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.
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.