Summary & Accomplishments to Date


ASHRAYA started Project Terra Firma in 2008 with a goal of taking up a large scale initiative a single area in which it can be the prime executor as opposed to being a funding agency for other NGOs. The aim was to take up an area (educational focus and geographical location) that is scalable, repeatable and has high impact on a large number of beneficiaries. The state governments in India have done a lot for primary schools (1st to 8th standard) in rural parts of the country, pouring in investments in school buildings, trained teachers, text books etc. However, children passing out of these schools have gaps in many areas such as handwriting, math science and creative skills. These gaps are higher in rural areas (i.e. farther away from the main cities). Our aim was to provide complementary education that could enhance the above mentioned skill sets of children passing out of these schools; using well proven methods in experiential and fun learning. We selected Hanur Taluk (sub-division of Hanur Taluk) since it is primarily rural (200 Kms away from Bangalore) with very few NGOs active in the area.

In Dec 2008, we embarked on Project Terra Firma in partnership with the then BEO of Hanur Taluk. To date, we have completed four phases of Project Terra Firma and activities in Hanur Taluk. ASHRAYA has spent close to $40K over the last 8 years. We have been visiting the project area every 3 weeks and have invested in a stable, reliable and passionate staff that is responsible for establishment and operations of our projects. To date, over 3,000 students (each year) have benefited from our projects. The table below shows the summary of accomplishments to date. We had invested in a stable, reliable and passionate staff that is responsible for establishment and operations of our projects. We have 9 fulltime librarians, 3 fulltime teachers for the science club, art program and book of the month club; a full time project coordinator, and 2 part time project coordinators employed and paid for by ASHRAYA.

Phase Years Project Name Expenditure, $
Phase I 2008,
2009
Create One Model School (Kannur School) 894
Develop Copywriting Skills in 17 Schools – Part 1 1,289
Conduct Fun Projects in Kannur School 2,263
Phase II 2009,
2010,
2011
Develop Copywriting Skill in 17 Schools – Part 2 1,289
Establish Library in Kannur School 2,000
Establish Science and Nature Clubs in Kannur School 2,500
Operate Library in Kannur School 1,000
Operate Science & Nature Clubs in Kannur School 2,500
Phase III 2012 Establish and Operate Libraries in 5 More Schools 7,000
Continue Library Operations in Kannur School 1,000
Phase IV 2013 Stabilize and Operate 6 Libraries 4,027
Start and execute Art Program in 6 Schools 2,300
Conduct Mobile Library Day and Library Day 700
Phase V 2014 Add 3 New Libraries 2,080
Stabilize and Operate 9 Libraries 5,001
Execute Art Program in 6 Schools 3,444
Conduct Leonardo Vinci Art & Science Day 721
Total Project Expenditure to Date 40,008

Project Components

Project Terra Firma is made up of the following main components:
Set Up and Run Libraries:

Our libraries provide instant access to knowledge for all students. We make the library a fun place to be through activities. We make book reading exciting through story-telling and activity based learning. We also integrate the library with the school agenda; and link books to the curriculum. We make the library actively drive advancement in reading abilities and learning levels. Our libraries have bright color environment with murals from ethic art (Warli and Pithora) painted by local artisans. Each library is equipped with 400 to 600 books covering all subjects including lending and reference books; educational game kits and art material; and art materials as well. Each full time librarian is trained on story-telling, activities and programs. We also subscribe to multiple children magazines and newspapers. In each school, we form a library committee with the librarian, key teachers, the headmaster and top 3 students. We use a GROWBY classification scheme for all books to promote advancement in reading abilities and learning levels. We classify all students at beginning of year into GROWBY scheme and track progress on a monthly basis. We work with the teachers to link books to the curriculum. In each school, we ensure that there are two dedicated library periods per week for each class. During these periods, the librarian follows an activity calendar that is rotated over a 10 week basis. Activities include activities-based learning (tied to MLLs) around story books; arts and craft; education board games to promote math, science and engineering skills; “Book of the Month Club” for select books and students; break time quizzes with prizes to winner; treasure hunts with clues hidden in pages of different books; dressing-up and drama competitions around famous books and characters; class research projects using book material; and speed reading competitions. We end the year with a Library Day in which all school students come together and exhibit their work from the year before as well conduct competitions (speed reading, storytelling etc.). We award prizes to the best exhibits (art work, dramas, speed reading etc.) and winners of competitions.

For the students with the lowest GROWBY scores (20 per school), the librarians conduct a mentoring program to improve their reading levels by at least 2 levels on the GROWBY scale over a period of 3 months. We rotate the students through the year (2 batches per school) once they reach the desired GROWBY levels.

