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Akshara Foundation: Socializing the path to elementary education

Akshara Foundation: Socializing the path to elementary education

On seeing us, two watchful eyes which were till then following every child’s activity looked up with an inviting smile. On stepping inside, a quick glance at the library room,

On seeing us, two watchful eyes which were till then following every child’s activity looked up with an inviting smile. On stepping inside, a quick glance at the library room, past the 1000 and odd books, handicraft items, the  carrom board and chess games which are all delectably enjoyed by the curious little members with the help of their cheerful librarian, one would unerringly appreciate the efforts taken to set up this world of wisdom, in such a distant village of India.

Braving the hot sun we had traveled the dusty roads of the suburbs of Bangalore to visit the village of Pragatipura, Bangalore. This Library is one among the network of libraries set up by Akshara Foundations within the state of Karnataka, their goal being to ensure that, “every child is in school and learning well”.

A child at the Akshara library
A child at the Akshara library

Launched in 2000, Akshara Foundation is a Public Charitable Trust, steered by a competent team of educationists and management experts, launching key programmes to universalize elementary education. Being an off-shoot of the Pratham Education Initiative, Akshara Foundation has spread its wings across the educational sector of Karnataka, in co-ordination with Government departments, Corporate houses, local bodies and community members.  Akshara Foundation, through effective research and development methods has evolved a range of programmes, to work alongside governmental machinery, thereby taking education to children in every nook and corner of the State of Karnataka.

The Key Programmes

The reach and impact of Akshara Foundation stem from well charted out programmes, namely

  • The Pre-School Programme (Balwadi)
  • The In School Programme
  • The Library Programme
  • The Karnataka Learning Partnership
  • The Capacity Building Programme

The pre-school kids of 4-6 yrs are covered under the Balwadi programme, which was launched in 2000. Pre-schools called Akshara balwadis are set up and run by volunteers from the community, titled as ‘edupreneurs’ by the Foundation. This programme reaches out to young minds which do not have exposure to pre-school facility. Apart from offering teaching kits and imparting training to volunteers to use them, the Foundation has also roped in the support of parents through a nominal fee, making the centre sustainable through community participation. The Akshara Balwadis often work in collaboration with government anganwadis , which has proved to be mutually helpful in nurturing and socializing education.

30-year old mother of two kids, Sita lost her husband two years back. Pinning hopes on her two kids, she said,” I am relieved to leave my two kids at the Anganwadi while I am away at work. They are fed twice a day there, which really helps me”.

Through their In-School programme, Akshara Foundation addresses the children of standards 1 to 5, lending them activity based methods for learning languages –Kannada & English – and Mathematics.  The efficacy of these learning kits are corroborated after thorough analysis of a pilot implementation and today these programmes have been meticulously woven into the curriculum of governmental schools.

One is reminded of the memorable quote by the great visionary Swami Vivekananda, “If any one of you believes that I teach I will be sorry. I will be too glad if I can excite in you the power of thinking for yourselves”. One couldn’t but relate the programmes of Akshara Foundation to this lofty ideal. Under their library programme, started in the year 2005, Akshara Foundation has set up libraries across the State, equipped with books in six languages – Kannada, Urdu, English, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, computers and other innovative learning activities. Not stopping with just opening up of libraries, plans are also implemented for sustaining them.  Hundreds of librarians are selected and trained to manage the library as well as evince reading habit in children, in a very systematic manner.

Societal participation as an underlying factor for spreading education is envisaged in the Karnataka Learning Programme. Here a technology platform is created for the non-profitable organizations in the allied fields of education, health and nutrition to come up with data related to the educational programmes, especially in the lower rungs of the society. The factual assessment and the feedback on the current primary education system, from parents as well as community members is put together, correlated and the outcome is derived to meet everyday challenges in primary education system. Dissemination as well as gathering of information at grass root level is best achieved through mass media and even through mobile phones.

“Take a better candle for a brighter flame”, we say. So is the case of teachers who play a key role in the education network. Under the Capacity Building Programme, Akshara Foundation anchors on the need for developing efficient teachers. This programme focuses on teacher training and the programme is done in collaboration with ‘Academy Creative Teaching’ at Bangalore run by eminent educationalist and an international trainer Dr. Gururaj Karajagi. Further, to enhance teaching skills of B.Ed and D.Ed graduates, Finishing School Programmes are also conducted.

As one relishes the success story of Akshara Foundations in Karnataka, one tends to ask, “Why not emulate this for the rest of our country?”  But keep in mind that this is a saga of achievement, realized through a sustainable initiative, based on clear-cut programmes, innovative methods, factual assessments, child-to-child studies, databases on villages and even un-notified slums and above all remedial interventions conducted at every stage based on the assessment outcomes. So Young India, are you ready for this revolution in education? The revolution of kindling the light of wisdom in young minds of today; responsible citizens of tomorrow.

Gayathri Shanmugavelan is a former research associate from Vastu Vedic Research Foundation, Chennai. She is also into freelance writing and focuses on social issues.

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