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Editorial: The Real Cost of Education
Celebrating International Children's Book Day
Akshara Foundation Celebrates its 5th Anniversary
PROOF: Signs of a Maturing Democratic Process
Akshara's Foray into North Karnataka
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PROOF Signs of a Maturing Democratic Process

In a public discussion on June 25, 2005 Akshara’s PROOF in Education team, alongside other PROOF partners, made a presentation to officials in the BMP and a group of actively engaged citizens. This was the fifth public discussion conducted by PROOF with the objective of uniting citizens and BMP officials under one roof to discuss issues of public service delivery in Bangalore.

As stated by Ramesh Ramanathan in his opening address at the public meeting, PROOF operates on a right-to-information ground. Citizens of Bangalore have a right to know the processes of the local Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP). They have a right to make claims against the BMP when they feel they receive inadequate public services, and the BMP has a right to explain its current projects and goals to citizens. Ramanathan said that citizens deserve “valuable information,” and with respect to government processes and public budgets valuable information contains three key components: it is timely, predictable (meets the expectations of citizens), and standardized.

Congratulating the BMP on advances in improving the efficiency of government processes since 2002, Ramanathan suggested that PROOF is no longer in the infant stages of an accountability model, but rather, we are maturing into adulthood. With adulthood also comes more responsibility both on the part of citizens and the BMP in ensuring the disclosure of public information. This set the tone for the following presentations, including a presentation made by Ashok Kamath, director of Akshara’s PROOF in Education team. Highlights of the presentations included the appointment of a new executive director to oversee the PROOF initiative, Vinay Kohli. Also central to the discussion, we were fortunate to hear from several public officials on the government side, including Mr. Rajamani representing the Central Government who spoke on a new National Urban Renewal project inspired by the PROOF model.

Regarding education, Mr. Kamath presented information on the current status of PROOF in Education and advancements that have occurred since December 2004. Since the last public discussion, Akshara has signed a new Memorandum of Understanding with local government formally adopting five more primary schools. Now the PROOF team is working in all twelve of the BMP’s primary schools. Moreover, PROOF in Education has continued to work with headmasters and teachers to collect data on the infrastructure of schools every quarter. Regarding student achievement, PROOF and Akshara have conducted advanced reading and math programs for a sample of students in the BMP schools. Teacher training is also beginning in these schools. A training session for teachers is currently underway. Regarding community involvement, PROOF has worked through interviews in the community to identify and unite local community leaders, increasing the awareness of public education in each of the 12 wards where BMP schools are located. To date PROOF and Akshara have set up six student support groups in schools that function as parent teacher associations in the municipal school corporation. Mr. Kamath highlighted a sample of achievements that have occurred over the last six months in PROOF in Education.

Following the presentations of PROOF partners, BMP officials presented information on the BMP’s agenda and projects undertaken since the last public discussion. This was then followed by a question and answer session conducted by Rohini Nilekani. Citizens were given the opportunity to ask questions regarding the BMP budget and status of public works, including education, and a lively dialogue ensued. BMP officials acted to provide quality answers to citizens' questions, and citizens actively sought to raise substantive questions of BMP officials, all signs of a maturing democratic process.

Akshara Foundation recently opened a Community Education Resource Centre in Ullal Upanagara. The local Akshara team held an “education rally” in the community to sensitize the parents on the importance of education and enroll children in the reading and math programmes. About 200 children came forward and were enrolled in both these programmes.
This was supported by the Gram Panchayat President, Anil Kumar who took a keen interest in understanding the results of the baseline test administered to the children. He then asked the Akshara team to keep him informed of the progress made by these children, as he personally wants to monitor every child’s performance!!!
This indeed is a valuable first step in uniting the elected representative and the community on the vital issue of education.
Umbrellas of Learning

Five years old now, Akshara strongly felt the need to address the parent or in a broader sense, the community. Previously programmes had been implemented through the in-school approach, simply because it gave us greater access to a large group of children and also aligned with our thought of internalizing change in the education system. However, field experiences reflected that education is not a stand-alone identity; it is heavily influenced by various other beliefs and priorities as identified by the parent and the community at large. Besides this, it is also dependent on access, quality and affordability issues for the parent.

In this context, Akshara felt it was prudent to set base in the community, increase outreach, spread the word about education and implement reading/learning programmes for the benefit of children living in the particular community. Thus evolved Community Education Resource Centre (CERC): satellite centers for Akshara in the particular community it is meant to service. An administrative decision to route all programmes (Balwadi, ALP, Outreach and Library) helped build credibility of these centres.

Structurally planned

Bangalore City is divided into eight functional Education Blocks. Akshara in turn has segmented these blocks in to smaller manageable areas of 3000 households each. A CERC is set-up for each unit.
After doing a house-to-house survey in each community, the number of children in each category is established. We, then, know how many pre-school, in school and out of school children there are and we then have an educational programme for every child. Currently 14 CERC's across 7 blocks are functional; 5 more are scheduled to be set up soon.
We hope that our CERC's become umbrellas of learning for every child in the community.

Col. Murthy Rajan
Chief Operating Officer

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