Valiant attempts have been made to make India more literate, but with
the rise in population, the number of uneducated people in the country
is still enormous. Officially, only one-third of India is illiterate,
well over 300 million people. Recent surveys have shown that the
illiteracy rate is probably far higher than this, possibly as high as
half of the population.
A population that is illiterate will not be able to move out of the
borderline agricultural existence in which it currently strives to
survive. A population that can at least read and write can be trained on
vocational skills and has a chance to create a viable economic system,
where hunger, malnutrition, outrageous child mortality rates and dismal
absence of primary health care and education can be addressed.
Behind the statistics are two realities – the adults (mostly rural,
mostly women) who have never learnt to read and never will, and the kids
who drop out of school. Half of all Indian school kids still drop out of
primary schools. And, of course, most of them have not learnt to read.
If they had, there’s a much better chance they would have stayed on at
So, we have to teach millions of adults, and we also have to teach
millions of kids who are dropping out, and we have to ensure that the
kids at school right now are taught better so that they do not drop out.
Currently, in India, it takes between 6 months to 2 years to teach
people to read. Multiply that by hundreds of millions. It represents a
staggering amount of effort, persistence, patience and labour to make
even the smallest dent.
one-third of Indians above the age of 7 are illiterate (World Bank
Development Policy Review 2003). Tara Akshar is an innovative literacy
programme, which teaches illiterate people to read and write Hindi in
just four weeks.
If we could cut the time and effort it takes to teach reading to adult
illiterates (and kids) to a fraction of the current time, we can then
begin to anticipate the sort of literacy levels that most other
countries have. Conventional wisdom is that it takes a long time and the
dropout rates will always be high.
Development Alternatives found a way to slash conventional reading
times. We went back to the first principles, and constructed a
hypothesis, like any good scientist, and tested the hypothesis. It
The result is a programme called TARA Akshar that teaches adults
to read in less than a month and does not need a qualified teacher. All
it needs is a computer and a willing instructor, who has had a week’s
The Road to Progress
Tara Akshar is an innovative literacy programme, which teaches
illiterate people to read and write. It works on adults as well as on
kids. An instructor, with the help of computer software, some special
playing cards, reading and writing books and charts, teaches people to
read and write in hindi.
TARA Akshar works on the concept of memory techniques that were
used in ancient memory systems by the Greeks and Romans. During the
experimentation phase, it was found that with the judicious use of
memory techniques, a person could remember up to 50 new words. The same
concept was incorporated in the reading part of TARA Akshar.
These techniques were converted into a multi-media computer software
program. This was first tested on a batch of adult illiterates in and
around Delhi. The early results were very encouraging. After a lot of
experimenting and re-versioning and consultations with expert educators
and psychologists round the world, TARA Akshar, its product
manual and a protocol, and a training course were finally developed.
Initial Stages of
After initial trials, a pilot study on a community outside Delhi with a
large illiterate population was done. Three local volunteers, trained as
instructors, enrolled 48 completely illiterate adult female students in
the first batch.
The batch of 24 was tested after 18 days and it was found that 75% of
them could manage simple reading without any assistance. The students
then joined a Reading Club, which was held every day, where they came to
practice reading out aloud together to improve their reading speeds.
Another batch of 24 students was tested in the second phase.
The results were extremely encouraging, with almost 75% of the students
managing to read and write. The dropout rate was only 20%, an
astonishingly low figure, as anyone who has tried running similar
schemes in Indian rural areas will tell you.
Progress of TARA
TARA Akshar has come a long way from its inception. Till date,
over 45,000 women, including 100 physically handicapped women, have been
made literate. In the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya
Pradesh and Haryana, 62 centres are still operational, where NGOs who
were running this continuing using their own resources. In fact, this is
a very encouraging step towards literacy awareness. Initially, TARA
Akshar was rolled out under the PACS programme, where 280 centres
were made operational from April 2007 to February 2008 (Closure of PACS
programme), i.e., during this period, 41,000 women were made literate.