Set Up and Run Science Clubs, Art Programs and Book of the Month Clubs:

We work with teachers in each school and identify 20 students per school for each program – Science Club, Art Program and Book of the Month Club. The science club is aimed at the top scientifically inclined students per school. It has an active science lab with experiments. The club also revolves around conducting experiments and arranging visits to science museums. The art program is aimed at the top 20 artistically inclined students per school. It has 7 art technique modules (sketching, shading, charcoal, landscape painting, still life painting, moving figure painting and portraits). We also conduct special art oriented events such as “Paint the schools with murals”, “Paint the village with murals” and “Encounter with nature trip”. The Book of the Month Club is aimed at students with the top 20 GROWBY scores and readerships per school. They meet once a month after all students have read same book and filled a questionnaire around the book. The session has activities such as object association, “Whose line is it”, dumb charades, “act and draw it out” and “change the story”, all revolving around the book of the month.

We have dedicated and trained teachers to run each club. We have set up session plans that last the whole year for each program that you can see under our “Activity Tracker” section. Each student in each club is required to maintain project reports of each activity. We monitor progress of the clubs as they meet once a week (in alternating schools each week). At the end of the year, the students are asked to set up experiment/educational displays. We conduct a Club Day Competition at the end of the fiscal year and bring in independent judges (teachers from other schools; and administrators from the BEO office). We allow school children from all 5 schools to come and attend the Club Day and view the displays. We select the top 2 projects/displays for each club and distribute awards to students and teachers.

Run Fun Educational Projects (Discontinued for now, to be taken up in 2016-17):

We work with the teachers to select 20 students per school. We divide the 100 students into groups of 5 each and run fun educational projects covering all areas (Arts & Crafts, Engineering and Science, Nature & Environment, Math and Statistics, History & Geography, Social Studies; &Writing & Literature). Each project has an assigned teacher to guide and monitor progress. We describe the activities to the project teams (only at a high level so that we can promote independent thinking) at the outset. Each project team is given the permission to spend up to Rs. 600 on materials towards the project (as per the project needs) which is funded by ASHRAYA. We track progress on a periodic basis and provide guidance and feedback. We conduct a Fun Day Competition at the end of the fiscal year and bring in independent judges (teachers from other schools; and administrators from the BEO office). We allow school children from all schools to come and attend the Fun Day and view the displays. We select the top 5 projects across all projects and distribute awards to students and teachers.

Progress to Date

We successfully piloted all our project components at Kannur School in Hanur Taluk from 2009 to 2011 (fun projects, library, science and clubs); and established a replicable and repeatable model to be applied at other schools. In 2012, we worked with the BEO of Hanur Taluk to extend this working model to 5 additional schools. The BEO also helped drive these activities to success through high level visibility, leadership and sponsorship. In 2013, we focused primarily on the 6 libraries and stabilized the operations of these libraries. In 2014, we added the science club and art programs to 6 schools and also expanded the library program to 9 schools. We also proved that we could scale the operations of activity based libraries to a large number of schools without eroding quality and impact. Here are the main accomplishments of 2014:

  1. Incorporated ASHRAYA in India (latter part of 2013) so that we could sign employment contracts with all our staff members with job descriptions, roles and responsibilities
  2. Added three new libraries to extend the library programs to 9 schools (Bandalli, Mangala and Lokkanahalli).
  3. Started science club program and art program in 6 schools (from a pilot of 1 school since 2011)
  4. Had ASHRAYA paid staff of 16 members (9 fulltime librarians, 1 fulltime art teacher, 1 fulltime project coordinator, 2 part-time science club teachers, 2 part-time project advisors and 1 part-time project lead)
  5. First school year in which we completed all 3 programs (library, science club and art program) across multiple schools
  6. Conducted Leonardo Da Vinci Day in which 120 science club students (20 each from 6 schools) and 120 art program students (20 each from 6 schools) participated in live science experiments and art competitions respectively, displayed work from the school year, and were given awards in an award ceremony – See Appendix 2 for details
  7. Tracked project progress every month using a detailed project monitor dashboard – See “Project Monitor” section of this website for the year-end dashboard
  8. Conducted 2 meetings during the year with all school principals, teachers and the local BEO (Block Education Officer) in which we got detailed feedback about our projects
  9. Developed framework and piloted for new Book of the Month program for top 20 readers per school and mentoring program for the bottom 20 readers per school (to be operationalized in 2015-16)
  10. Our students produced exemplary art work (please see Appendix 5C and 5E for photographs of select art work)

You can visit the “Status Reports” section under “Project Terra Firma” to go through the project reports of Project Terra Firma (Phases I, II, III, IV and V) over the years 2008 to 2014.

