By Nalme Nachiyar

Project Akshara’s Phase II marked by greater enthusiasm and participation

For a better tomorrow: Students in the classroom Photo Credit: Shawn Sebastian

For a better tomorrow: Students in the classroom
Photo Credit: Shawn Sebastian

On one side, there is a broken gate with no security guard, and on the other, an unclean toilet. A washing area with few rice grains that are remnants of the day’s mid-day meals, a drinking water pipe that has long gone dry and rundown buildings that are badly in need of repairs, are seen too.

Just as you begin to worry over the state of the infrastructure, the rhythmic chant of ABCD fills the air. You turn around to find 15-20 eight-year olds sitting in front of a blackboard, reciting the alphabet after young volunteers in their 20s. Project Akshara is back with its Phase II, and this time with better organization and greater participation.

Started by the students of the Young Economist School (YES) of the University of Hyderabad last year, Project Akshara is an initiative that strives to bring quality education to the children studying in government schools. Students from the University devote one hour (3.30 pm to 4.30 pm), six days a week for a period of one month every semester, and teach English and Mathematics to the children.

New phase, newer goals

This semester, Phase II commenced from August 26. In the orientation on August 24, the volunteers and faculty decided to keep the curriculum simple. Last time, topics like solar system and photosynthesis were taught, in this phase the team of Akshara decided to focus more on English reading and writing, comprehension and arithmetic.

Avipsa Mohanty, II-year student of MA Economics and the Student Coordinator of Project Akshara observes, “The children lack communication skills. English comprehension is difficult too. They can write the letters of the alphabet and recite it but cannot identify them individually. They have all been taught through rote. So, in this phase volunteers will assess what the children know and work on areas where they are weak. Saturdays are strictly activity sessions.”

In the previous phase, two government schools, near Gopanpally and Thanda, were chosen because not only were they primary schools but were also closer to the University. “The foundation of primary education is getting dismantled and it needs intervention,” explains K Laxminarayana, Associate Professor, School of Economics, UoH and Faculty Advisor of Project Akshara on what promoted their choice.

However, due to more faculty strength and better infrastructure, the government school in Gopanpally has been dropped for this phase, turning the focus towards the school in Thanda, clarifies Pradeep Kumar, II-year student of MA Economics and Chief Coordinator of the project. “In phase I, we had clubbed class I, II & III in both schools, so the teaching was a little haphazard and disturbed. But this time the focus is only on classes III, IV & V in Thanda school,” he says.

Engrossed in learning: A class 3 student with Akshara volunteer Photo Credit: Milan Jacob

Engrossed in learning: A class 3 student with Akshara volunteer
Photo Credit: Milan Jacob

Stronger support and participation

This phase has a solid team of volunteers to design the course curriculum. The language and comprehension course is taken care of by Swathi Seth, Nikita Chawla, Prakrithi Joshi, and Avipsa Mohanty, while arithmetic is looked after by Rohit Thapa and Kiriti. Faculty members from the University – Dr. Vamsicharan Vakulabhranam of School of Economics, Prof. P Anupama of School of Computer and Information Sciences, and Prof. Sheela Prasad of Centre for Regional Studies – are actively involved too.

With over 20 students enrolling to teach every day, Project Akshara has received a huge response this semester. Before every session, a detailed mail about the course work of all three classes is sent to each volunteer. After every class a feedback form is given as well, to get an idea of what topic was taught and how it was dealt with.

Divya Bharathi, I year student of MA English and a first time volunteer says that she always wanted to work with school children especiallywhen they lack the exposure that most other other kids have. So far, in her experience the children have been recetive and open to learning from the volunteers.

Vision towards development

Justifying the emphasis on skill building through Akshara, Prof. Laxminarayana quotes Pratham’s annual status of education report (ASER), according to which, “The percentage of class V students who are unable to read class II textbook has gone up from 49% to 53% between 2010 and 2012”.

Having been a part of the Andhra Pradesh Save Education Committee, he feels that, “Criticism is necessary because it is also a way of development. But if we only criticise, then there is no authenticity about our concern towards an issue”. Project Akshara, he says, is not just about helping children but also about mobilizing parents and persuading them to take interest in their children’s education.

Pradeep offers a little more insight. “As a part of Phase II, we are planning health camps, plantation drives and cleanliness drives. We want to include the children and their parents too. Also, unlike last time we’re planning to organize the annual function in the school itself and not in the DST,” he reveals.

Project Akshara also aims at putting moral pressure on the authorities to take action towards development. In the rallies that were organized as a precursor to Phase II, slogans were raised regarding the sorry state of affairs in government schools and Serilingampally MLA Bikshapathi Yadav was questioned about the non-implementation of Right to Education Act in them.

So for now, it seems like Project Akshara, with a streamlining of its objectives and a refining of its goals, is headed the right way. With more phases to look forward to, one hopes that the message of this novel initiative gains more strength and appreciation along the way.