Why We Need Reading Warriors

Mala Kumar writes about why the work of reading warriors is vital in a country where children are struggling to read.
According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2013 released last month, the proportion of all children nationally in Class V who can read a Class II level text remains virtually the same since 2012: 47 per cent.
Among Class V children in government schools, this percentage has decreased to 41.1 per cent.
Despite the dismal figures it throws up, there is some hope still. It comes not so much from the formal learning centres as from the work of volunteers and organisations around the country that are doing stellar work to promote reading among rural children.
Learning to read is not an instinctive act like learning to talk, run, or play. But there is no doubt that the ability to read is one of the most important skills children need for their development. 
“Are you asking about reading skills, or children’s inclination to read?” asks Neha Pradhan Arora, Head of Programmes at Swechha, which runs Pagdandi, a volunteer-driven alternative educational space for children of resettlement and slum colonies in Delhi. 
“In Arunachal Pradesh, even the government finds it difficult because of connectivity and terrain. The only hope for promoting reading is the school system. But when these schools lack even basic facilities, having a library is not easy. After coming under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, officials are unable to pay attention to teacher training and other aspects of school governance. Add to this the fact that reading is taught only as a means to teach other subjects,” says Mundayoor, who has been working in Arunachal Pradesh for over three decades. “Volunteers, mostly from tribal villages, are eager to work with reading-deprived children. Books are accessible and kept in open cupboards. Unlike the top-down approach of school librarians, where they decide what and when a child should read, here the volunteers encourage children to read whatever they choose. Volunteers return to their own villages and start similar reading rooms.”
That children love stories is universal. “Children need to be surrounded by books. When reading for pleasure is not part of the culture, there is no push to read. Children are encouraged only to read textbooks and moralistic stories. Our children need books that are colourful, exciting and in languages they can read. They need books that have humour. The only way children will learn to read is if they have books to touch and see and read,” says Suzanne Singh, chairperson, Pratham Books.
Which reading warriors do you know of? We know of many! Read about all of them on the Champions blog.

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