A woman’s battle against illiteracy by
Bangalore, April 4, 2006
Noor Ayesha chose to step out of traditional confines
and wage a war against illiteracy. She started a pre-primary
school in her house for the children of her community
and believes that education is the only way to independence.
As I turn off of the Jama Masjid Road on to one of
the side streets in Illyasnagar in South Bangalore,
I come to a big, colourful shamiana that takes up the
entire width of the street. At the head of the shamiana
is a dais draped with a thin carpet. On the dais are
chairs, a rectangular table with two flower vases and
a microphone on a long stand.
Off to the left of the dais, past the sound system,
its snaking wires and loud speakers, is the gate that
leads to Noor Ayesha’s house. The gate opens to
a long corridor at the far end of which is the front
door that opens to a room about 8 feet by 12 feet that
is filled to capacity with people and is buzzing with
Noor Ayesha, petite, reed-thin and bubbling with energy
is resplendent in a shimmering green and pink chudidhar.
She has a constant stream of guests, some already seated
in a molded plastic chairs that dot the front room of
the house, others still arriving, removing their slippers
at the front door before coming in.
Noor is busy attending to little children, guiding
them to a bench in the far corner of the room, getting
them to sit. The children are dressed in their best
clothes and their faces made up as if for a performance.
They sit quietly and patiently and watch the adults.
How it all began
The room itself has a showcase built into the wall
of the left of the front door. The showcase is full
of children’s notebooks, blocks and puzzles. Number
charts, alphabet charts, fruit, vegetable and flower
charts hang along the wall facing the front door. A
little higher, towards the left of center of the wall,
hangs an illustration of Mecca and a chart welcoming
everyone. A roll up black board to the center of the
wall proclaims that Noor Ayesha’s home is also
the Little Lord Pre-Primary English School.
In short, Noor is a foot-soldier in the war against
illiteracy in India.
Today, Noor Ayesha and her children are celebrating
their school’s Annual School Day.
She started out as an Akshara volunteer in their ‘Community
Outreach’ programme in November 2004. She went
around from house to house with the search provided
by Akshara and urged parents to send their pre-school
aged children to her house for a few hours everyday
so she could school them
The Success story
For eight months, she ran her pre-school under Akshara
banner and received all the necessary teaching materials
and a monthly stipend from Akshara. Within a few months,
she had the experience and a sufficient number of children
in her school for her to contemplate going independent.
So she took the training offered by Akshara on how to
run a self sustaining Balwadi in April of 2005. From
June onwards, she has been running her pre-primary school
with the fees she has collected from the families and
with some help from her locality Corporator.
Now Noor has 54 children in the age group of two and
a half to six years old and she’s hearing from
parents who want to send their children to her even
earlier. Initially, her language and math classes were
conducted only in Urdu. Following numerous requests
from parents, she has now hired an English teacher and
offers classes in both Urdu and English.
Enabling Noor to accomplish all this within a span
of a few months are her family, her neighbourhood and
the leadership in her locality.
The success Noor has had not only in starting a Balwadi
in her area, but going on to become independent is a
sign of the level of demand for education at the pre-primary
level. There are no government-run pre-primary schools
in Bangalore. So most families who cannot afford private
school education end up keeping their children at home
until they are old enough to be sent to first grade
in the government schools.
Unfortunately, by that time, they are already behind
in terms of the things they could have learned in the
crucial formative years of their lives. This leads to
learning problems in the primary schools and government
primary school teachers are overwhelmed by the amount
of work necessary to bring the children up to speed.
Noor’s is one of 94 self sustaining Balwadis
It’s the school’s Annual Day and Noor,
who has not summoned up enough courage to go up on stage,
is standing on the ground next to the dais, the microphone
pulled low to her height and is welcoming her guests
and the parents of her school children. She nervously
tugs at her duppata willing it to stay around her head,
her fingers gripping the microphone and adjusting her
duppatta by turn. After every sentence, she turns to
the English teacher in her school, who has Noor’s
speech ready in her hands. Together, they make it through
the welcome speech.
Noor has moved off to the side now, and is organizing
her children. She is already intent on the next stage
of the programme. This is what the Annual Day is all
It’s about how far her children have come in
the span of a year, and it’s about showing the
parents and the rest of the community why it is important
they go to school and stick with it.