As I point out in 'Ethical Dilemmas of a Civil Servant', when I was posted as Secretary, School Education Government of India in 2016, "I was the most 'uneducated' person to handle this sector" for want of experience in this sector. As the word went around about my 'illiteracy', there were those quintessential advisors who trooped in to advise me.
The advice primarily was to learn from Finland, England, Holland, Scotland, New Zealand and all the lands of the world but I chose to go around the 'Motherland' to understand the problems that afflicted school education and to look for solutions. One such visit was to the interior areas of Karnataka where I 'discovered' one of the many solutions to poor quality of school education.
Akshara Foundation was established as a Public Charitable Trust in March 2000. The organisation was founded on the belief that quality education is the undeniable right of every child. It was conceived as a tripartite partnership between the Government, the private sector and the voluntary sector. On one hand, Bangalore was on the cusp of becoming the next Silicon Valley as Y2K rolled in. The irony, on the other hand, was that enrollment in government schools had dropped drastically. Something needed to be done about this issue before it spiralled out of control.
It was then that the Karnataka State Education Department took the initiative to rope in NGOs to tackle this problem. Upendra Tripathy, an IAS officer(the then Commissioner for Public Instruction) played a critical role in the evolution of this unique Public-Private Partnership with equal participation and investment from the Foundation itself, Karnataka State Government, and the local donor community in Bangalore. Subsequently, it was one of the finest officers, Ajay Seth, State Education Secretary who helped this model scale.
Over the years, Akshara has developed its identity, credibility and vision. In 2003-04, Ashok Kamath, a very successful corporate professional, decided to leave it all behind and give back to society. He joined Akshara as the Managing Trustee and became the Chairman in 2008, after Rohini Nilekani its first Chairperson. Akshara has gone to great heights and scale under his able leadership.
ince its inception in 2000, Akshara has run multiple programmes ('Akshara Ganitha' for Math; 'Swalpa English Thumba Fun' for the English language; 'Prepare not Repair' for Preschool Education; 'The Classroom Library') that are designed to be comprehensive, scalable, replicable and cost-effective. The Foundation has always believed that for a programme to be successful, it must be scalable. And all efforts have always been designed with this in mind.