Develop The Reading Habit, Develop The Nation

“A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.” – Neil Gaiman

EDUCATION is arguably one of the most important things you can give a child – it not only benefits them and can change the trajectory of one’s life, but it also promotes socio-economic development within societies.

Which is why the UN has included education as one of their top sustainable development goals that is key “to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity”.

An important aspect of education is reading. Research has shown a strong correlation between reading proficiency and academic success, but it’s also a vital skill that one must have to function in today’s society and find a good job.

Reading cultivates imagination and has been shown to physiologically strengthen and create new connections in the brain, improve concentration and develop empathy.

We’re happy to report that there are many do-gooders around India who understand this and are finding creative ways to inculcate reading habits in our children and young people.

Pratham Books, a non-profit children’s book publisher in Karnataka, aim to “democratise access to books so that every child can discover the joy of reading” in a language they are comfortable with and a format they enjoy. They launched the StoryWeaver platform to use technology and children’s stories to further their mission of “a book in every child’s hand” by popularising reading materials in mother tongues and, in turn, preserve dying languages in India.

They have used open licensing to not only create a digital library to release books online but also tools that “allow users to translate or version the content into languages of their choice”. “The storybooks are used in classrooms to retain students’ interest and preserve the local culture and language.”

StoryWeaver’s STEM storybooks are also breaking down stereotypes and gender biases and encouraging children to approach the world with an open mind.

Books for All, a non-profit initiative set up by former Teach for India fellows in Delhi, has become a catalyst to rehome books from donors to low-income schools and NGO partners to encourage reading outside the classroom.

They collect book donations from individuals which they then redistribute from their “book house” and online. Any organisation or individual working to engage underprivileged children and young people or the elderly through reading can request books from their 30,000+ collection of new and used books.

High school students in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha wanted to make a lasting impact on their “adopted” sister school in Patia. After talking with the students about their needs, they decided to help them set up a school library.

They not only collected more than 400 books to stock the shelves, but also repurposed old furniture and revamped an old storage room into a reading area for the students.

Thrilled by the younger students’ pride at having their own library and operating under the idea that “literacy is a fundamental human right and the foundation for lifelong learning”, the teenagers expanded their vision to provide 100 libraries to underserved government schools and those for the differently abled in their local and surrounding area. In the last five years, they have impacted the literacy of 15,000 students in 35 schools.

In Darjeeling, a teacher at a girl’s secondary school, Srijana Subba, has created her own informal library, which she calls “the book thief”, in her garage. With more than 500 donated books, she encourages children of all ages to borrow books and sit and read.

She takes great pride in her young library visitors, her youngest being an 18-month-old who looks at the pictures while his sister reads. As Srijana says: “It’s never too early to start reading.”

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