TARA Akshar+
Towards Literacy in 49 Days

For some
is a number
For us
It is the number of
Women made literate


To address the issue of illiteracy in a meaningful manner and in a remarkably shorter time, Development Alternatives Group developed an ICT-based literacy tool: TARA Akshar+. TARA Akshar+ is one of the fastest literacy programmes in the world that teaches a completely illiterate Hindi-speaking person of 8 years of age to 60 years to read and write and innumeracy in just 49 days. All it needs is a computer and a willing instructor who has undergone a week’s training.

TARA Akshar has achieved an unprecedented success in a short span of one year from its rollout. The success of the programme can be judged from the fact that by April 2008, nearly 45,000 rural women were made literate through 295 TARA Akshar centres spread over five Indian states - Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana. The programme achieved an average success rate of 98 per cent and an average dropout rate of less than 1 per cent.

Currently, the project focuses on eight Hindi-speaking states, i.e., Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttarakhand. In the past, the programme has been financed by the Department for International Development (DFID), Oxfam India, Connect for Change (United Kingdom), Suzlon Foundation, Sewa Mandir, READ India Foundation, NPCL, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of Madhya Pradesh and Ministry of HRD, Government of India under Sakshar Bharat Mission 2012.

TARA Akshar, Area of Interest in India

The economic boom in India has ensured a lavish life to some people. But even after more than 60 years of independence, the country is home to the largest number of illiterates on earth. A whopping 400 million people still cannot read and write the language they speak. It is one of the major causes of the country’s socio-economic backwardness. Poverty and under-development are the associated ills of illiteracy. Literacy forms the cornerstone for ensuring equality of opportunity to all. It leads to increased self-confidence, self-esteem and awareness levels among the neo-literates.

Literacy allows people, especially women, to participate much more effectively in the development and decision-making processes at the grassroots level. It also helps to increase the status of women in the family as well as in the society, and leads to gender equity. Without any concerted action, illiteracy can impede growth and development of the country.

Valiant attempts have been made to increase the literacy level in India but the number of illiterates in the country is still enormous. Over one-third of Indians above the age of seven are illiterate (World Bank Development Policy Review 2003). It can be attributed partly to the ever-growing population and partly to the failure of the existing government literacy programmes. Currently, in India, it takes between 6 months to 2 years to teach people to read and write and to do simple calculations. The poor and the marginalised, who constitute the majority of the illiterates in India, either fail to muster courage to enroll into a literacy programme or lose steam mid way and drop out because of the staggering amount of time and effort it takes to become literate through conventional methods. Most of the illiterates, especially adults, work as wage labourers, domestic household workers and farm labourers. They are often forced to migrate to towns and cities in search of work; so, they fail to complete a literacy programme. Thus, TARA Akshar+ seeks to bring literacy to the poor and underprivileged in a short time and at an affordable cost.

TARA Akshar: New way of learning

TARA Akshar trains students to recognise the sound of the letter. It is followed by training them in syllables, after which it then lets them loose on words and sentences. The conventional wisdom is that the hardest part of learning is to recognise the combination of letters. But if the student has an instantaneous, instinctive, intuitive recognition of all the letters that he or she is reading, all the subsequent stages of learning to read become very easy. The astounding success that the TARA Akshar programme has met with proves this point.

TARA Akshar has come up with a method of teaching this first step of learning letters in a revolutionary way, through the use of memory associations embedded in animated movies. Learning is reinforced with other memory methods, together with video gaming techniques. In TARA Akshar, the students do not have to memorise anything; rather he or she simply watches and plays, which in turn takes care of the memorising.

TARA Akshar is a flash-based software that has been developed in-house by the Development Alternatives Group. The software uses morphing and memory techniques to teach completely illiterate people to learn, read and write Hindi (Devanagri) and to do simple calculations in 49 days. For example, the letter ‘d’ in Hindi is associated to one’s memory by a morphed image of two ears joined together. The entire alphabet is taught in this manner. This technique is also supplemented with audio-visual and voice-based content.

A Symbiotic Approach

In this direction, a three-tier system has been devised. It is a computer-based model of delivery and involves participation of the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Community Based Organisations (CBOs), and Self Help Groups (SHGs). The first level of monitoring is done by the Head Office team based at New Delhi. The second level of monitoring is done through Master Trainers who provide the requisite support, passage of information and monitor the implementation processes. Finally, the instructors and Quality Controllers implement the programme at the village level.

TARA Akshar uses a combination of different media in order to attack the problem from as many media angles as possible. Students watch animated cartoon movies featuring the letters of the alphabet, who turn into characters that have adventures with each other. Students also play card games with special cards featuring letters of the alphabet. A 100 minutes like this constitutes one day’s lesson. Students are required to attend one lesson a day, 6 days a week, until the 49 days are up.

At present, TARA Akshar is being offered through TARA Akshar centres located in small villages. As people become literate, they aspire for higher education and employable skills.

The instructors are not just left to get on with it. They are monitored by ‘Master Trainers’, who are their technical mentors, and by ‘Quality Controllers’, who spend their weeks appearing at random, at different centres to do spot checks on the quality of instructor training.

What Next?

TARA Akshar has provided literacy to around over 60,000 females and the number is continuously mounting. Development Alternatives is keen to help these women translate literacy into some kind of socio-economic benefit for them.

The customisation of multimedia-based Enterprise Development Module for neo-literates is being done. It will help train TARA Akshar learners, especially SHG members, on the entrepreneurship skills and, thus, translate their literacy into income generation.

A new reading book and course - Swasthya Gyan Pustak is being developed and will be published soon. The purpose of this course is to empower women to learn and use standard health measures to reduce child morbidity.

Facts about Illiteracy

• According to the UNESCO, there are about 1 billion non-literate adults in the world1

• An astounding 98 per cent of the illiterate population lives in developing countries2

• 34 per cent of the illiterate population in the world lives in India3


Anecdotal evidence from our 60,000 plus graduates shows a dramatic increase in self-esteem and consequent improvement in intra-family dynamics. More and more newly literates are coming forward and demanding more reading material. In most centres, reading clubs have been organised voluntarily by the respective Sarpanch or CSO; and reading material has been provided by them. The Panchayats or Pradhans support by providing a room for the centre’s building space along with extra reading material.

The model adopted for TARA Akshar+ has not only helped in acquiring scales in a relatively short period of time, but has also made the delivery of the programme more effective. Today, over 60,000 women have become literate in a time frame of just four years across eight states in India. The delivery model has helped it to achieve a high success rate.

It’s not only about providing reading and writing skills but also about transforming lives as well as the nation. TARA Akshar+ has an answer to the plight of a person who can speak and understand a language but cannot read and write. The programme has huge potential to scale and transform the lives of people by bringing them through a journey of ‘Angoothe se kalam tak’ (From Thumb to the Pen).

For more information visit www.taraakshar.com q

Colonel MS Ahluwalia

1, 2 http://www.sil.org/literacy/LitFacts .htm
3 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/916814.cms


Back to Contents

    Subscribe Home

Contact Us

About Us