Come summer holidays, Satara’s Hekalwadi village will witness a unique activity. Children, as young as eight and nine will turn into librarians and story tellers by taking books to other children in their village. They will sit in groups and read aloud the stories and do a bit of the librarian’s task too by issuing new books and collecting the old ones back.
This is one of the many activities planned by Parag, a Tata Trusts initiative that supports the development, dissemination and use of children’s literature in Indian languages, to promote reading among children. In Maharashtra, the Parag initiative works in 150 primary schools in Satara district. “In most government schools, the children only have access to text books. Through the initiative, we attempt to provide interesting reading material to the children,” said Amrita Patwardhan, who heads the education arm at Tata Trusts. “We carefully select books of different genres with text as well as pictures,” she added. Each school has been appointed with a village-level volunteer or librarian interested in books and trained in early learning. Reading time is built into the daily school timetable, with a large trunk full of Marathi books that the librarian reads from. A child can also borrow books to read at home.
Ms Patwardhan said they have designed a range of activities like talks, drawing what they learn from the books, writing and creating different endings to the stories. The trunk, filled to the brim with nearly 250 books will be moved to the village volunteer’s home or a community space during the school vacation.
The importance of storytelling and books in early childhood development is often neglected and the reading one does for academics is considered most important. “Most schools have their own libraries as well but there is more focus [on] finishing the syllabus. Teachers tell us they can’t find the time to do other reading,” said Dr Manjiri Nimkar, director of Pragat Shikshan Sanshtha, a non-profit that works with Tata Trusts. She observed that children are reluctant to take a book home because of fears of being given a test about it, losing the book or not completing it on time.
“We have to tell them that there will be no exam on these books. They can stop reading if they don’t enjoy and choose another book of their interest,” she shared. Many children take time to read as they find difficulty in comprehending the text. In such cases, the volunteers read the book aloud and issue the same titles to slow readers so that they can grasp it better the second or third time around.