The overall results were 98% and dropout rate was a mere 1%.
Status of the
From August 1, 2008, 41 centres will become operational in Madhya
Pradesh, covering the districts of Ratlam, Barwani, Dewas and Shajapur.
The programme is fully sponsored by the SUZLON Foundation where TARA
Akshar plans to literate over 5000 women from August 2008 to April 2009.
The OXFAM Trust has also shown great interest in this programme, where
some 100 women were made literate in Tikamgarh district in March – April
2008 and another 100 women will join the ranks of the literate in
August- September 2008 in Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh. CCF has
also shown interest in this programme. Currently, a proposal is under
way to make about 400 women in Faizabad become literate in the months of
TARA Akshar programme has been designed to fit into the specific
needs and requirements of the people, especially women. It takes less
than 2 hours each day for 30 days for an individual to learn how to read
Structure of TARA Akshar
As TARA Akshar is committed to reach more people in the year
2008, a new implementation structure has been designed. This new
structure ensures maximum results. A chain has been created which helps
inflow of information both ways.
Team: This team is
based at the head office. The main responsibility of the team is to
plan, monitor, and evaluate the programme, as well as the building
capacity vis-à-vis knowledge, information, skills, etc.
The delivery model of computer literacy software involves local
instructors /trainers delivering the course to groups of six students
over a period of 30 course days. Master trainers, in turn, train the
instructors during a one-week programme. Supervisors oversee them for
quality assurance, testing and certification. Other management and
support mechanisms back the programme.
During delivery, the major emphasis is to ensure maximum participation
of women from the disadvantaged sections of the community. Fortunately,
this can be ensured by identifying locations where women SHG/CIG members
themselves have a predominant need to become functionally literate.
Instructors and master trainers are identified from within the SHGs and
the NGO staff members within the PACS programme network. These
instructors are then trained and certified to deliver the TARA Akshar
course. Initially, they were provided online and on-site handholding and
guidance by master trainers. An MIS-based monitoring and feedback system
was used to track the quality of product delivery and learner success
The TARA Akshar
Flip Chart Version
The TARA Akshar Flip chart version was run on a trial basis in remote
areas where there was no electricity. After the success of its
computer-based literacy programme, a trial run of FLIP chart-based
version of the programme is in progress in Nalanda and west Champaran
district of Bihar and Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh. This flip
chart version is an effort to take the literacy programme to the remote
areas that have either erratic or no electricity. The course content of
the literacy programme will remain essentially the same. It will simply
use flip charts and flash cards to teach women to read and write basic
Hindi (Devanagri script) instead of with the help of a computer
software. The only difference between the computer-based programme and
the FLIP chart version that the course will now take 50 days to complete
instead of the earlier period of 30 days.
Seetho is a single woman in her late twenties. She was completely
illiterate as also polio afflicted. She cannot even stand. She had a
wheelchair but it broke a few years ago. That, along with her lack of
self-confidence, made her shut herself away in her house for years.
Then, she heard about the TARA Akshar course in her village in Bhatti
Mines. She requested her sister-in-law to take her, ‘piggy-back’ to the
community hall where she enrolled for the course. She became our best
student. She always arrived on time, on her sister-in-law’s back. She
always smiled. She learned quicker than everyone else and was an
inspiration to the instructors and the students. Now she can read. She
comes regularly to our Reading Club for TARA Akshar graduates. But now
she arrives unaided in her new wheelchair!
Asha is married and in her twenties. Until a few months ago, she was
completely illiterate. She enrolled for the TARA Akshar course and
always brought her son along. At the end of her three-week course, she
told us, ‘My husband used to consider me good for nothing because I was
illiterate. He would never include me in taking decisions. But now that
I can read, our whole relationship has changed. My husband treats me
with respect. I am now, for the first time, a part of the
decision-making in our house.’ She then said to us, ‘I bless you. Let
every good thing happen to you for giving me literacy.’
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