Akanksha: Belief In Every Child’s Potential

Taqueer had severe health problems in his tenth standard and managed to get only 51%. His father is a tailor in the local community while his mother is a housemaid. After enrolling in the learn to lead programme of Akansha, he enrolled in the Arts department of Wilson college and got the highest marks in history in the eleventh standard.

Akanksha is a non profit foundation with a vision to equip students with the education and skills they need to lead empowered lives. Over the past twenty years, the organisation has expanded from 15 children in one centre to over 3500 children in 58 centres and 6 schools.

Akanksha has programmes like the Social Leadership programme, where students work with an organisation addressing a particular social issue. The Learn to Lead programme hones leadership skills in motivated students through workshops, retreats and research projects.

They have developed a curriculum that uses innovative teaching methodology to teach English, Math and moral values. The Akansha curriculum supplements gaps in the formal school system and makes learning fun by teaching through games, stories and fun activities.

Here is an interview with Chitra Pandit of Akanksha :

What was the motivation, the initial reason for you to start Akanksha?

Shaheen Mistri started the Akanksha Foundation in 1991. When she was 18 years old she visited her grandparents who were in Bombay, and on that particular visit of hers, she saw the inequality in education between the private and the public schools

It began with a simple idea.

  • There were thousands of slum children who needed and wanted to be educated.
  • There were thousands of college students who had the energy, enthusiasm and time to teach these children.
  • And there existed pockets of available spaces located in schools that seemed ideal teaching environments.

The simple idea then, was to bring the three together – kids, volunteers and spaces. Once we made this three-way connection the first Akanksha centre was born.

What hurdles did you come across both from within the system and outside while setting up Akanksha?

The biggest hurdle was to get the kids out of their community & come to the centre.
Parents in the communities needed to be convinced about our mission.

Getting donors and funders to believe in us was a challenge. But over the years we are happy to share that today the organization serves 3,500 children in 58 after-school centres and six of its own schools.

What according to you are the most glaring shortcomings of the current education system?

In India today, 13 million children don’t go to school. Of the children who do, 50% drop out before grade five, & only 30% successfully complete grade ten.

In the existing schools, 25% of teachers do not show up to work. Only half of those who show up actually teach. If we are able to improve the quality of teachers & improve the quality of teaching we would only then be on the road to progress.

Tell us a bit more about the school project. How is Akanksha’s intervention helping municipal schools perform better?

The Need for the School Project:

MCGM and PMC acknowledge the insufficient supply of English-medium schools and are looking for effective PPP models…

In Mumbai

  • The corporation is running only 65 English schools (just over 4% of all Municipal Schools), the quality of education in these municipal English Schools needs to be improved
  • The teacher pupil ratio (1:82) versus the overall teacher pupil ratio of 1:36
  • Only 29 of these schools plan to reach the secondary level
  • There is a teacher shortage in the BMC of 300 English teachers

In Pune

  • The corporation has set up over 36 English medium schools since 2004, none of which go to the secondary level
  • Due to teacher shortages only 26 of the Pune English medium schools are currently operational, two of which are already being run by the Thermax Social Initiatives Foundation (TSIF) and Akanksha

The School Project

The School Project is an initiative that seeks to build a small cluster of high performing municipal schools that redefines what is possible for children from some of the poorest slum communities in Pune and Mumbai, and has the potential for wider systemic reform. These schools are a partnership with the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC)

The Akanksha School Project

The mission of The School Project is to build a network of high-performing municipal schools that redefine what is possible for children from some of the poorest slum communities in Pune and Mumbai, and have the potential for wider systemic reform.

  • 2 cities: Mumbai and Pune
  • 3 partners: Municipal Corporations of Pune/Mumbai, Thermax Social

Initiatives Foundation

  • 7 schools
  • 1500 children and growing

Future plans for Akanksha? Do you plan to move to other states.

Our dream: To grow The School Project to 15 schools across Mumbai and Pune by 2012.

Currently there are no plans to move to other states. The aim is to strengthen our network in Mumbai & Pune.

To know more about Akanksha, visit their website: http://www.akanksha.org/

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