Akshara Foundation

Akshara Foundation's mission is to ensure that Every Child is in School and Learning Well. Our work focuses on universalizing primary education. We work both at the primary and pre-primary levels. We work towards our goals through innovative, scalable models.We believe that our generation has a unique opportunity to bridge gaps by bringing equitable access to high-quality, relevant education to all. We emphasize on performance management,technology usage and creating volunteering opportunities.
Jan 23, 2015

Anganwadi Profile - Bangalore

In the current academic year 2014-15, Akshara Foundation developed a set of 30 indicators to measure the status of the anganwadis where its preschool programme is being implemented. The tool aligns with some of the quality parameters specified by the National Curriculum Framework. Some are infrastructure related indicators, some are enablers. In July 2014 Akshara collected data on a host of factors, which included the infrastructure situation and student enrolment. All 140 anganwadis in which Akshara works in Bangalore across 24 ICDS Circles in 6 Projects were assessed. ICDS is the Integrated Child Development Services which functions under the Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD), Government of India, and manages anganwadis.

 This is a one-time assessment, a record that the DWCD can make use of. At Akshara it will go into the Karnataka Learning Partnership’s database on anganwadis and schools. Teams will also deploy this powerful tool in ways that can spur constructive action - as leverage with the community and with Bal VikasSamithi (BVS) members in particular, who are the community caretakers of anganwadis.

Presented below is a quick profile of the Bangalore anganwadis:

Physical Condition

  • 77% of the anganwadis have their own building.
  • 35% lacked the space to function effectively.
  • 46.4% lacked outdoor facilities for children.

Basic Amenities

  • 60% of the anganwadis have access to clean bathrooms with water facilities.
  • 79.3% have clean and safe drinking water facilities.
  • Nearly 62% have a designated place for washing hands.
  • 30% of the anganwadis do not have seating facilities for the children.

 Hygiene Conditions

  • 88.6% of the anganwadis maintain standards of cleanliness.
  • 67% have dustbins to dispose of waste.

 Food Hygiene

  • 43% of the anganwadis do not have sufficient space to store food.
  • 85.7% have clean food storage rooms.
  • All the anganwadis keep cooked food covered properly. The cooks maintain standards of hygiene and cleanliness.

 Children with Special Needs

  • 13.5% of the children are children with special needs.
  • 70.7% of the anganwadis do not have any infrastructure for children with special needs.

 Preschool Teaching-Learning Materials

  • 27.1% of the anganwadis do not have sufficient learning and play materials for the children.
  • Though 69.3% of the anganwadis have sufficient indoor learning materials, nearly 28% of the children do not use them.
  • 71.4% of the anganwadis have a blackboard in class, of which 48% are beyond reach.
  • 81.4% do not have teaching-learning inscriptions on the walls as government learning centres often do.

 Community Involvement

  • 88.6% of the anganwadis have functioning Bal VikasSamithis. Only 47.9% of the Samithis function effectively.
  • 29.3% of the anganwadis have active Friends of Anganwadis, support groups of mothers.

 Student Enrolment

  • Enrolment in the 140 anganwadis in Bangalore (girls and boys) – 3433.
  • Girls enrolled – 1794.
  • Boys enrolled – 1639.
  • Girls and boys present on the day of the survey – 2503.
  • Girls present on the day of the survey – 1318.
  • Boys present on the day of the survey – 1185.
  • Girls and boys absent on the day of the survey – 930 (27%).
  • Girls absent on the day of the survey – 476 (26.5%).
  • Boys absent on the day of the survey – 380 (23.1%).

 To Sum Up

 Seen together, this represents a positive scene. Most of the anganwadis surveyed are not deficit-ridden though there are shortfalls that could be addressed in all of them. Much attention has gone into infrastructure, hygiene and cleanliness. A remarkable statistic is that 60% of the anganwadis have access to clean bathrooms with water facilities and 79.3% have safe, clean drinking water. Community pressure could more forcefully be exerted if the Bal VikasSamithis were more efficient. 88.6% of the anganwadis have constituted the Samithis, with only 47.9% of them functioning effectively.

What then are the deficiencies that drag the anganwadis down?  In 69.3% of the centres there are indoor learning materials. The trouble spot – 28% of the children do not use any of them. There is no outdoor play area in most of the centres. While enrolment stands at 3433 in the 140 anganwadis, 930 children were absent on the day of the survey. Absenteeism seems rampant. And preschool education may be taking a back seat with no scientific underpinning to teaching-learning and poor methods of curriculum delivery.

