It is one of the essential 'three Rs' that every child must acquire for a solid academic career. Reading, which, along with wRiting and aRithmetic, is basic to a sound education, is a skill that millions of Indian children have not been able to learn in childhood.
It is estimated that one in three school-going children in India cannot read fluently. And children who cannot read are unable to learn, as they do not understand what is being taught. The result: many of these children simply drop out of school by the time they reach the higher standards.
Sadly also, while many children from underprivileged backgrounds acquire reading skills, they are unable to sustain the habit because of the prohibitive cost of books. About 200 million children in India cannot own a book because of the high cost.Pratham Books
Realizing the enormity of the challenges, Pratham Books, a not-for-profit organization – and part of Pratham, one of the largest non-government organizations (NGOs) working to provide quality education to underprivileged schoolchildren in India – was established in 2004 with the objective of putting a book in every child's hand. Pratham Books has so far published over 215 titles in English and 10 other Indian languages, most of which are priced below Rs25. It has printed more than 8.5 million books, over 10 million story cards and has a readership of nearly 25 million.
Its mission is to reach the 200 million children in India who do not own a book. The NGO has established a 'Read India Movement,' which creates story books, publishes them, sells them and spreads their reach across the country. Pratham Books has tied up with several state governments and even the private sector, including Essar, to further its development-driven publishing venture.Essar employees pick up books
In October 2011, the Essar Foundation and Pratham Books hosted book fairs at the Kurla and Mahalakshmi offices in Mumbai. Says Sampurna Murti, a consultant with Pratham Books: “The Essar Foundation found our books to be attractive and decided to host the fairs on its premises so that its employees would come to know of our books.”
Pratham also tied up with the Bombay Community Public Trust, which works with 30 other NGOs that are active in Mumbai, to ensure that the books that were bought by Essar employees – and later donated – reached underprivileged children. “Many of the Essar employees bought books for their children, but they also bought additional ones which they donated to poor children through these NGOs,” says Murti.Radical partners: Pratham-UNICEF-Essar
Pratham’s books has been trying to reach out to as many children as possible across India, especially in the villages and in remote locations. It has tied up with organizations such as UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) and the Essar Foundation. “These organizations help us reach children who we are unable to otherwise access,” says Murti. “For us, it is more than a book-selling activity. We are interested in promoting the cause of reading.”
Wonderful children's literature and child-friendly reading material should be available to the vast majority of Indian children at an affordable cost, explains Murti. “If children cannot read or write by the time they are in the fifth standard, then there is very little to sustain their interest in school,” notes the Pratham Books consultant. “That is one reason why we see such high drop-out rates in the middle-school years. Reading would help to keep them interested in their studies.”
Pratham Books, which usually caters to underprivileged children in villages and smaller cities, keeps its publications economically priced at between Rs10 and Rs25. “But we do not compromise on quality,” says Murti.
The NGO is now hopeful of undertaking many such initiatives together with the Essar Foundation, especially wherever Essar has its factories and plants. “We would like to do much more to promote reading and undertake other activities with children,” points out Murti. “We do these activities in various parts of the country. We are hoping that we will be able to get the Essar Foundation to support us in these ventures.”Not a fairy tale
Pratham Books targets children in the three to 14 age-group and all of its titles are original. “We do not retell fairy tales, as many other publishers are doing a good job of it,” says Murti.
The NGO has worked with various state governments, including Bihar and Uttarakhand. “In Bihar, we participated in a state-wide, reading enhancement program for junior classes,” points out Murti. “We were present in all the 27 districts. Teachers and children from nearly 70,000 government schools attended the program. It was a wonderful experience and shattered a lot of myths.”
Murti believes that activities undertaken by Pratham Books need the backing not just of governments, but even the corporate sector. And she is glad that the NGO has engaged with the Essar Foundation to pursue its objectives.
The Essar Foundation is sponsoring a similar initiative – Bookaroo in the City (organized by Pramtham books and Bookaroo Trust). The initiative will travel across all the schools under the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. For more information visit http://bookaroo.in/