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At the gates of the only school in Theru Beedi village, about a hundred children gather and wave excitedly when we arrive. It has been a week since the government higher primary school closed for the summer break, but the children of this remote village of silkworm-rearers in Kanakapura taluk, Ramnagar district, Karnataka, continue to file in every morning, because, as Naveen, a bright-eyed class IV student, says, they "like to be taught".
The school is one of 127 in the taluk adopted by the Sikshana Foundation, a non-profit that has been working with government schools in the state since 1996, and one of 50-odd schools that have secured a '100 per cent' result this year as per evaluation standards of the widely-accepted Annual Status of Education Report. The ASER 2009 report found that only 32 per cent of all class IV children and 67 per cent of class VII children in rural Karnataka could read class II-level Kannada text, and that 11.1 per cent of class IV children and 38.7 per cent of class VII children could do basic division. In 50 of the schools in Kanakapura adopted by Sikshana, however, these percentages now stand at 100; surveys by external agencies and management professionals indicate the others are fast catching up.
At Theru Beedi, as children sit in circles and busy themselves with fashioning boats and cranes from paper as part of summer camp activities, headmaster Mallikarjunappa shows us into his office. A whiteboard lists goals for the academic year, among them targets for the number of pages to be written and read by each student every day. "After Sikshana came four years ago, this school has changed tremendously. For the first time in this village, there is competitive spirit among children," he says.