We hope that these statistics will help Akshara and other organizations working in the space of pre-school anganwadis, fill the necessary gaps to provide better learning in these centres, through a child friendly atmosphere. 


Aug 13, 2014

An Anganwadi the Community nurtures

Years and Years Ago

  •  Fifteen years ago KumbalgodAnganwadi 1 was a scene of depletion, functioning in adversity. The poorly maintained brick-and-tile roof was hardly sheltering. It is the kind still seen in Kumbalgod, 20 kilometres from Bangalore, off the highway to Mysore, an old roofing technique that has all but vanished with time. The anganwadi had no floor, no electricity, not a drop of water, no toilet, no prop or pillar. A dark room, half-baked. And no teaching-learning - that was unheard of.
  • Lakkamma, the anganwadi helper, who seems as if she has strayed in from some ancient past, remembers a time even farther away. Twenty five years ago things may well have been from another century. She worked with sticks to light the fire, then came the kerosene stove that she coaxed into sputtering life, and now the era of gas. There she stands, staunch and motherly, over the double-burner gas stove in the small storeroom, brewing strong, milky tea with a sense of possession, the modern context heightening her rough-hewn, villager-like quality. “The anganwadi is functioning well,” she says, acknowledging its superior strengths.

An Anganwadi with Amenities

  • It is Nallooramma, the anganwadi teacher here for twelve years, who presides over the amplitude. There is so much teaching-learning material that KumbalgodAnganwadi 1 could do with an additional room or two. Arranged along the sides according to Akshara’s preschool education pedagogy, they are an incentive for children.\
  • Every inch of wall space is covered with stimulation, painted by a supportive Gram Panchayat. If it is a hand-painted animal story unspooling on one wall, then it is the Department of Women and Child Development’s messages for child development and community well-being on another.
  • Charts jostle – the alphabets in Kannada and English, vehicles, fruits, numbers. Children’s paintings, suspended on strings, stretch diagonally across the room – a bird of orange and blue plumage, a girl in a distinctive dance pose, her skirt flaring, a fat boy enjoying an ice cream.
  • There are cupboards of wood and steel, a tall rack, plastic chairs for visitors, mats for children to sit on, a solid cement floor, air and natural light. This is not all. KumbalgodAnganwadi 1 has electricity, a fan, a fully functioning toilet, water never running short, transported from the sump outside with the help of a motor, recently affixed. 

A Model Anganwadi

  • The anganwadi reflects in every sense the progressive thought that prevails in Kumbalgod, a small habitat of progress and relative prosperity, close to Bangalore and yet far.
  • Seventeen children, dressed in colourful exuberance, sit in the central pool of space, their attention riveted by LEGO, quite unsurpassed as play-and-learning material in anganwadis. LEGO kits are a part of Akshara’s teaching-learning package in model anganwadis.
  • The anganwadi is a model anganwadi in Akshara’s preschool programme, selected because it meets all the criteria of a full-fledged preschool. For four years Akshara has groomed this centre, upgrading standards and positioning it as an exemplary anganwadi. Fifteen children from the March 2014 group secured admission in class 1 in private schools, announces Nallooramma, a professional victory she is overjoyed with.

 People Support Drives the Anganwadi

  • If Nallooramma sets the pace for her anganwadi, the final word rests with the community. It is people support that has taken this anganwadi where it is today. The community is the spearhead for the change it has seen. It is a partnership, a symbiotic bond. For all that has happened between then and now, people are responsible.
  • Akshara is a catalyst, invigorating Bal Vikas Samithis (BVS), the external community support structures for anganwadis ordained by government which, on paper, is a reality, seldom so in action. Akshara trained 1439 Bal Vikas Samithis, or roughly 15,547 BVS members, across 1439 anganwadis in Bangalore four years ago. It was a successful attempt at creating a community matrix for the nurture and support of anganwadis.
  • Field teams visit communities like Kumbalgod at least once a month, attending parents’ meetings in anganwaids, meeting and engaging with people, forging relationships, and persuading them to do more for their preschool centres.
  • Community mobilisation for anganwadis is an important component of Akshara’s preschool programme, and Kumbalgod was quick to seize the opportunity. Akshara had opened a door, and residents, aware and sentient as they are, took advantage of the openings.

A Monthly Meeting for Finding Solutions

  • KumbalgodAnganwadi 1 is privileged to have a committed corps of people ready to champion its cause. The Gram Panchayat is responsive and takes on “the big things,” says Nallooramma. The toilet was constructed with funds allotted by the Panchayat.
  • The Bal VikasSamithi which has 14 members, is an active support mechanism for the anganwadi. Nallooramma is a BVS member, wielding a large role. She convenes monthly BVS meetings and ensures that everyone is present when the anganwadi’s problems are raised and discussed. Solution-finding is the meeting’s agenda. Action inevitably follows afterwards. 

