Copyright c 2011 TARA Akshar+
The journey of the TARA Akshar+ program, as we know it today, started when Victor Lyons visited India in 2004 and was contacted by Dr. Ashok Khosla, Chairperson DA. This is when the importance of literacy for adult women came into light. Thus, the idea of an Adult Literacy program was conceived. An ICT based conceptual plan was formulated and by 2005 a team was formed. The pilot was launched in Bhatti Mills in Delhi and the adventure began in 2006.
In 2006, TARA Akshar was rolled out in TARA Gram, in Newari Block of Orchha and 5 centres were put up. Simultaneously, with the PACS program going on, DA decided to incorporate TARA Akshar. With the help of PACS, We introduced the program into the SHGs in several Hindi speaking states. During the TARA Akshar + tenure with PACS, 290 centers were established across Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Where we achieved the milestone of making 44,000+ women literate in those 290 centers by 2008.
With the PACS funding coming to an end, a decision to train people to carry forward the program was made. A team was formed to train several workers of TARA Akshar to become “Master Trainers’’. These trainers would in turn work with the 106 instructors who were eventually trained and prepared for operating, executing and collecting feedback manually.
Additionally, we also got 39,000 women enrolled for National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and they soon received their NIOS certificates.
Initially, the program was of 26 days, and arithmetic was not included. However, mid-course the need for arithmetic or “Ganit” was recognized. This issue was highlighted when the program was offered to the then Ministry of Human Resource Development (Now, Ministry of Education) and they made it known that the program was incomplete without arithmetic, hence, it could not be accepted.
women enrolled centers
As we made headway, we achieved the milestone of making 44,000 + women literate in those 290 centers. The program gradually gained stability however, Ganit was yet to be introduced so the team started working on modalities for the same. In 2012, we connected with IKEA. The Pilot project with IKEA got spilled into Adult Literacy-1, Adult Literacy-2, and Adult Literacy-3 (IKEA). With this, we started Ganit and Apni Pathshala which was a 3 month long reading and writing practice program designed keeping the concept of a library at the core.
Gyan Chaupali- a 6 month long program was introduced when it was observed that the learners were forgetting the newly acquired literacy. Gyan Chaupali had interactive sessions for practicing and also made use of infotainment methods.
In the initial phase, the program ran for 26 days, which was later increased to 30 days and then to 36 days, as a simulation exercise was added. Once Ganit was incorporated, 18 days were added and ultimately it got formulated into the 56-day program that it is today (18 days Ganit + 1 day exam and 36 days Hindi + 1 day exam).
We found time and again that once the women finish the program, they find themselves free from the shackles of illiteracy and express the urgency to be connected to income generating activities. This is when collaboration with Rural Self Employment Training Institutes (RSETIs) came into force in 2017. Vocational training was given to the neo-literates by RSETIs. Gradually, several other government agencies connected with the program to make the neo-literates aware about numerous facilities made available for them. District level officials started engaging with them by inviting them to be part of their programs and rallies where they took part in cleanliness drives, and voting awareness amongst others. So far into the journey, no major changes have been made and the overall basic structure of the program has stayed consistent since its commencement.
In 2020, COVID-19 pandemic hit lives and livelihoods across the globe and naturally, TARA Akshar+ program had to be put on hold as well. However, it was during these extremely challenging times that we witnessed the true spirit and impact of the program. TARA Akshar+ alumni came forward, voluntarily, to spread awareness about the pandemic and to contribute to the support the urgent needs of the front line workers. They went on awareness drives around their villages to bust myths and talk about precautionary measures that must be adhered to. Furthermore, some women stitched face masks with whatever resources they had available with them for the frontline medical workers and security personnel.
women made literate by now
By December 2020, 2,38,440 women have been made literate across the country and we are growing. It was the time restraint that rural women face due to household responsibilities that inspired us to bring literacy close to them and not the other way round. We aim to empower and enable women through literacy so they can pave a better future for themselves.
The primary simple goal is to make a real dent into the illiteracy problem of India. Given the demographics of the country, it will be some forty years before those who are illiterate today will have naturally grown beyond retirement age and have been replaced by their literate progeny. So, this is not a very long term problem but its magnitude and likely duration make it well worth solving speedily. Too many people in the economy are both suffering sub-optimal lives and unable to contribute their full potential to national development. Within this specific project, TA+, we will therefore continue to accelerate delivery of the product until we have saturated the market in roughly three or four decades.
We have developed and are also delivering the “next steps” courses for those who have become literate – digital skills, financial skills, life skills, livelihood skills, employability skills, entrepreneurship skills and entrepreneurship supports. Our intent is to leverage government and corporate support to enable every single citizen who so wishes, to get meaningful, dignified, “decent” work. Literacy and income generation are only two of DA’s programme, and these are being dovetailed with the other work we do, particularly in the fields of shelter, energy, water and sanitation, etc.