In early 2000, Akshara set up its preschool (Balwadi) programme in Bangalore. The focus was on children from underprivileged, under-served communities, with the goal of universal enrollment to primary schools. We believed that to achieve this, we needed to start with children who were not yet of formal school age. Most children from the underprivilaged backgrounds go to the Government-run pre-school centers called Anganwadis. Akshara started its engagement with the Anganwadis in 2005. Akshara now works with all the 1752 Anganwadis in Bangalore, impacting around 40,000 children.
A typical anganwadi runs from 9:30 am to 1:30pm. The time for preschool activities is 10:00 am to 12 noon. During this time the anganwadi worker conducts some creative activities like painting, coloring, cutting and pasting, paper folding etc. In language development she tells a story or action songs, oral teaching like identification of letters and numbers, chart reading etc. She also focuses on cognitive activities like identification of colours and shapes. Everyday, a little time is set aside for the children to do their work book. The child tries to write one or two lines of alphabets or numbers in the anganwadi. The workers send the work book to the child’s home so they can finish the same page.
Few of the outcomes of Akshara's pre-school program for 2011-12 so far are:
TLM: The TLM for the programme was developed using the help of preschool Subject Matter Experts (SME’s). The TLM was finalized in consultation with the Government. The pre-school kits contains materials like Rope, Construction squares, Number Blocks, Vegetable / Fruit basket, Alphabet and Number Charts (Kannada and English), Alphabet and number strips, Drawing Book and Pencils, story cards, story books, work books, pencils, vehicle peg board, wild animal puzzles and conversation cards. The TLM was distributed to all the anganwadis. The anganwadi workers were very happy to receive the kits. They use the story books to tell stories to the children, some workers conduct loud reading sessions for the children. Some mothers and young girls are also taking part in this. The children enjoy the balwadi kits and use the material with great enthusiasm.
Training: In an anganwadi there is a teacher and a helper who work together to take care of the various needs of the children. The anganwadi worker mainly focuses on teaching, interacts with the community and maintains all records like immunization and food records. The helper mainly focuses on the hygiene of the anganwadi and preparation of food for the children. Anganwadi workers get trained on issues like immunization, health and maintenance of records. The training on preschool education is not given much importance. Helpers get trained on maintenance and cleanliness of the anganwadi and food preparation. This is the first time in the history of the Education Department in Karnataka that an NGO is training the anganwadi helpers in preschool education. They are normally given training only twice after they are appointed as a helper. Some of them were attending a training session after 15 years of their appointment. We are proud to have trained 1345 helpers in methods of teaching the children and the use of the TLM. The helpers attended and participated with great enthusiasm. They were happy that they were recognised and called for a training session. Since most of the helpers are not literate, the balwadi team designed their training package to focus more on group activities, group games and demonstrations. The trainers were trained in TLM and assessments. The workers attended and actively participated in the training. Majority of the participants shared their thoughts on the training - they were all happy with the training and the TLM. A total of 1549 workers have been trained in the use of the TLM and assessment methodology.
Child Assessments: Akshara’s school readiness kit follows an approach which helps children develop basic skills that are aligned to child development processes. Akshara conducts a pre-test before the commencement of the program and a post-test after the program so that the effectiveness of the intervention can be measured. Children have been assessed on 7 sets of competencies using 56 indicators:
When the anganwadi workers conducted the assessment for the children, the mothers also showed interest in conducting some activities for the children. This is a good sign of the community taking ownership of their children’s education and also at the same time they are supporting the anganwadi worker in her work. The analysis of the pre-test assessment results will be ready by end of January 2012. It will be published in www.klp.org.in
Bal Vikas Samithi - The Bal Vikas Samithis are statutory committees at the Anganwadi Level consisting of parents, community elders, educationists and the head teacher of the nearby school along with Anganwadi worker. The committee is set up to plan and monitor the activities around the Anganwadi Centre. Some of the issues which will be addressed are: What is a model anganwadi? What are the problems an anganwadi worker faces in the field? What are the facilities the community will get from an anganwadi? What can a BVS member do to help and support the centre? The BVS Trainings will start from mid of December 2011 and will continue through all of January 2012.
Akshara has commissioned three short films to explain our pre school programme. The films can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/user/AksharaFoundation.
We have also created a case study on an Anganwadi worker. The same an be found at : http://blog.klp.org.in/2011/05/anganwadi-worker-profile.html
Case-studies of beneficiaries:
Sunandha, a successful Anganwadi Worker: A modern temperament permeates far-flung Konankunte in Bangalore.Konankunte is well within city limits though the markers of progress are not as ubiquitous. It is a rural- urban mix and modest prosperity. In this locality is Sunandha's anganwadi. The community sees her Anganwadi as a viable, practical preschool option, an attractive facility, not the least because of Sunanda herself who has been its teacher for the last thirty four years, an experienced resource person and a dependable professional who delivers. Sunandha's center is one of the 1787 Anganwadi centers which is supported by Akshara Foundation. It has 54 children in the 3-6 age group. Sunandha has undergone a comprehensive training by Akshara which is aimed at capacity building of these workers so that they can deliver the pre-school component effectively. To provide a condusive learning atmosphere, Sunandha has covered the walls with charts, posters and other Akshara learning materials and has crisscrossed the room with books, hung on high strings. She conducts effect Bal Vikas Samithi (a body which looks into the overall development of the Anganwadi, comprising mainly of parents and the local community) meetings. In these meetings, she relentlessly advocates for the importance of inculcating discipline, cleanliness and high standards of hygiene. Sunandha has a very positive opinion about Akshara's pre-school program and feels that the learning materials can be used effectively to develop skills of the children. She feels that these materials play a crucial role in enabling the “school-readiness” of the child.
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