“For the Progress of Children”

  •  Members of the ChowdammaSosaiah Group, a women’s self-help group, four of whom are in the BVS too, are keen drivers of change. With its trademark of togetherness and bonding, always an impetus for the community, the group takes decisive action on behalf of KumbalgodAnganwadi 1. The four women form a charged inner BVS circle that takes its mandate to heart. The self-help group’s office behind the anganwadi declares its mission on an unpretentious board that dangles at the entrance. “For the well-being of people. For the progress of children.” 
  • Yashodha, 41, who is the BVS President and a Gram Panchayat member, lives up to this tradition. “My aim is that children should improve. I would like all of us as a community to improve,” she says, sitting in a chair in the anganwadi which a Sangha member has donated. 

“I Can Do More. I Want to”

  • Yashodha is a strong-minded person, a woman of many gifted parts who conceals it behind an exterior of restraint, modesty and an almost total self-elimination. Yashodha underwent Akshara’s BVS training. It taught her to look at her role in the anganwadi in a new light. It made her intensely aware of all that she could do for uplift and amelioration.
  • She is multi-skilled, utilising her assets to further the anganwadi. Communication is a flourishing instinct and she can talk to an MLA or a truck driver with equal felicity. Organising, managing and coordinating for the anganwadiis every day’s work. The anganwadi has electricity today because of her.
  • She can take charge of a consignment of provisions for the anganwadi after it has closed for the day, provide a wholesome meal for the children, or teach when called upon to. Or marshal community support, as she recently did for Akshara’sMakkalaHabba, or Children’s Festival, held at the anganwadi. Yashodha contributed nearly Rs. 12,000 from her personal funds for the Habba, believing passionately that anganwadis do not often give children anything of substance and value. She goes about reversing that trend, at least in KumbalgodAnganwadi 1, and made the Habba a community event that has stayed in people’s minds.
  • Yashodhacasts a look around at the children, LEGO-bound and marooned, of their own free will, in the centre, erecting towers with the coloured blocks or experimenting with them. Her granddaughter studied here. “I can do more. I want to,” she says.

 “I Want to Help Children”

  • Ganganarasimha, a gracious grandmother, her hair a respectable, frizzy grey, prefers to recede into the background, but she is no less an instrument of change in Kumbalgod. The President of the ChowdammaSosaiah Group and a BVS member, she got the water connection for the anganwadi from the Taluk Panchayat. She had the fan installed, contributed the chairs, the mats.
  • “Just look at these children,” she says. They thrive in this anganwadi’splenitude, motivated, discipline ingrained in them. They are clean, neatly dressed. Hygiene-conscious parents must have made the early morning effort. Children leave their slippers in a line at the entrance, careful not to make a mess. Akshara’s preschool programme is responsible for the orderly conduct, members say, but underline the energy and efforts the BVS puts in as well. 
  • “I want to help children,” says Ganganarasimha. Her two sons studied here years ago and now she has her 2 ½ year old grandson, Vardhan, going through one of life’s earliest phases in the same anganwadi, a rejuvenated centre that can rival any private preschool in the area.
  • Rangalakshmamma is from the BVS and also a member of the self-help group. She sits self-contained, nodding endorsement. Her children passed through this anganwadi too and her grandchildren are here now.

“We are not Afraid to Do Things”

  • For these women, KumbalgodAnganwadi 1 is the stuff of memory lanes and nostalgia. They have a lot at stake here, an emotional investment. Their grandchildren will soon move on, but they rise above personal considerations to embrace the larger good of Kumbalgod. They believe this government-run anganwadi has to be an essential rite of passage for all preschool-aged children in the community, today and in the future, a life-determining choice, now that it has elevated itself as a reform-driven, learning-oriented centre.
  • Nallooramma is developing into a force herself, already proving she has it in her. An array of strengths is on display – in teaching and classroom management, canvassing in the community, and in organising, the MakkalaHabba a recent example. She is proud to be a BVS member, she says, and is determined to safeguard the anganwadi’s hard-earned place in the sun. “We are not afraid to do things,” she says, with a masterly sweep of her hands.


