Established in 2000, Akshara Foundation is a Trust, which collaborates and works in partnership with the Karnataka government, corporate and voluntary sectors.  Its interest is in ensuring that all children, 3-11 years, attain elementary education.  It works in 50 out of Bangalore’s 100 corporation wards, running balwadis and remedial education programmes. It has a staff of 20.

Since many underprivileged children are first generation school-goers, school readiness is important for them.  A majority of them stay in semi-permanent hutments in slums where earning the daily bread takes priority over formal education.  Supported by donations, the Foundation started the balwadi programme to prepare these children for school through joyful learning.  The Foundation chose those corporation wards where there was neither a government-run anganwadi nor a balwadi.  It has over 400 balwadi centers located in Bangalore urban slums covering about 8000 children between 4-5 years.  The volunteer-instructors, picked from the community through the Foundation’s area coordinator at the field level, need to have completed at least Std. 10.  The instructors conduct a 2-hour class in their own homes six days a week.  Using low cost materials, they teach them basic school readiness skills such as writing the alphabets in English and Kannada, numbers up to 10, recognizing shapes, fruits and animals, rhymes, drawing, storytelling and other playful activities. Each class has around 14-16 children.  A nominal fee, collected from the children, is given to the volunteer-instructor in addition to the amount paid by the Foundation.  Once the child crosses five years, the volunteer assists the parents in enrolling the child in a formal school.  The Foundation also networks with the anganwadis and the corporation schools.

Akshara Foundation has a training team at its Curriculum Learning Centre, and it conducts a 4-5 day training programme for its volunteers at the Education Resource Centres located across 9 blocks in Bangalore City.  It also conducts orientation courses from time to time.  The best volunteers become trainers.  45 of its volunteers have undergone special training and have started their own balwadis.  For them the Foundation provides only technical support.

The Foundation’s key focus area is not only early childhood development but also educating parents who are critical of the whole process of education. The Foundation therefore conducts monthly parents’ meetings. Since going to school is not a priority for the parents, these children tend to lose interest and drop out of school at an early age.  There is a need to ensure that they get into the habit of and develop an interest in going to school. From time to time it carries out an assessment and also ensures that the children are mainstreamed into schools. It believes that there is a commitment towards education and hence good pre-schooling will lay a strong foundation for these children.

Akshara offers resources such as teaching aids and brings out a newsletter.  It welcomes help from sponsors to adopt a balwadi, to sponsor learning kits for the balwadis, or resources such as books, materials and stationery.

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