On the morning of 14th June 2017, our party of 5 headed for Motaganahalli Government Higher Primary school in Magadi village on the outskirts of Bangalore. The party consisted of Kannan Udayarajan, Ashwini Kumar and myself from Vibha USA and Venkatesh Reddy and Sunil Nanjundappa from Sikshana Foundation, Bangalore. In a case of sheer and fortunate coincidence, the three of us from USA happened to be in Bangalore at the same time and had hit upon this unique opportunity to visit a Sikshana beneficiary.
You may or may not have already heard about Sikshana. It is one of Vibha’s models for a scalable and sustainable project to provide equitable and quality education to underprivileged children. Sikshana started in 2002 with the goal of strengthening government education provisions in rural Karnataka. Currently, they cover 2000 schools with over 300,000 students. Their aim is to ensure that all their educational interventions instill in the students intrinsic motivation for their education. This reduces the rate of drop-outs and helps convince uneducated families who are hesitant to send their children to school.
Examples of Sikshana-designed interventions are:
- The star reward system: pink, silver and green stars (made of silky colored paper) to award students for academics, cleanliness and discipline respectively
- Theme-based, creatively designed progress notebooks for each grade level, so that students can record and visualize their progress through math and reading skills
- Student-led extracurricular groups/social activism groups
Motaganahalli School is one of Sikshana’s incubator efforts, meaning they are experimenting with interventions like the ones listed above, and overall staffing/program structure.
The school was a simple, small and neat one story building. It had classrooms for grades 5 to 8, a teachers’ staffroom, restrooms, a kitchen from where government-sponsored mid-day meals would be served and a playground surrounding the building. The teachers and students were genuinely excited to have visitors! First stop was the teachers’ staffroom. We were treated to sweet tea and jackfruit slices, as we sat down to speak with the math and english teachers, Ms Sunita and Mr Chandrasekhar, about their experiences seeing the school grow under Sikshana’s guidance over the years. They had both been working at the school for 5 and 10 years respectively, and had witnessed a significant improvement in the students’ grasp of basic concepts and handwriting, from following the teaching methods guidance and technology Sikshana was providing. “It is also a learning experience for us,” said Chandrasekhar “figuring out how to use the laptop to help the students with hands-on learning activities. We never had access to technology in our school days.”
The staffroom was decorated with colorful posters designed by Sikshana, illustrating their educational objectives. I also noticed that the blackboard up front listed all the teachers’ names, subjects taught and especially educational qualifications, which I found unique; I had never seen this in the staffroom of the schools I had attended while growing up in Bangalore. All teachers had at least a Bachelor’s degree, some even Master’s. In the rush I did not have the opportunity to specifically ask what the listing was intended for, but it showed that the school and Sikshana recognized the importance of teacher training and education.
Next, we visited the 7th and 8th grade classrooms. Some students proudly sported the stars they had been rewarded for academic performance. We got to see others diligently exercising their computer-typing skills on laptops provided by Sikshana. We also got a glimpse of their thematic progress notebooks. For example, 5th graders could check off the math and reading skills they had mastered on a tree with many branches. 8th graders could track their progress by checking off milestones on planets within the solar system. There were two objectives behind this pictorial progress record:
- To instill interest and motivation in the students as per Sikshana’s goals
- To make it easy for uneducated or illiterate parents/guardians comprehend where their child stood in school, through pictures instead of words that they couldn’t read
We learned how a group of girls in the 7th grade had petitioned with their village municipality for a ditch along the road to Motaganahalli school to be paved, so that they could comfortably walk to school. Such student groups are one way in which Sikshana encourages peer-based learning methods; there is one student leader for every 10 students, and students rotate so that everyone experiences a leadership role. This stimulates discussion and thinking. Students are also not required to do a set amount of homework or assignments at any one time, but are incentivized to do so through small rewards, like the paper stars of different colors mentioned earlier. Sikshana designs their workbooks to be concise and simple, within 50 pages, so that they are not overwhelmed with work but enjoy learning.
Most interesting from our conversation with these students were their career aspirations. Here are the stats:
At this impressionable age, role model adults and peer groups can greatly influence a child’s thoughts on future aspirations. I noticed, for example, that the girls in 7th grade who wanted to be teachers all had the same favorite teacher, and the boys in 8th grade who wanted to be sainiks were all part of their own clique. Education systems and staff can play an instrumental role by setting good examples to guide these aspirations, and nurturing them so that they turn out to be realities rather than just childhood fantasies. Sikshana has included a career-mapping page in the progress notebooks for each grade level, to keep students informed from early on of the different career venues available to them.
We then proceeded to talking with the 3 key staff members who were mediating Sikshana’s and the school’s operations; Vinod the Block Education Officer, Vedhamurthy the Program Mentor and Nemitha the Tech support staff member. They spoke about the tenets of the Sikshana program that helped move the school forward. “We have a taluk office meeting every Saturday to discuss progress and plan next steps,”, said Vinod, who has been in the education sector for several years, across several districts in Karnataka. Nemitha narrated how she had framed specific questions that could help teachers utilize technology in the classroom. Vinod, Nemitha and Vedhamurthy are all Sikshana staff who are part of this incubator effort. They are called ‘skeletal staff’. Once the incubator efforts prove to be sustainable, Sikshana is looking to move to an ‘accelerator model’ where there will be fewer/no Sikshana staff at the school. Instead, the school staff themselves will be trained to fulfill roles that the Sikshana staff are currently filling. This way, Sikshana can ensure that it is strengthening the already existing government system, rather than working in parallel and being redundant.
This visit was a significant learning experience for me, and I understood the workings of Sikshana much better than I had by just reading about it on Vibha’s website. So if you live/are visiting a region in India close to a Vibha project partner, do get in touch with our Projects team to set up a visit for you! It will be an enlightening experience and concretely demonstrate the results you are helping to achieve/could help achieve by volunteering for Vibha!