Apr 4, 2014

LEGO and the Joyful way of Learning in Anganwadis

Anganwadis – The Background

Anganwadis are government preschools in India. The word itself, meaning “courtyard shelter” in Hindi, has implications of nurturing and ministering and conjures images of pleasant surroundings of joy, delight and recreation. It was a grand ambition that started anganwadis in 1975, which to this day remain an original Indian hybrid of many dimensions. It is preschool, nutrition provider, community custodian of sorts, and purveyor of government’s social welfare schemes. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), which envisaged and manages anganwadis under the Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD), has remained, since 1975 when it was founded, one of the world’s largest and unique programmes for early childhood development.

When it began, the anganwadi was the ideal agent of change for a far-flung, poor and populous country. The anganwadi worker, or preschool instructor, was conceived as child-carer and keeper of the community’s health and records, and a person of stature propelling change in under-developed areas. That vision has tarnished with time, the burnish of early intent despoiled by the overwhelming burden of daily management and delivery. Both anganwadis and anganwadi workers stand diminished today. Between policy and practice is a large, widening gap. The institution has not failed, not yet, it is floundering.

Anganwadis have not kept up with the changing panorama of needs around. India is getting to be a world of aspirations. Progress, prosperity, a better life, are priorities. Education is edging closer to the top of the list. They matter as never before. Parents, even in villages and urban slums, dispossessed and marginalised people, are demanding quality education, abandoning the anganwadis for the private preschool for their children.

Many anganwadis are scenes of dereliction, no power, no water, no toilets. The shortage of space is widespread. At a time when the focus is shifting from child care - that too ineptly managed - to child development, anganwadis are caught in a mire, the anganwadi worker poorly qualified and trained to handle the awakening. She is perceived as lethargic and unresponsive to change, more a child-minder than a child educator. Though the ICDS has a rigorous timetable of topics to teach and learn every week, the anganwadi worker is not equipped to deal with it. Preschool education is not given the seriousness it deserves. Play material that sparks learning is largely conspicuous by its absence. Children have little to work or play with, little to stimulate and activate their minds.

Akshara’s Preschool Programme

Akshara entered the picture in Karnataka as a non-governmental organisation collaborating with government on a large scale to rebrand anganwadis as centres that promote learning and excellence. In a vast effort recently, its preschool programme undertook a restructuring of all 1776 anganwadis in Bangalore by providing variegated teaching-learning materials (TLMs) for children, training anganwadiworkers and energising community support for the centres. Its attempt to reverse the decline was a significant success, based on which it designed the model anganwadi concept and, together with the DWCD, hand-picked centres and anganwadi workers known for performance. Akshara, with Department support, is preparing them for top-notch achievement, with an intensified curriculum, an expanded teaching-learning kit to address preschool development domains, and training and monitoring of anganwadi workers. 

LEGO, An Enabler

Akshara saw in LEGO an opportunity to escalate play and learning in its model anganwadis. DUPLO play sets, gifted by LEGO Charity, were distributed to all centres in its programme.

LEGO has whipped up unprecedented tumult in anganwadis. Excitement reaches a pitch as the bricks tumble from boxes and baskets. Children are speechless at first before this splendid, multi-coloured disarray and then overjoyed, rattling the jumble, hands wallowing, listening to the clatter. They pick their pieces voraciously and begin piecing together. In anganwadis, stark and resource-deprived as many are, LEGO is value addition, not only because it lights up the atmosphere with resplendence and brings unfettered joy to children, but also because it is an enabler. Children learn in incidental ways with LEGO. They take leaps of imagination, their eye and hand coordination gets stronger, they learn to identify and segregate colours and shapes, they reproduce stories through the models they make – some of the obvious benefits.

 The company’s literature says, “LEGO DUPLO preschool building toys are specially designed for the small hands and big imaginations of children aged 1 ½ - 5 years. DUPLO bricks are twice the size of standard LEGO bricks, making them a great way to kick off a child’s building career. DUPLO is all about giving your child the opportunity to build, create, and develop while discovering so many ways to play.” 

Anganwadi workers have embraced LEGO without reserve and even if they are not always able to channelize learning through it effectively enough, they realise its potential.

As Renuka of the Kasturi Nagar anganwadi in Bangalore said at her training in January 2012, “The children in my anganwadi will get a sense of engineering, they will learn how to plan a house or build a truck, how to put things together. They will get an idea of colour. It is mental and physical training for them. Their memory, their powers of absorption and retention, will develop. They don’t get such opportunities at home.”

A Structured Approach for LEGO 

To maximise learning prospects in anganwadis LEGO needs a structured approach, notes Latha, Head of Akshara’s Preschool Programme. She and her team trained anganwadi workers, realising their skill deficiencies and their lack of exposure. In much of the developed world, LEGO is childhood’s essential rite of passage, but here it is an ahead-of-the times application. The LEGO milieu is new for children and anganwadi workers.  Even so, why a formalised training in activities emerging out of, quintessentially, play material? Why a framework for play?

