We provide supplementary education to over 500 children, youth, young adults and adults in seven communities in rural Maharashtra. Our approach is aimed at creating a culture of curiosity, joy and self-reflection among those we serve- while making education relevant to daily life.
Khelgar (1st to 4th grade)
Tender minds are a treasure of creativity and enthusiasm In order to bring out such qualities in younger children, Akshara started the Khelgar programme. Khelgar is being implemented with the young children studying in 1st to 4th grades at primary school. This programme has been rolled out in 2 primary schools in 2 villages. The main objective is to promote outdoor learning in order to train the tender minds in soft skills like imagination, critical thinking and questioning Moreover, from the 4th grade, children begin to learn many social values from their surroundings, including for example gender roles. Through Khelgar, the team tries to challenge the children and bring changes at an early stage of life.
Setu (5th to 7th grade)
Setu translates literally as bridge. Here, it means bridging activities between Khelgar and Janeev. The team believes that being involved in all grades will improve the overall results and the children will have a stronger understanding of academics and Akshara’s goals. This project includes 100 more students (30 in each grade) from 6 villages.
The usual trend in the Indian educational system and method of study is “mugging up” or simply memorizing as opposed to “understanding” especially rom the 5th grade onwards. This is also the time when students transition from primary school (which is in their village) to secondary school which is in another village, Asade. This change brings a lot of new factors that they have to adjust to, for example the exposure to a bigger school where students come from several villages rather than only one They are also very suddenly introduced to many more subjects with more lessons than the 4th grade syllabus, It is therefore important to work with this group and prepare them for a smooth transition.
Additionally, the 5th to 7th grade syllabus introduces most of the core concepts which are a crucial base for the 10th grade. There was a need to demystify the concepts being taught and preventing a habit of “mugging up”. This is what motivated the team to design and implement the Setu programme.
The Akshara team experimented with the curriculum and syllabus for Setu for more than 6 months. Now the team has designed the syllabus based on the following objectives:
- To enhance critical thinking cultures
- To demystify basic concepts
- To pay emphasis on expression and articulation skills through language improvement
Janeev (8th to 10th grade)
Janeev means to know one’s self and it was our first programme. It began in 2005 and was previously called akshara. In our experience the Indian education system does not always provide enough room to improve important skills like critical thinking and imaginative enquiry especially in the rural context. Thus, Akshara’s main focus has been to create a knowledge-based learning culture for the student that emphasizes imaginative inquiry, opinion-building and articulation of thought through interdisciplinary approaches to learning.
The approach is based on the integration between soft skills, language and academics and creating a relationship between the different subjects and learning. This will bring more relevance to the surroundings of the students, their lives, and to learning.
Disha (post 10th grade)
The word “disha” suggests a definite direction. Akshara believes in empowering youth through education by holding the students responsible for their own futures. It provides financial support to the students if they choose to leave their community to work or study. This financial support is treated as a loan towards their further education. Students are expected to start repaying the loan when they start earning. This has resulted in more focused learning. The Akshara team also encourages students to adopt an “earn and learn” model where participants work part-time in order to be able to pay off their loans and/or pay for further education as required and understood in collaboration with them.
UWC graduates and former faculty have been instrumental in supporting the foundation and continued growth of Akshara. Akshara provides a meaningful link between UWC Mahindra College and local communities and it enables UWC students from India and around the world to gain a better understanding of education and building sustainable communities in rural India.
Khisitij means horizon: the UWC movement, the Shelby Davis Foundation and numerous high education colleges have generously provided scholarships to enable Akshara students to expand their horizons and achieve their potential through the provision of further educational opportunities. Our global presence allows us to have an impact on and influence thousands of students across the world when they live and learn with others attending other UWC colleges in various countries. There are currently 15 students attending UWC schools and colleges and 12 have graduated from UWCs and attended universities abroad. The UWC spirit is evident in the mission and work that Akshara contributes to local communities and the role of Akshara in extending the UWC mission, “to make education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future” is substantial.
In order to propagate Akshara learning in other schools in the Mulshi Valley, training teachers becomes an important facet of the programme. Hence, we focus on training primary school teachers for enhancing their capacities in areas of teacher methodologies, specially for language teaching. A series of training programmes are being planned with primary school teachers.
Library and Community Centres
Community and library centres have been built in six of the communities we work with, including in the Tribal Area of Kashig. These are centres of learning and appreciation and will allow a space for the community, especially women and youth, to come together and form ad hoc women’s collectives or places to take classes.
Adult Literacy Classes
Pravin, who is part of the Akshara teaching team and also now looks after Administration, is very clear about the difference that the Adult literacy classes have made to the lives of the local community. “When a village woman, who could barely write her initials some months back, confidently went to the nearby town of Paud and filled in her ration card and social security scheme applications, I felt that yes, we have made a difference.”
The Adult Literacy classes began as an outcome of a Life Insurance agency support scheme that would have allowed local women to earn a small commission. However, it was found that they had a lot of difficulty keeping accounts and filling in the forms. Classes were started to help them acquire basic skills in reading, writing and numbers. This gradually grew into a full programme.
Pravin has worked with the women gardening staff at MUWCI and has also set up the programme in Adase and Bhadas villages. While he was teaching the women gardening staff at MUWCI, he acquired training in using language teaching software (developed by Tata Consultancy Services) and had some success using this new technology. More than 25 women regularly attended his classes. He said that they felt very special when they saw that they would be learning language through computers and so, worked extra hard. They were invited by the Rotary Club to share their experiences. Twice a week, between 10 to 15 older students also attend night school in Asde village, to learn English.
Many of the women who attend the classes in the villages, are parents of children who are part of the Akshara school programme. Men have also joined the classes. Pravin also runs the community library in Asade village. “It’s right next door to my home,” he says, “So I open it whenever anyone wants to read a book.”
Akshara hope to start another three Adult Literacy groups during 2014-15.
Staff Training 2013-14
Every year, the Akshara team participates in skill upgradation and professional development training programmes. This ensures that they do not stagnate and the programme can reap the benefits of new knowledge, techniques and practices. In the past year, the training programmes were:
- A workshop on ‘Learning Methods’ conducted by Dr Usha Rajaram, an educationist with a rich and varied experience. This was attended by the whole Akshara team.
- Tech Mahindra facilitated a workshop on ‘How to Write Proposals’. The senior members of the Akshara team – Smita, Madhuri and Milind – attended.
- Milind attended a workshop on Good Practices in Administration and Accounts, facilitated by Tech Mahindra.
- The Akshara Khelghar team attended a 5-day training session on ‘Early Childhood Learning’, conducted by Shubhada Joshi, founder of the NGO Khelghar. She also conducted a subsequent session on ‘Monitoring Systems for Early Childhood Learning’.