No schools = no books = no reading

By 19 Feb 2019

Books Day – Books For All was born during PrintPack 2019. Ramu Ramanathan discusses why gifting one book to a child you know - and one to a child you don't know is so important

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Away from the big deals and JV announcements and crores of kit purchased, Day One of PrintPack 2019 saw the launch of Book Days - Books for All. The concept was simple. Donate a book to a child you know. But much more importantly, donate a book to a child you don't know.

At the end of the six days, more than a thousand books (and not textbooks or educational books) were shared. Print CEOs who are grandfathers picked up a copy which they promised to gift to their grandchildren. Visitors pocketed Indian children books published by Tulika and Katha - and returned the next day for more. Top publishers sent boxes of books to the Welbound stall where the books were displayed, ready to be gifted.

Books Day – Books For All was born during PrintPack 2019. The teams at Impel-Welbound and Henkel were discussing the power of books and how to promote books among grown-ups and children and just about everyone.

The idea stemmed from three small stories, and like all tiny tales, having Vyapam-type implications.

Time to tell three tales

1. While PrintPack was on, I was visiting a poor village with a population of 20,000. During a tour from Maharashtra to Gujarat, I met girl students from class II and class V. The adivasi children could not formulate a sentence in their mother tongue nor spell a word correctly. A visit to the nearby school was an eye-opener. One ramshackled room housed three classes who were taught by one male teacher. This male teacher also rang the school bell and served the mid-day meals. Needless to state, government inspectors would downgrade this school, and then whatever little chance these girls, will evaporate forever. Such is the future of education in our nation.

2. This is not some rural disaster in a remote village. The municipal corporation of the biggest and most powerful city in this country, BMC has taken recourse to the sale of prime property (from school buildings to public libraries) under the guise of privatisation of education. State governments, from Uttrakhand to Karnataka are following this practice. As more and more households ramp-up their education spends, the education spent by governments is depleting.

3. In 1966, the Kothari Commission spoke about how all children in a neighbourhood, should be drawn from diverse backgrounds, and be able to study and socialise together in a common public space. What this means is, children’s right to education, learning in one’s mother tongue and teaching science in government schools. Now, this is not some sort of Socialist Utopia. This is the organising principle of school education in G-8 countries like the USA, Canada, France, Germany and Japan.

The Right to Education Act

Before the nay sayers start to heckle, please note, this holds true in Modi's NDA regime and even Dr Manmohan Singh's UPA regime since the Right to Education Act was created in 2009.

Gandhian educationist Anil Sadgopal who analysed the Education Policy in India, says, "Very few realise that the schedule of the Act prescribes inferior and discriminatory infrastructural and teacher-related norms and standards. When the Act is fully implemented, two-thirds of the primary schools will be denied a separate teacher/ classroom for each class. More than three-fourths of the primary schools and more than half of the upper primary schools (Class V-VIII) will be without a headmaster. It implies that a single teacher will be simultaneously teaching the syllabus of more than one grade in a single classroom."

In the amendment to the RTE (where a record number of Bills were passed while our attention was distracted by-elections in five states in December 2018), the government passed legislation to make education for children in the 6-14 age group free and compulsory. On the face of it, all Indians should welcome The Bill. But if you study the document carefully, it is a law to snatch away the rights of children since it only guarantees the right to education for children in the 6-14 age group. Plus it creates layers of education with its classification of government-run and private schools.

How so?

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Bill, 2019 does away with the no-detention policy mentioned in the law. Anil Sadgopal of All India Forum for Right to Education and a vocal critic of the privatisation of education, said, "Now this idea has been borrowed from the United States' 'No Child Left Behind' programme. Its objective is to demolish the well-established public-funded school system. It achieved this by testing children frequently and then labelling the schools as 'non-performing' and weeding them out, rather than supporting them to improve. This widely discredited idea has ready acceptance in our government because this will hasten what the RTE Act is doing, which is demolishing government schools, thereby promoting profit-making schools."

No schools = no books = no reading

Interestingly this corporatisation of education began under India's two most literate Prime Ministers, Narsimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajyapee. Consider the government’s own data, out of 100 children who are admitted in Class 1, only 17 pass out of Class 12, if we take into account children from all sections of our society. If we break down the figure, only 6 per cent of tribal children, 8 per cent Dalit children, 9 per cent of Muslim children and 10 per cent from the OBC category pass the Class 12 threshold.

Educating children in class 9 to 12 category requires 1.5 per cent of the GDP which amounts to Rs 90,000 crores a year (very conservative estimate) and also requires the same amount for educating children in the higher education category. The total stands at a Rs 3,60,000 crores a year.

More than fiscal deficit, India has entered a phase of literacy deficit. And so, while India is shining all the way, we are also creating a nation of illiterates.

A nation of illiterates

Meanwhile, government apathy continues.

Just recently Loksatta newspaper's top scribe Madhu Kamble unravelled how 30,000 rare books that belonged to the Mantralaya library were packed inside gunny bags and dumped into a Tardeo godown along with termites and rodents. Please nb: this is the same state government which launched a Book Village and a Railway Library on three popular trains. A Reading Day was inaugurated with a lot of fanfare on former president Kalaam's birth anniversary.

The question which Madhu Kamble and indeed PrintWeek India asks is, should we take a government (and remember, they come and go) seriously when it says Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, if it is not able to salvage precious gems in its own library.

Which is why the print industry (not just the captains) will have to take a bold step forward.

1.4 billion Indians gift a book

Imagine what will happen if 1.4 billion Indians gift a book (not one, but many) to each other.

This is contrary to what a spiritual and motivational speaker said at a print conference in Mumbai. She said, don't start your day with reading. And the captains of our industry applauded.

I say, reading is good and books (any book, be it Holy or Unholy) can be your best friend. I sincerely believe, books may not change our suffering, books may not protect us from evil, books may not tell us what is good or what is beautiful, and they will certainly not shield us from hunger and disease. But books grant us myriad possibilities: the possibility of change, the possibility of illumination, the possibility of knowledge.

As a top publisher said, when he backed Books Day, "The next 20 years will see over 500 million young parents in India, and it is possible they will impart no reading message downwards if they have not been reading themselves. The ramifications are visible in the workforce one sees in retail malls and call centres. There is an army of disjointed and inarticulate, and possibly dysfunctional youth being unleashed on the job market. They are ill equipped to take forward the boom that has been promised."

With a population of 1.4 billion (over half below age 25 and nearly two-thirds below 35), a working-age population of about 850-900 million and a labour force of about half that number, one might expect that it is simply a matter of time before India becomes an economic superpower. But the reality is different.

For starts, printers and publishers and print buyers can make a difference. Start a reading day campaign, minimum of four days a week. This can percolate to the customers, colleagues and indeed children and grandchildren.

Time will tell how big an impact Books For All (or for that matter initiatives like FPTA's Paper Day on 1 August and Katha's Reading Day) will have in this country. But the possibilities are humbling and infinite.

Do read a book! Do gift a book!


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