach the schools, building community capacity and imparting teacher training is also aimed as an integral part of the program. I was assigned to pen down an initial draft of business plan for this programme. Writing the Business Plan was a fresh experience andthe numbers and scale always left me amazed! Learning in brief about operations, marketing and finances, the nuances of running a program at such a large scale with a large number of stakeholders, and thinking through the risks associated with it were some of my take-aways in terms of planning.

Culture at Akshara
Apart from getting an objective look at the big picture, my short stint at Akshara was filled with unexpected surprises-experiencing a documentary shooting and learning LEGO robotic programing being some of them! I also got to attend what Ashok calls “a rare event at Akshara- a farewell party”. With Arvind, the head of the Library programme leaving, the attrition rate rises up to 3.5%! It sure does says something about the culture of the organisation, and truly so. The openness, dedication and optimism felt at Akshara made my daily 4-hour travel worth it.

I guess I would be wrong in saying I took back nothing for my class from Akshara. I take back a healthy culture that I see is possible to maintain, one of efficiency, openness and positivity. Hopefully I will be able to impart it to my students as everyone at Akshara has imbibed it.

Envisioning ‘One day every child will receive an excellent education’ and in aiming for ‘Every child in school learning well’; all of us fight to slay the same ugly monster of inequity. Perhaps none of us have the panacea yet, and as challenging as the task ahead looks, in the short time at I spent at Akshara, my hopes have been much upped I firmly believe- together we can!

PS: Much thanks Asha and Megha for the lift and talking. Made me look forward to the travel! 🙂

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