"The stories of childhood leave an indelible impression, and their author always has a niche in the temple of memory from which the image is never cast out to be thrown on the rubbish of heap of things that are outgrown and outlived". - Howard Pyle
Books and stories carry in them a sense of ever lasting nostalgia. Reading and listening to the tales has been the most treasured and beautiful moment for most of us since childhood days. Isn't it?
Cinderella, snow white and Rapunzel's dreamland, the adventures of tom sawyer, Panchatantra, Akbar-Birbal's tales of wit and wisdom, Nancy Drew's mystery missions- these and many more story books are my most prized possessions. They made me learn as I grew and gave power to my imagination and expression. Am sure your experiences are much the same.
But don't you think that every child deserves the pleasure of experiencing the joy of reading a good book? Yet not all are fortunate. Stats shows that about 300 million children all over India have NEVER held a book in their hand. The happiness of sitting cuddled up in bed and enjoying the adventures of Arabian nights eludes them. Fairies don't accompany them in their dreams with any magic or miracles.
This is not 'just' about right to education or literacy. The cause in question is simpler yet significant, that is a book in every child's hand. No matter which language or expression, how big or small, cheap or expensive - a story is all that matters.
THE PROBLEMS :
1) Good books today are basically available in Hindi or English. but with 22 official languages and about 1600 dialects. How can only two languages suffice?
2) Cost- Big publishing houses sell books at expensive prices which cannot be afforded by most of the population.
3) Literacy rate is still low specially in the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh , Bihar and Jharkhand so spending time or money on reading is out of question until proactive steps are taken to build and sustain interest among children.
4) Lack of quality education - Research reveals that 1 in 3 school going children cannot read fluently. Children who are unable to read are unable to learn, as they can't understand what is being taught to them. And that contributes to high dropout rates in schools.
5) Awareness - There is extreme ignorance about all such issues so the movement fails to pick up momentum.
6)Apart from this, the ever increasing population only tends to create a huge gap in the demand supply ratio.
With these issues in mind a non-profit organisation called Pratham Book was set up in 2004 as a part of Read India movement. PB was established as a not-for-profit public charitable trust to reach children whom the market ordinarily would not and, therefore, to democratize the joy of reading.
There are still very few publishing houses willing to provide affordable content and that too in multiple English languages.
|Pratham Books logo|
Pratham books have come up with some extremely creative and innovative solutions to cater the problems in hand. Some of these are :
1) Selling books in sachet form that is, a four page book for just Rs.2. An amount which any young reader across the country can afford. Around 8 million such cards have been sold.
2) Bilingual books - books in two languages at a price of one. They also help children to learn a second language, and in the non-English medium world, bilinguals are being used to learn English.
3)Creative commons - they have put up many books in several languages under the Creative Commons license. This creates a multiplier effect where the books get converted into new forms and many derivative works get produced. So there is content available for iPads, iPhone, e-readers, audio-clips and digital content for the visually-challenged.
4) They have also started a new venture called 'Annual World Storytelling Day contest' where readers can remix their illustrations to make new stories. This exercise has given them over eighty new stories. It works beautifully on two levels: by using the same illustrations to make new stories they have reduced the cost of producing content and for a single publisher, coming up with 80 new books would have easily taken a few years, not to mention the costs.
All these and many other innovative approaches have been welcomed and have received an enthralling response. In the last 6 years, pratham books have published over 215 titles in up to 11 languages and have spread the joy of reading to over 15 million children.
Their mission is simple -'Indian content for Indian children'. Proving books which are both linguistically and regionally relevant.
Now coming to the most important aspect. WHAT YOU AND I CAN DO?
1) Know and share - Beginning from the basics, this is indeed the most important facet for tackling any issue. Get aware and let people know. Be it verbally, through print media, technology like E-mails, social networking sites, blogs etc.
2) Read 'them' a story - Just to create interest and open a world full of imagination in front and fantasies for them. Your single story can change someones life! In the words of B.F. Skinner 'we shouldn't teach great books, we should teach a love of reading'.
3) Gift a book to someone today - Words and actions should go hand in hand for a practically productive outcome. We all have children around us, identity those who need it the most maybe your maid's daughter or the rag picker on the road and just present him with the pleasure of reading and learning.
4) Go to a nearby village or areas which await the joy of reading and distribute them books. photocopied or picture or pamphlet books. They need not be expensive or with long stories.
5) There is huge content available on the net which means you have access to stories on your laptops, ipads, mobile phones etc. Download and share it around.
Or you can JOIN THEM DIRECTLY BY :
1) Read about them @ Pratham books
2)If you would like to be a part of Read India Movement as a writer, illustrator, publisher or volunteer, email then at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here or more details.
3) There are many other ways in which you can help like library in a village, fund a book, teach for India etc. Check it out here @ Engage
As I mentioned before its not just about the right to education but the right to imagination!
Before ending I would like to leave you with a thought
children are like water
bottle them up and they stagnate
let them run wild and they make a mess
guide then and they
bring life to all they touch!
Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.
Hear Rohini Nilekani (founder chairperson of Pratham Books) talk on the same issue in the video clip below. Youtube link :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHqFGA78sEU