Room to Read India: 250 Million Children Still at Home, But Learning Should Not Stop

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New Delhi: Room to Read’s flagship learning campaign, #MainJahanSeekhnaWahan where #IndiaGetsReadingAtHome, launched on August 15, 2021, spread awareness, and motivated parents and children to participate in the learning activities at home nationwide. The campaign culminated on September 8 – International Literacy Day, with a webinar ‘Learning in the New Normal: Multiple Ecosystems’ resonating with people from all walks of life from across the world. All the participants, including experts, academicians, practitioners, and influencers, were brought together to discuss and share their actionable insights on multiple learning ecosystems – Home, Schools, and Community.

Throughout the campaign, key offline and online activities included government and community activations, Virtual Delhi Book Fair 2021, launch of library content on ‘Nalanda at Home’ WhatsApp Chatbot in Maharashtra, wall murals/paintings, community meetings, literacy kit distribution, posters, and handouts distribution, mobile van library events (Camel Cart Library, Bullock Cart Library, Boat Library, etc.), reading together with family (Pledge Reading Time), and T.V. episodes.

Each statewide campaign included state-of-the-art initiatives that received applause from the State governments, local and school communities. The initiatives include:

  • Room to Read (RtR), in collaboration with the Government of Chhattisgarh, launched a Mobile Bullock Cart Library. This initiative resulted in engagement with their younger siblings and community children to encourage reading habits.
  • Room to Read established ten community libraries in nearby schools in New Delhi – Satimata Basti Camp – Jonapur village, P.G Camp – CPW Vasant Vihar, Indra Kalyan Vihar Okhla – Phase 1, Sagarpur Old Slum Basti, Safdarjung Enclave, Basti Smaypur Badli, Basti Shriram JJ Camp, Community Centre Arjan Nagar, Subhash Park Ambedkar Nagar, and Aya Nagar Community Centre.
  • Three mobile libraries vans were flagged off by the District Magistrate, Shivraj Singh Verma (IAS), in Madhya Pradesh, reaching 150 villages from August  15, 2021 to September 8, 2021.
  • The ‘Nalanda at Home’bot, a WhatsApp chatbot, was jointly launched on September 5 (Teachers’ Day) in the Nashik district of Maharashtra, with support from Motivation for Excellence, Room to Read, and the Nalanda Project in honour of the driven teachers ensuring that learning endures for all their students.
  • Launch of Camel Cart Library and Mobile Library Van flagged off by the additional District Magistrate, Madan Lal Nehra and Chief District Education Officer, Bhalluram Khichad reaching more than 30 villages across the State.
  • In Uttarakhand, the airing of jingles based on NIPUN Bharat and story-based 24 radio episodes of “Kuch Kisse Kuch Kahani” were broadcasted through community radio stations in collaboration with SAMAGRA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) during the campaign.
  • In Uttar Pradesh, Room to Read launched a unique boat library,and two mobile library vans were flagged off on August 18, by the Director Basic Education & SCERT, Uttar Pradesh, Sarvendra Vikram Bahadur Singh in Lucknow district and on August 28, by the District Education Officer, Rakesh Singh in Varanasi. ‘Boat Library’ was designed to reach the unreachable children residing in riverside slums and fishing communities in Lucknow and Varanasi districts.

At the end of the campaign, the webinar organised on International Literacy Day on September 8, 2021 – ‘Learning in the New Normal: Multiple Ecosystems’ was graced by the presence of:

  • Tami Katzir Cohen, Head of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Brain and Learning Disabilities, Head of the Language and Literacy Program, Haifa University, Israel.
  • Madhav Chavan, Founder, Pratham
  • Heather Simpson, Chief of Programs, Room to Read
  • Meenal Sarda, Associate Director – Literacy, Room to Read
  • Sourav Banerjee, Country Director, Room to Read India
  • Sheshagiri Madhusudan, Education Specialist, UNICEF
  • Usha Menon, Co-founder, Jodo Gyan; and
  • Shailendra Sharma, Principal Advisor, Govt. of NCT Delhi

As emissaries of Foundational Literacy, all the international participants explored how to reach beyond and focus on all aspects of the larger ecosystem contributing to a child’s overall development to ensure that Learning beats all odds and continues.

Dr Tami Cotzen emphasised, “From neurons to narratives: The mind and education can be stimulated by teachers and parents. We need to train them on how to have positive interactions with the young learners. We must focus on the emotional, cognitive landscape as the basis of Comprehension.”

Heather Simpson, Chief of Programs, Room to Read, said, “Literacy and books can support students’ socio-emotional well-being. Fictional stories present relevant scenarios that help children understand and deal with emotions. They can help build relationships and safety networks for children.”

Dr Madhav Chavan, Founder, Pratham Foundation, said, “The first thing to do during the pandemic is to stabilize children’s Learning in the face of widespread loss of life in and around their families. We need to engage children through relatable and fun activities, and literature can lead to effective Learning.”

Sourav Banerjee, Country Director, Room to Read India, said, “In the new normal, Learning is multi-faceted, with focus on resources across all mediums. Recent experiences in the field show that offline resources definitely are more effective in promoting Learning in early grade children. Home and communities have emerged as necessary spaces of learning today.”

Shailendra Sharma, Principal Advisor, Govt. of NCT Delhi, said, “It is important to bring learnings from the past into exploring solutions for today. Digital resources may not be the answer. We need to explore offline resources to ensure Learning in the current times.”