As Latha points out, LEGO is all about possibilities. It is not all about play, there is clear purpose at its core. There is learning entwined with the playing. As Renuka, the anganwadi worker sensed, the basics of design, engineering and construction are embedded in it. Children develop fine motor skills, learn to think out-of-the-groove and get exposed to international standards of play and learning, made available to them in government preschools in deprived communities. 

Activity Time

After the initial warm-up of individual, independent forays with LEGO, comes learning from play. LEGO activities are an unchanging character of the training, then and now. The Akshara team picks up five random pieces, puts them in a long broad cover and her hands mould them unseeingly into a shape. Participants have to feel the model in the furtive confines of the cover and assemble a similar piece. The cover goes around the groups, each participant gingerly plunging her hand in for a quick, undercover assessment and trying to reproduce that shape in the full light of day. It is a cognitive activity, an exercise in sensory intelligence, in registering impressions and transmuting them into concrete, identical shapes. Children must be able to understand that things can be made by sensing them.

The next activity is building the tallest tower under a minute – that is the test. A simple enough design with similar pieces stacked one on top, each trainee fitting in a brick, contributing her mite. Some of them fumble, some snatch a piece away from their friends in a hurry to get on; some are frustrated by a hesitating partner. The activity emphasizes the element of speed, precision and alertness.

Another time-focussed activity unfolds – clamping and unclamping clothes hooks on the edge of a small square LEGO brick. Participants prise off the hook their colleagues have fixed and attach their own.

It requires delicateness of action, fine motor coordination, timing, and hand and eye working together – all of which are learning goals for preschool children.

A Communication Activity

A communication activity, straight out of the Manual, has anganwadi workers working in pairs, sitting back-to-back, deciding beforehand the bricks they will use. One of them tells her partner what she wants made and how to go about it. The other has to respond to it and put it together.

The challenge is that a child in the anganwadi should be able to design from a set of oral instructions. It speaks as much for the communication skills of the instructor as for the responsiveness of the doer. An accurate description, precise vocabulary and a keen grasping instinct are of key importance. The thing is that as the game goes around, the players evolve and sharpen their early rough-hewn skills, which the children will also learn to do in the anganwadi as they play along.

The Memory Game

The memory game teaches participants how to remember and subconsciously activate memory, to focus, concentrate and absorb detail with alacrity. One group puts up a structure. The other group takes a short, scrutinizing look at it, at each of the pieces that have gone into it, the colours, the shapes, goes back and tries to emulate the design.

The Grip Activity

 The grip activity is meant to attain the perfect balance. Participants walk fast across the length of the hall, detouring around chairs and tables, with DUPLO bricks balanced on their heads - easier than having them perched on shoulders and backs, as they later have to do. The competitive spirit is kindled, with participants cheering the performers to greater achievement. The winning team exults in victory with wild shouts of exuberance.

 Telling Stories with Bricks

The penultimate activity is making the DUPLO bricks tell stories and recite rhymes. The Akshara team gives the participants a rhyme and the bare bones of a story and the trainees have to flesh it out with narration and flow using LEGO. Imagination leads in this exercise, not in a riotous spillage, but in focussed interpretation. The activity inculcates sequential thinking, language, communication and plot development, attention to detail and character delineation.

The Tallest Tower

The final activity of the training invariably sees an animated frenzy of construction. Which of the groups will build the tallest tower?  

Group One puts up twin towers, ascending higher and higher till someone prognosticates ominously that it might start swaying. A few of the group make hasty recompense at the ground level, adding volume and depth to the base with the bricks, leaving the others free to construct on top. The towers coalesce into one, towering right over everyone’s heads. A participant brings over a chair on which she stands for the finishing formalities at the top. They all have opinions on how to make it stand while a quiet crew works on still, buttressing the foundations. Of little avail. The engineering seems doomed, and their tower is in a shambles. Group Two has a competing tower which they have to hang on to in case it all collapses. They let out a hopeful scream invoking stability as they give up their tremulous hold on the tower. It stands on its own a few solid moments, a man at the pinnacle, a pennant too, and then keels over. A case of ambitions running high, an anganwadi worker remarks! The learning values of building the tallest tower are problem-solving in math, understanding shape and space, height and stability.

LEGO had surely made a difference in the ways of learning for thousands of children studying in the anganwadis in Bangaore. We hope to continue introducing innovative ways of teaching so that learning becomes for for children 

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