Imagine if the language you speak to your friends, think your funniest thoughts in and dream your bravest dreams in, is hardly known in your own country, and might even reach an early death in two decades. To ward off this isolation acutely felt by Kora and Santali, tribal languages spoken in communities across West Bengal and Odisha, Suchana has been working towards their preservation with quiet determination fuelled by their love for literacy and a zeal for preserving adivasi languages.
Suchana, a 10 year old community group, works in Birbhum, W. Bengal towards the education of pre-school to class 10 children from Santal and Kora adivasi communities. Suchana knows that when education knocks at your door, it must come in a language that you understand. Entering a school room can be daunting for a child from an adivasi background as she or he is expected to know a state-language that they or their family have never learnt, or have been denied access to. Our education system is missing out on a huge cultural opportunity here by not being inclusive of more languages, and thus not reaching out to children who need education the most. This tragedy of education not benefitting children who are trying to break centuries-old shackles of being looked down upon as an adivasi is profound.
This is where Suchana steps in to ensure ‘Right to Education’. They have made it their mission to make sure that Kora and Santali are looked upon as legitimate, literacy-inducing languages, and that ‘adivasi school going kids’ can just be school going kids. They aim to sustain cultural identities and promote literacy among the tribal and underprivileged communities through their education programs. As far as they know, they are the first organization to have created children’s books, or in fact any books at all, in Kora.
One of their key educational initiatives, Mobile Library, was started in 2011 with children of 6 villages. Today, the library travels in two vehicles, covers 25 villages and has 1135 members. It consists of books that are written in multiple languages, especially in the tribal languages (Kora and Santali) that children can relate to and learn in. Children who have never held story books in their hands or understood their importance now have access to joyful reading material that’s related to their education and growth, along with creativity and imagination.
Kirsty Milward, Founder of Suchana, says, “In Santali and Kora – and other adivasi languages – there is no children’s literature at all. This is at least partly because until the current generation, most adivasi children did not go to school. Among the (still quite young) mothers of Suchana’s current adivasi students, for example, 80% never went to school at all. So where was the need for children’s books in those languages?”
We are proud of our association with Suchana. The organisation’s teacher-translators have been able to develop supplementary reading materials in Kora and Santali at a much faster and prominent way through StoryWeaver. Currently, 27 Kora books and 19 Santali, both in Bengali script are on StoryWeaver. Suchana has printed 10,000 copies of these books for their mobile library and are exploring loading e-books onto SD cards to disseminate stories on low cost mobile phones.
It’s a huge step for languages that were near obscurity and oblivion, to be suddenly sailing the digital waves and ready to be accessed by the whole world in the form of beautiful stories. Read these stories in Bengali script in the tribal languages of Kora and Santali.
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Pragat Shikshan Sanstha is an educational enterprise that supports schools, teachers and children in the district of Phaltan and other nearby areas. The organisation works with students through their own flagship school and after school programmes, and also trains teachers in good educational practices in government schools. By engaging 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.” 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. The idea was to get more teachers to use more books in their classrooms and libraries through read alouds and storytelling sessions.
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, downloaded them as per their class’s requirement and conduct read aloud sessions. Each library is equipped with 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 schools in the region. The classroom was equipped with a projector donated by a local badminton association and some computers (in working condition) from a corporate.
Bohra Bai, who teaches grades 2 and 3 in the school, first did a little warm up with the children before asking them to sit down. The story she had chosen that day was ‘Sam’s Christmas Present’ by Annie Besant and Alicia D’Souza in Marathi. Bohra Bai started from the cover page and urged the children to note everything that was there on the cover and predict what could the book 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.
“We have regular sessions with teachers on how good read alouds are done, what are the different activities one can do with the books and the teachers value these training.”
When we took Bohra Bai aside to ask her a few question, young Diksha took over and 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, along with learning about new cultures or things they don't see otherwise. For example with this book Sam's Christmas Present, they got to know about the festival of Christmas or the food that is eaten during Christmas as children from villages have never seen or eaten things like that.” shared Bohra Bai.
When asked about using technology in the classroom, she had this to say: “Projecting stories help catch children's attention better because this is new for them. Its interesting because it looks like TV to them.”
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 get to know options of words in proper language that they use otherwise in their day to day lives, in dialects of that language. This really helps language development.”
A total of 150 Government schools in the Phaltan district have libraries & digital set up from PSS. About 30000 children from Grades 2 to 7, get to listen, read and enjoy stories in Marathi and Hindi.
“Going forward we hope to create more books for children with imaginative illustrations and help people understand the importance of illustrations. Create literature to help children understand and tackle issues and problems. Encourage children’s own creative writing.”Be the first to comment.
My first StoryWeaver workshop took me to Hyderabad. I was officially on the training side of the workshop, but since this was my first, I experienced those two days with two different batches as a participant too.
50+ educators, resource people, librarians and program managers from 12 different organisations and schools poured into the room and were brimming with energy even before the workshop began. Payoshni, Senior Outreach Manager and trainer for the workshop, talked about StoryWeaver - our open repository of free children’s books, its practical uses in a classroom, and the way it can be used to enhance a child’s world from all aspects like cognitive approach, social skills, comprehension, logical thinking and aesthetics.
Teachers became curious students and asked us countless questions that spanned across queries about our features, to the efficacy of the platform itself. It was a delight to see them realize the applications of StoryWeaver in the classroom. Once they understood the intricacies of creating, translating or releveling (simplifying or making a story complex) stories on the platform, all of them were eager to try their hand at bringing about their own creation on StoryWeaver.
Sandhya Damodar, Pudami Schools, Hyderabad talks here about the various applications of StoryWeaver in a classroom and specifically the advantages of being able to ‘relevel’ stories:
The fact that the stories on StoryWeaver are free to use, read, download and print was exciting and important for teachers who came from schools based in rural settings. Active discussions ranged from how to preserve the accuracy and sanctity of a language through translations. Concerns unfolded about how some languages need more original content for the children, and one way could be to create and translate in that language on platforms like StoryWeaver.
In this short video, workshop participant Shadab Ahmad, Focus High School, Hyderabad talks about how StoryWeaver will help him in getting Urdu stories across to his students and also about the ease of publishing good stories on the platform.
The childlike joy of the teachers working in teams with fellow educators whom they didn’t know previously, and raising their hands to read their created stories out loud was infectious. They proudly presented their work in front of everyone and laughed along with everyone at the bits they got wrong or where they themselves had added humor! Some of them are still active on the platform and creating/translating/releveling stories for their students, for fun, or to contribute in some way to their favorite language.
As we wrapped up the two-day workshop, it was a comfort to know there are educators who are eager to learn about how to improve a child’s experience in classrooms. And not just that, they want to do it through the art of stories.
Here are a few pictures from the event!
A big thank you to Dr.Reddy’s Foundation who made this wonderful workshop possible and all their efforts in bringing the best opportunities to their children. If you are interested in hosting a similar workshop for your organisation, drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.