Five years after introducing library and support activities in 35 schools in underserved rural blocks near Varanasi, our children's scores are 12-16% ahead of others in better resourced areas. The libraries are helping overcome disadvantage. We now need to go to more schools, and renew our collections. Please help!
We are a group working (from the late 1990s) to improve the quality of government school systems to make a difference to the lives of marginalized children. We have supported the library intiative (or 'pahal' in Hindi) through our own earnings, books received from donors, and the active involvement of the community and teachers.
We help state governments improve curriculum and textbooks (10 states), train teachers (17 states), as well as MHRD (development of the Quality Framework for RTE 2009), and numerous NGO programmes. Pahal libraries run with children's active participation in 35 schools (including community support in 12), with plenty of interaction around books. Two communities have set up additional libraries in the villages. Active forums for youth, girls and women, and children have emerged. This led to 'whole village visioning exercises' in 50 villages, where the community envisioned the kind of village they want to become. Many also adopted practices such as providing children a designated place to read at home, or asking children about their reading, or giving the child a book as a birthday gift (needs special effort, with no bookstores nearby!). In a study involving 2500 children, those supported by our libraries 10-16% ahead of those in control schools. Teachers' feel that 'children are able to read the text on their own, which makes a big difference when teaching!' Our manual to help teachers convert a library into learning is set to help other schools as Oxford University Press has expressed interest in co-publishing it with us.
We need to renew our existing libraries in 35 schools, and establish new ones in 15 more schools. We need books now also for upper primary as many of our children have moved to higher grades. In the coming months we would like to introduce a 'Read to Babies' Programme where young mothers are encouraged and oriented to the kind of 'reading' and oral language exposure they can provide their babies from the earliest weeks - as this will help mitigate the 'word gap' and learning gap that is already evident by the time children join school.