Joy Of Reading For Every Child…

A library that hangs on the wall; a large repository of openly licensed high-quality children’s literature; setting up of 5600 Gram Panchayat libraries for children in Karnataka; structured book reading programme; annual storytelling programme; making technology-enabled learning more inclusive and building for education…the list is endless at Pratham Books. Himanshu Giri, CEO, Pratham Books shares more about the same in conversation with Varsha Verma.

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Since 2004, Pratham Books has been creating engaging storybooks in multiple languages and formats to help children discover the joy of reading – in languages they can understand, set in locations they can recognise, featuring characters with whom they can identify, and telling stories that capture their attention and fuel their imagination. Here, Himanshu Giri, CEO, Pratham Books shares the various initiatives taken by them to inculcate the joy of reading from a young age, in every child.

AABP: Pratham Books has been at the epicentre of innovations in children’s publishing in your effort to put ‘a book in every child’s hand.’ Tell us about some of your recent work.

Himanshu: Over our journey of 17 years, we have innovated on several fronts to put ‘a book in every child’s hand’ and to share the joy of reading in mother tongue languages. We turned the traditional publishing model on its head by embracing the power of open licensing, to make story books available for free to children in India and across the world. We developed products for low resource environments like the Library-in-a-Classroom (LIC), a library that hangs onthe wall containing up to 100 storybooks. With the LIC, the child enjoys invaluable physical proximity to printed books, which in turn encourages her to read and develop emotionally and intellectually.

Our digital platform StoryWeaver recently partnered with the Central Board of Secondary Education, to launch the CBSE Reading Mission – a nationwide two-year long initiative. CBSE schools and teachers have access to a large repository of openly licensed high-quality children’s literature via the Pratham Books Reading Programme, available for free in English and Hindi on StoryWeaver. The Reading Programme offers 144 beautifully illustrated multilingual age-appropriate storybooks that provide a rich reading experience to all children,cutting across geographic, economic, social and cultural divides. The books are organised grade-wise and thematically, and are accompanied by discussion ideas and activities that can be conducted online, in-classroom or at home.

AABP: What according to you are the newer avenues and changing landscape in education?

Himanshu: The Covid-19 pandemic led to wide spread school closures for close to 18 months. Schools across the country had to pivot to online learning, and there was much anxiety in the literacy space around the widening digital divide – how could we help children who don’t have access to the Internet or digital devices, to continue to learn from home? All of the progress made towards achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 – ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all – in India, was at risk of being dismantled. For every step forward, it seemed like two steps back when the pandemic hit.

AABP: How is Pratham Books responding to these changes in the education landscape?

Himanshu: We thought long and hard about the child that we strive to reach through our work. The child who didn’t have ready access to the Internet or a laptop or a smartphone, who still needed to continue her learning journey. The need to put ‘a book in every child’s hand’ has never been greater, and so we sought to double down on our efforts to achieve our mission. One initiative that sought to address the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic and school closures, was a partnership with the Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Department, Government of Karnataka, setting up 5600 Gram Panchayat libraries for children across the state. These libraries sought to create informal learning spaces for children using community halls, anganwadi centres and schools. Each centre had a monthly timetable for children to visit the libraries in small groups, where a librarian would be available to help the children choose and engage with the storybooks. This ambitious project aimed to bridge the learning gap by curating age-appropriate storybooks and reading materials, offering read-alouds and interactive sessions to cultivate a reading habit among children from an early age.

This project was just one of many crowd funding initiatives that we have hosted over the years, on our platform Donate-a-Book www.donateabook.org.in. Through Donate-a-Book, we have disseminated over 300000 of our books to 600+ organizations, to the most far flung areas of our country, in our continuing efforts to put ‘a book in every child’s hand.’ We encourage everyone to run a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for storybooks from Pratham Books, for children who need them the most. Donate-a-Book strives to bridge the gap between those who want to help children read and those who need books for children. Together, we hope to build a Reading India by making storybooks accessible to thousands of children, spreading the joy of reading far and wide.

AABP: Early schooling in a child’s mother tongue, as recommended in the new National Education Policy, can improve learning, increase student participation and reduce the number of dropouts.With Pratham Books publishing children’s books in multiple languages, how do you see this move?

