Take 9 year-old Snehal, for instance. Born with impaired speech and hearing, she often struggled in school. There’s no measure of how deeply her learning journey was affected by her impediment. But a child is a child, and from the moment she first opened “Maaloo aani Kaaloo” (Maaloo and Kaaloo), a storybook from StoryWeaver’s Foundational Literacy Program, she was captivated by the new world among its pages.
Snehal Sampath, Grade 3, Kishtapur Aheri, Gadchiroli, Maharashtra
Snehal couldn’t read the book, at least not at first. But she could see the beautiful illustrations, and as she traced them with her fingers, as she turned pages to see how the story unfolded, she began to smile. Her teacher tells us that she used to copy the stories from these books to her notebook, and would retell them in her own words. Her parents were thrilled to see her express herself through the written word.
From curiosity, to reading, to writing – these are the journeys we celebrate today, on International Literacy Day. It’s been seven years since Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver took life online to help children like Snehal along their reading journey. And to celebrate our anniversary, we’re celebrating the right to read, in its many shapes and forms.
Pratham Books is the not-for-profit publisher of children’s books that aims to put a book in every child’s hand. Early Literacy is at the heart of our work. We know the power of reading to feed curiosity, shape imagination, and equip children with tools for social and emotional learning. The joy of reading is an extraordinary motivation for children to transition from ‘Learning to Read’ to ‘Reading to Learn.’ And we work to achieve this through a combination of methods.
Our storybooks are contextual, so that the child can relate to them. They are visually rich, to be attractive for the child. And finally, they are in the child’s mother tongue, so as to be as accessible as possible. Through our award-winning open source digital platform, StoryWeaver, we make thousands of such stories available easily to parents, teachers, and children in over 300 languages, all for free.
2020 was a year like no other. All over the world, the shadow of COVID-19 loomed large. School closures put an abrupt end to the planned learning journey for months to come. In the state of Maharashtra alone, 5.3 million* students of government schools were bereft of their regular learning environment. Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver, the Maharashtra State Council of Educational Research & Training (MSCERT), Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), and UNICEF came together to tackle this problem head on. StoryWeaver helped create the Goshticha Shaniwar Reading Program (Saturday of Stories).
Every Saturday, teachers, parents and volunteers would receive and disseminate the all-digital ‘package’ of storybook, posters, and activities via WhatsApp. The Program shone a light on the role remote learning can play in a student's life. As more and more children return to school, it falls upon us to continue this momentum and keep building their reading habit by providing regular online and offline access to interesting, relevant storybooks in mother tongue languages.
Language supports cognitive processes required for learning. They are intrinsically linked to culture and central to the identity of communities. It is said that children should be taught in their mother tongue for at least 6 years. According to Unesco, 40% of the global population cannot access education in a language they understand. StoryWeaver has been relentlessly working on the right for children to read in their mother tongue for the last 7 years. Through partnerships and language champions we have made available storybooks in over 300 of the world’s languages, 70% of which are underserved.
A 2021 study conducted by Azim Premji University in 1137 public schools in 5 states of India found that the learning losses due to school closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an average of 92% of the children losing at least one specific language ability from the previous year across all classes. At Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver we took this time to pause, reflect and build a suite of programs that would help teachers and parents bridge this gap - leveraging the power of stories.
Our Early Childhood Program supported early readers. The Reading Program guided children from Grades 1 to 8. The Foundational Literacy Program (FLP) built foundational reading skills. The STEM Literacy Program, to be launched soon, helps inculcate a STEM mindset. Each of these programs is linked to curriculum, learning outcomes and scaffolded with activities, worksheets, A/V resources and training videos - thereby making it easier for any teacher, anywhere to adopt the program.
At Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver, we believe that every child has the right to read. And we’re drawing upon the best of technology and open licensing to make sure that children can have uninterrupted access to the books they so richly deserve to read and enjoy. Not just today, but every day.