In the hilly terrains of Phaltan district, Maharashtra, a movement to nurture the joy of reading in classrooms is being quietly seeded across 150 Zilla Parishad schools.
Pragat Shikshan Sanstha is an educational enterprise that supports schools, teachers, and children in the district of Phaltan, Maharashtra and other nearby areas. The organisation works with students through their own flagship school and after-school programmes, and also trains teachers to use stories to make their classrooms more engaging. By working with researchers, government officials, and the general public in an ongoing dialogue, Pragat Shikshan Sanstha hopes to positively impact the education ecosystem.
“We are trying to impact the educational ecosystem by changing the image of ‘the child’ and ‘the teacher’ through excellent classroom practices, sound pedagogies, elements of classroom research, and education for equality,” says Manjiri Nimbkar, Secretary, Pragat Shikshan Sanstha.
Drop Everything and Read
One of Pragat Shikshan Sanstha’s areas of focus is setting up more libraries in the region. This, they felt, was something that would not only benefit the schools in the area, but also children from other nearby communities. The organisation felt that it was imperative to make books and read-aloud sessions a part of their training offering to teachers so that they would use both in their classrooms and libraries.
Dr. Nimbkar is passionate about the impact reading can have on children.
“Reading in so important in early childhood, as books can free a child, and give them the opportunity to think and imagine. By helping children express themselves in varied ways, books encourage them to understand and empathise with the lives and experiences of those who are marginalised.”
Pragat Shikshan Sanstha came across StoryWeaver – a digital repository of multilingual stories for children from Pratham Books – and in it discovered a source of stories in Marathi, the language of the region. All content on StoryWeaver is openly licensed under CC-BY4.0 and can be read, translated, downloaded, printed, and shared for free. Through StoryWeaver, the organisation has access to many joyful stories in Marathi but without having to heavily invest in buying books regularly.
It’s story time!
Pragat Shikshan Sanstha curated a list of stories in different levels across a variety of themes and topics, and circulated it amongst the teachers who were being trained in using storytelling as a medium for language development.
These teachers also double up as librarians! The teachers choose from the circulated list the stories they think will work best for their students, download them as per their class’s requirement, and conduct read-aloud sessions. Each library has a tablet and a projector which the teachers use to project stories off StoryWeaver. They also conduct various activities – art & craft, book reviews, games, skits, etc. – around the books to help extend learning.
Pratham Books was fortunate to watch one of these wonderful sessions at a Zilla Parishad school in the region. The classroom had a projector donated by a local badminton association and some computers from a corporate organisation.
Bohra Bai teaches Class II and III in the school. She first did a little warm-up with the children before asking them to sit down. The story she had chosen that day was नाताळची भेट by Annie Besant and Alicia D’Souza, and translated by Sandhya Taksale. Bohra Bai started from the cover page. She urged the children to note everything on the cover and predict what the book could be about. She got them to make connections, relate it to their own lives, and pointed out sight words. Basically, everything you would expect a good teacher to do with a good book.
Prakash Anubhule, Project Director of the Nurturing Early Literacy programme for Pragat Shikshan Sanstha, says about their training sessions:
“We have regular sessions on conducting good read-alouds, and the different activities one can do with the books. The teachers value this training.”
When we took Bohra Bai aside to ask her a few questions, young Diksha took over. She continued to read the story aloud to her classmates, and did a tremendous job of it!
“Storybooks with illustrations help children imagine and understand better, while learning about new cultures or things they don’t see otherwise.”
“For example, with Sam’s Christmas Present, they learned about the festival of Christmas, and the food people eat during Christmas. Children from villages have never seen or eaten things like that,” shared Bohra Bai.
Stories can be an excellent tool in the classroom, an idea Bohra Bai strongly agrees with! “Stories really help children expand their vocabulary. For example, they learn proper usage of words they use otherwise in their day-to-day lives in various dialects. This really helps language development.”
“Going forward, we hope to create more books for children, with imaginative illustrations. These will help children understand and tackle issues and problems they might face. Encouraging children’s own creative writing is also on the cards, with StoryWeaver as a create option,” says Dr. Nimbkar of the organisation’s future plans.
Thanks to Pragat Shikshan Sanstha, 150 government schools in the Phaltan district have libraries and digital set-up. 30,000 children from Class II to VII listen to, read, and enjoy stories in Marathi and Hindi. Hopefully, these efforts will nurture a love of reading for life.
Help unlock a library and set little readers on a reading journey by donating a book! If you or your organisation work with organizations or schools that need books, please contact Pratham Books via email.