Himanshu: The recent NEP focus on the importance of mother tongue languages aligns with our core mission at Pratham Books, of providing affordable, multilingual, contextual storybooks to children. Children who read more, learn better and are more likely to succeed at school as well as in life. Learning to read is the key to unlocking lifelong learning. Reading with confidence and proficiency can help children make the transition from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’. Reading encourages children to build vocabulary, derive connections between stories and their own lives, to explore and imagine, and to become curious, independent learners.

The National Education Policy 2020 aims at achieving Foundational Literacy and Numeracy for all children by Grade 3 by 2025. However, with 36% of all Grade 3 students unable to read a paragraph with understanding (NCERT 2017), and every 1 in 2 children unable to read at their grade level (ASER 2019), India’s need for foundational literacy could not be more vital. In the last year, due to the challenges of the pandemic, education systems have also had to adapt to new ways of teaching and learning, further amplifying the urgent requirement for easy-to-use foundational reading resources, to support children, educators and caregivers. India’s National Education Policy (NEP 2020) has made it a mission to achieve foundational literacy for all children by 2025 and aims at building a culture of reading in schools across the country.

When children have access to storybooks in their mother tongue languages, they have a much-needed spring board to transition to the mainstream language of instruction in school. The storybook becomes a bridge between the language she speaks at home and the language she is taught in at school. It provides the stepping stone to foundational literacy, helping the child learn better through school and on to higher education too.

AABP: It is very important for children to read books. Pratham Books is extensively promoting it. Please share your various programmes on reading around children’s literature.

Himanshu: The Pratham Books Reading Programme is a free, easy to use guide of curated storybooks and activities for 6 months, for children from grades 1 to 8. It is a structured programme with 36 storybooks in each schedule, grouped by grade-appropriate themes and featuring diverse topics. Each storybook in the Reading Programme is accompanied by activities which help to engage the child with the book.

One Day, One Story is Pratham Books’ annual storytelling campaign celebrating International Literacy Day on September 8th. Every year, thousands of Reading Champions choose a Pratham Books storybook and conduct fun storytelling sessions with children across the country and the world. While the past two years has seen One Day, One Story conducted virtually because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the joy and fun was still 100% real! International Literacy Day is also a reminder of the importance of literacy as a human right.The theme in 2021 focussed on making technology-enabled learning more inclusive and building for education during and beyond the pandemic. With 1 out of 2 children unable to read at grade level (ASER 2019), India’s need for foundational literacy could not be more vital.

In the last year and a half, due to the challenges of the pandemic, education systems have also had to adapt to new ways of teaching and learning, further amplifying the urgent requirement for easy-to-use foundational reading resources. The National Education Policy 2020 and NIPUN Bharat guidelines have made it a national mission to achieve foundational literacy for all children by Grade 3.

As a response, Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver launched two Foundational Literacy Programmes in Hindi and Marathi (in-classroom and at-home) to build early reading fluency and comprehension for children in Grades 1 to 3. The in-classroom Programme offers levelled storybooks, with associated lesson plans, book discussion questions and video training materials for educators. Keeping in mind the requirements for remote learning resources, StoryWeaver also created a Read@Home version of the Programme, offering levelled storybooks in a suggested reading order and work sheets with language learning outcomes aligned to NIPUN Bharat guidelines. The Programmes can be deployed in multiple ways while keeping in mind the child’s context (online or offline, at-home or in-classroom). The Programme resources are free to use online on StoryWeaver, and can also be deployed via print.

AABP: What more needs to be done and how is Pratham Books taking up that challenge?

Himanshu: There is still a long way to go on our journey to put ‘a book in every child’s hand.’ Continuing to publish more storybooks in mother tongue languages on difficult themes and topics, to help children learn about the world around them, unpack emotions and learn complex subjects like science and maths, are a critical component of this journey.

The pandemic has also disrupted learning for children everywhere, and we are only now beginning to understand the deep impacts of this disruption. A big learning for us at Pratham Books over the past year and a half, has been the importance of being able to adapt and pivot to address real needs on the ground. Through initiatives like the CBSE Reading Mission, we have developed a blended approach to our work, seamlessly integrating online and offline in our continued efforts to reach every child through the joy of reading. We hope to create a reading ecosystem along with all our stakeholders, to inculcate the joy of reading from a young age, in every child.

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