Main Measured Statistics from 2014-15 School Year

  1. Number of schools – 9 with library programs, 6 with science clubs and 6 with art programs
  2. Total number of students in the 9 schools – 2,391
  3. Total number of students in our programs:
    1. 1,846 for the library program (excluded 1,2 and 3rd standards)
    2. 121 students in the art program
    3. 116 students in the science club program
  4. 16,474 books checked out during the 5 monitored months (July 2014, August 2014, September 2014, November 2014 and January 2015)
    1. 8.9 books per student  1.8 books per student per month. Please note that schools are closed in October for Diwali holidays and children prepare for final exams during February)
    2. Class 6 and 7 students checked out the most number of books (12.8 and 10.2 per year respectively)
  5. Conducted 4 GROWBY tests during the year to assess student reading levels on all 1,846 students (July 2014, September 2014, November 2014 and February 2015).
    1. In the first test (July 2014), the percentage composition of student reading levels was: Level 1 (Yellow) – 37%, Level 2 (Red) – 30%, Level 3 (Green) – 19%, Level 4 (Blue) – 14% and Level 5 (Knowledge) – 0%; with Level 1 being the lowest learning level and Level 5 the highest.
    2. In the final test (February 2015), the percentage composition of student reading levels was: Level 1 (Yellow) – 8%, Level 2 (Red) – 23%, Level 3 (Green) – 33%, Level 4 (Blue) – 26% and Level 5 (Knowledge) – 10%
    3. 34% of the students stayed at the same level through the year, 63% improved reading levels (by at least 1 level) and 3% went down to lower level.
    4. We had 3,122 books in our catalog
      1. 33% of books related to stories, 10% to history, 8% to biology and 8% to physics
      2. 76% of the books were in Kannada, 23% in English, and the small remainder in Tamil, Hindi, Telugu and Marathi
      3. 5% of the books were in Level 1, 7% in Level 2, 3% in Level 3, 1% in Level 4, 77% in Level 5 and 7% in teacher level.
    5. We conducted 81 unique activity sessions in our library programs in the first two months of the year in the 9 schools (9 related to activity based learning, 8 in arts and craft, 17 in board games, 4 in book of the month club, 12 in treasure hunts, 14 in dressing up competitions, 3 in class research projects and 8 in speed reading competitions). Please note that we stopped tracking library program activities after the first two months since they were in steady state
    6. We conducted 126 art program sessions in the 6 schools through the year (44 sketching with pencils, 17 shading with pencils, 24 charcoal painting, 10 introduction to painting, 4 landscape painting, 3 still life painting, 7 moving figure painting, 11 self-portrait painting and 6 local encounters with nature trips)
    7. We conducted 135 science club sessions in the 6 schools during the year (18 related to air, 18 related to matter, 14 related to density, 37 related to air pressure and 48 related Arvind Gupta one minute experiments)
  6. We spent Rs. 675,000 ($11,250) by year-end compared to the budget of $16,260 (69%) since we did not conduct the library day events and did not undertake the intended field trips. Further, we used the project coordinator and one librarian part-time to run the science program. Please see Appendix 4B and Appendix 4C for details on actually incurred expenditure and comparison to budget. We intend to use the surplus next year to expand our activities in the later part of the year (chess club).

Plan for 2015-16

  1. Stabilize operations of all programs at the current level (9 libraries, 6 art programs and 6 science clubs)
  2. Hire a full-time dedicated science club teacher with a science educational background (completed in July 2015 – we hired Ms. Saraswathi in July 2015)
  3. Start the Book of the Month club and Class Research projects in 6 schools for top 20 readers in each school (started in Aug 2015)
  4. Start mentoring program in the 6 schools for bottom 20 readers in each school (2 batches per year); measure and ensure increased in reading levels (minimum 2 levels)
  5. Start all programs as per schedule (started already in July 2015) and complete all programs 100% as per original plan
  6. Create a detailed activity plan with proofs to ensure completion of tasks (completed in July 2015)
  7. Hire an auditor to conduct financial and work audit every 2 months; and provide a detailed audit report (completed – We hired Mr. Shyam Shashikanth, a proprietor of an audit firm in Bangalore in July 2015). Pay all employees only upon completion of work (25% of base salary); and provide year-end bonuses (1 month salary) if 100% of intended activities are completed as per schedule. We intend to send this audit report to all our donors and BEO/DDPI at least once in 2 months.
  8. Pilot a Chess Club program in latter part of the year (November) only if all programs are on track
  9. Send best students on field trips (this was a miss in 2014-15)
  10. Create a travelling art group with the top 10 art students across all schools) and register them into various district and state level art competitions
  11. Register top 10 science club students (across all schools) into various district and state level science experiment competitions
  12. Start a Lapel Pin program to promote readership. Students will get a golden pin to wear on their shirts when they complete checking out and reading 5 books. Top 3 students in each school with the maximum number of pins at year-end will be given 10 free books (to keep for themselves).
  13. Start a newspaper reading quiz for all students once a month based on latest events
  14. Add at least 100 new books to each library; and 4 new newspapers and magazines

No. Project Name Funding Per Project Unit No. of Project Units (Schools) Funding for all Project Units
Rs $ Rs $
1 Operate Existing Libraries in 9 Schools and Book of the Month Clubs 54,041 886 9 486,371 7,973
2 Operate Art Programs in 6 Schools 34,700 569 6 208,201 3,413
3. Operate Science Clubs in 6 Schools 45,271 742 6 271,628 4,453
Total Funding Sought Across All Projects 966,200 15,839