Tara Akshar Literacy Program
Activity: Combatting illiteracy through a computerized literacy program
Name of the Organization: Development Alternatives
Geographical reach: India, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom
Number of beneficiaries: 165,115 women in northern India
Project Representative: Mr. Victor Lyons
About the Project
Tara Akshar is a computerized literacy and numeracy program for adults that works within 56 days and encourages very low dropout rate. Primary targets of this program are women in rural India, so that they can break free from a cycle of poverty. The number of validated Tara Akshar graduates now exceeds 165,000. There have been several studies of the outcomes of Tara Akshar, not least by the donors. But a recent in-depth independent study by researchers from Delhi, Ottawa and Tokyo universities has further validated Tara Akshar's claim to be an extraordinarily effective short-term program, which makes significant changes to the lives of its graduates.
There are half a billion illiterate women in the world eking out a subsistence living, unable to escape their situation, at risk of being oppressed by their families and others because they lack education, or any accomplishment in life except bearing children. About two thirds of these women are to be found among the 600,000 villages of India. Although great strides are being made in improving primary education in India and other developing countries, children entering primary school now will not have much impact on their societies for many years. Whereas there is a desperate need to have an immediate impact by educating adults and the older children who never went to school or stopped attending after a very short while.
In the most practical terms, an illiterate person cannot ethically sign a contract, cannot get vocational training, cannot help their children with their schooling and cannot communicate with family members in other towns and villages except by phone. They are at very high risk of exploitation and abuse by family members, loan sharks, landlords, employers and others. They are generally quite shy, and lack confidence.
Most adult literacy programs use conventional teaching methods and are not computerized, which means they take relatively long in terms of teacher training and delivery. Tara Akshar provides standardized content from teachers and with its expertise in ADHD and other learning disabilities, it is also able to respond to such problems.
Tara Akshar’s literacy program is based on around thirty innovative pedagogical techniques. For example, to facilitate letter recognition, they use the Laubach method and produce animated cartoons of the letters. The animated cartoon is extended into a full story, broken into daily episodes. The net result is that learners, most of whom have never been to school, learn all 50+ letters of the Hindi alphabet and learn it thoroughly in about two weeks.
All didactic lessons are followed up with quizzes that have the addictive quality of video gaming. Blends, normally a difficult subject to teach which requires lengthy repeated lessons, are taught in a few days using animations with which the learners interact. Learners are switched every twenty minutes between auditory, visual and kinesthetic activities. The computer provides auditory and visual learning, as well as card games and flash cards. The cards become invaluable when the electricity cuts out, which is a regular occurrence.
Case histories have shown an increase of self-esteem and confidence within the family of users and in the village as a whole. Wives get much more respect from their husbands because they now have a skill. The program is a very strong women's empowerment tool that makes a massive improvement in their day-to-day quality of life. The children in the family are more likely to go to school and stay in school if their mothers have been through the program. Some graduates go on to gain employment that they wouldn't have gotten previously. Some graduates also go onto further training. An in-depth independent study by researchers from Delhi, Ottawa, and Tokyo universities found that the program enhances women’s relationships and creates new social connections among participants.
Tara Akshar is continuously building community relationships; the Tara Akshar model is used to train master trainers from the area who in turn train local instructors. The instructors are always local and do not need teaching experience or any qualifications beyond high school graduation. They always work with a local administration organization, usually a small local NGO, so that administration is devolved to local people. Tara Akshar hires local quality control inspectors to check on the master trainers and the instructors.
Tara Akshar has had a stream of continuous donors (DfID, the Canadian and Swiss governments, the Indian central government, Oxfam, Suzlon, IKEA Foundation, etc.). Ultimately they expect that the government itself will step in and take over the project.