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The Akshara Teaching-Learning Material – A Window Of Opportunity

The Akshara TLM is a window of opportunity, says Vani, an anganwadi worker, for children who were deprived of such learning resources before. Vani uses the TLM every day.

Ask five year old Navin, a willing child with large intelligent eyes, what he feels about all this material and he says, “Happiness.” He has been in the anganwadi for 3 years and knew a few rhymes and attempted the initiate’s first steps in writing. Now, his rendition of the alphabets A to Z is not perfect, but his command over numbers 1 to 20 is infinitely superior. He can identify numbers on the learning cubes. His comprehension is easy, fluid and instantaneous. For instance, he looks at the pictures on the cubes and says “L for lion,” “C for cat,” or “U for umbrella.”

Like Navin, four year old Tabrez knew rhymes. He could also recite the national anthem and say the alphabets in Kannada. Tabrez sings the rhymes, “Chubby cheeks, Dimpled chin….” and “Johnny, Johnny, Yes Papa….” His pronunciation is far from satisfactory, but his actions indicate basic understanding, and his confidence bears the mark of a grown-up. He looks at the picture of a watch on the learning cube and identifies it with animation. There is absolute certainty on his face as he identifies the English alphabets.

Kavitha Is Back In School

Kavitha is ten years old. She is sweet and docile, an obedient little girl, as she stands at the blackboard of her 6th grade classroom. Till the other day, Kavitha had been a school drop-out, housebound and harnessed for sibling care. Her mother kept her at home to look after her younger brother. Her parents are daily wage labourers, working in the fields nearby. She lost interest in school and was quite content to stay at home. She did not miss it. There was no sense of deprivation or yearning for the lost stimulation of school. Kavitha had been an average student. Learning had not come easily to her.

Raghu, Akshara’s Cluster Facilitator, found Kavitha at home on one of his regular household visits in the community and made all efforts to re-enrol her in school. He spoke to her parents and persuaded them to give her the opportunity of schooling again. He spoke to her teachers and got the school management to take her back. What came as a shock was the resistance that came from Kavitha. Raghu and her teachers had to struggle to keep her in class. Her mind was not there anymore. Learning had always been a challenge and she was restless, she could not keep herself engaged.

Manjunath, her Mathematics teacher paid extra attention to Kavitha and started teaching her concepts with the Akshara kit. She was overjoyed with the happy colours and the tactile quality of what she touched and felt. The kit’s fascination has still not worn. It is an enduring attraction for her. She quickly imbibed all her class-appropriate Mathematics. Fractions and decimals are syllabus-prescribed concepts for class 6, a big hurdle that some children in government schools never overcome. But Kavitha gained confidence as she gave a demonstration of the teaching-learning materials to her friends.

I Love Stories

Suchitra of Std. VII stands, hands folded and full of focus, narrating the story Pedda Huduga, Akshara’s Kannada book at the B level in the library programme’s GROWBY method of grading. She does not need it as a reference, or to jog her memory. It is etched in her mind, and these used to be well-practiced, well-loved routines in the library and she remembers them.

Off she goes, as if she knows the story by heart, her fluency nothing short of amazing, as she mellifluously glides over complex word constructions in Kannada. No stumbling, no hesitation. It takes over five minutes, her narration all about a boy delinquent in studies and how his father angrily directs him to school, where he promises to do well. A promise that stands him in good stead when robbers come to the village on a pillaging mission and the little boys recites thunderously a poem he has learnt, and frightens them away.

It is all about a village waster who earns prestige, says Suchitra.

“I love the library Akshara set up and I love stories,” she says. “I always have, right from the beginning. I have read a lot of books, their number beyond counting. I want to become a doctor when I grow up.”

I Want More Story Cards

Eleven year old Renuka is in the 5th grade at the Government Kannada Model Primary School in Geddaalahalli. She was at Letter level in her baseline assessments. The programme is over and she is at Paragraph level. Her face is bright, she has an intelligent look in her eyes and her words are soft. “I liked the story cards. I liked all of them. I liked the pictures.,” she says, shaking her head affirmatively, a smile breaking through. “I like reading. I have liked the programme. I find textbooks easy after the programme.”

Renuka stands up to narrate the story of the thirsty crow. It is her own creation she talks of, deviating from the script in the story card. She describes a heavy downpour, the pot filling up, tilting over and breaking, and the crow’s disappointment at being unable to quench its thirst. She reads extremely well too when given a story card, not a mistake marring her fluency. Her parents and two elder sisters are construction workers.

“But I want to study, not go to work. I want to become a teacher.” Renuka walks to school and back, a distance of four kilometres altogether. “I want more story cards,” she says, as she takes leave.