Welcome to Kishanganj

Posted by Menaka Raman on August 01, 2017

For the last 13 years, Pratham Books has published 300 titles in 18 languages and helped put them in the hands of 3 million children. But in a linguistically diverse country like India with 122 major languages and 1599 ‘other’ languages, achieving the mission of ‘a book in every child’s hand’ becomes a challenge.

StoryWeaver was envisioned as a means through which we could significantly scale the creation of joyful reading material for children in a language they’re fluent in, whether it’s a mainstream, minority, tribal or endangered language. These are languages that are traditionally overlooked by mainstream publishing. Since its launch, StoryWeaver has played a small but key role in the preservation of these languages, by providing language champions, teachers and authors a platform on which they can translate, create, download, print and share stories with ease and for free.   

Surjapuri is a lesser known Bengali dialect is spoken in pockets of Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and Bangladesh by 1.2 million people. In Bihar, the language is spoken in Kishanganj, Katihar, Purnia and Araria districts.

As many of the villages in the Kishanganj  district are located in the interior realms of the district, they have little by way of basic infrastructure and primary health care. The literacy rate is low and primary schools often lack even the most basic facilities. As most of the high schools are located in Kishanganj and Thakurganj towns which are far from the villages, girls tend to discontinue their education leading to a high drop-out rate.

The Azad India Foundation

The Azad India Foundation (AIF) was founded by Yuman Hussain in 1998 to seed initiatives in education and primary health care. The activities reach out to marginalized women, adolescents and underserved children from rural and urban areas of Kishanganj district. AIF has 73 learning centres impacting 3500 children directly in the area. StoryWeaver is periodically used in these centres.The children in AIF’s centres are aged between 6 - 9 years and are either school dropouts or children attending Madrassas. The centre’s syllabus includes Hindi, English, Science and Maths.

Yuman Hussain shared “The main aim of the initiative is to ensure that children are ready to merge with mainstream education in state-run schools by grade 4. Literacy initiatives play a big role in ensuring this. The children that I engage with at the learning centres have never seen a story book in their mother tongue. Even my teachers haven’t read books in Surjapuri.”  

Previously, AIF used printed storybooks in the centres and were limited by the number of books they could source. Plus, these books were not in Surjapuri.Through StoryWeaver AIF has access to thousands of stories free of cost.

“The reading culture among children is diminishing.” says Yuman. “I can put together a sizeable bank of stories from StoryWeaver as they are freely available and nudge the children towards reading. Before I came across StoryWeaver, I hadn’t thought of translating stories for the children. When I realised that it was so easy on the platform, I decided to give it a shot. The level 1 and 2 books were really fun and straightforward and I felt perfect for the children we worked with. Translating on StoryWeaver for children has made me realise the importance of picking the ‘right’ words in line with the reading level and the essence of the story. Also, Surjapuri has minor variations across villages, so choosing a word that would be understood across speakers was also an enjoyable challenge for me.”

The AIF Centres are not tech equipped as there are electricity issues in the villages. So Yuman picks stories to read to children or for translation at the AIF office in Kishanganj where there is better connectivity. She uses Google Input Tools for translations and then, pastes the text in the StoryWeaver editor. After translating the stories, they are downloaded, printed and distributed to teachers who then carry the stories to the learning centres to read to children.  

Yuman strongly believes that reading books in Hindi and English will improve the children’s language skills. “Plus, if educational concepts are taught through stories in their mother tongue and if we engage children in activity based learning, they are more eager to learn and will grasp the concepts better.”

Yuman was motivated by reading how other educators were using StoryWeaver in their classrooms.

“The stories were received very positively by the children. The stories in Surjapuri, the mother tongue of the children, left them amazed. I plan to keep exposing the children to more and more stories with the hope that they will then start to read voluntarily over the course of time.”

Watch this short video about AIF.

 

 

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