StoryWeaver’s repository of over 38,000 books to promote reading literacy

By 15 Dec 2021

The CBSE has partnered with Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver for a two-year initiative to increase reading ability of the students. Himanshu Giri, CEO, Pratham Books, tells Dibyajyoti Sarma of PrintWeek, why this is a good idea

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) on 20 September announced – the CBSE Reading Mission, a two-year initiative to increase reading ability of the students. Under the mission, the CBSE will provide quality-reading material in both Hindi and English to more than 25,000 affiliated schools. The reading material will be suitable for students of classes I to VIII. The CBSE will partner with Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver and Central Square Foundation to launch the mission.

The board said it will offer a number of student enrichment activities focused on language building during this mission to enhance reading skills of students. In line with recommendations of the NEP 2020, under this mission, the schools and teachers shall have access to a repository of English and Hindi children’s storybooks and supplementary resources. Besides this, the CBSE would be extending the CBSE Reading Challenge (English and Hindi), presently organised for students of classes VIII-X to students of classes VI-VII.

The mission will help build a culture of reading and the wholesome development of students by enhancing their vocabulary, deriving connections between stories and their own lives, and exposing them to new ideas. In an exclusive interview, Himanshu Giri, CEO, Pratham Books, shares the details.

What is Pratham Books’ precise role in this project?
The Reading Mission will impact young learners across CBSE’s network of 25,000 schools, including Kendriya Vidyalayas, the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas, Central Tibetan Schools, schools run/ aided by state governments and private independent schools.

The objective of the CBSE Reading Mission is to promote reading habits among students by setting up a structured reading framework for schools. Under this mission, which is in line with recommendations of the National Education Policy (2020) and the NIPUN Bharat Guidelines, CBSE schools and teachers will have access to a large repository of openly licensed high-quality English and Hindi children’s storybooks and supplementary resources for classes I to VIII via the Pratham Books Reading Programme. These resources, which can be read for free, will be available in English and Hindi on Pratham Books’ open-source digital platform, StoryWeaver (storyweaver.org.in). StoryWeaver will support the Reading Mission by empowering teachers with training materials, and conducting engaging virtual reading sessions and activities through periodic Teacher Connect interactions where teachers can share best practices, showcase their work and share inputs on the programme design.

How will children attain numeracy and literacy by class III?
The mission is focused on reading acquisition among children, and is not directly linked to numeracy and literacy goals. At Pratham Books, we believe that reading is a cornerstone to basic literacy, and that for children to become readers, they must have access to storybooks in the languages they speak and learn in. Language supports cognitive processes required for learning. When children read in a language that they speak and understand well, they learn more, are better placed to learn other languages, are more likely to stay in school, and enjoy a school experience appropriate to their culture and local circumstances. The genesis of the CBSE Reading Mission is based on this core belief.

Furthermore, our storybooks are graded according to reading levels rather than age, based on reading proficiency (emergent, early, independent, fluent readers). This encourages children to read in a non-judgmental way. We do not prescribe age groups to our storybooks, as our catalogue is vast and multilingual.

What is the methodology of this project?
With respect to the method of delivery of the CBSE Reading Mission, the reading framework is being disseminated to teachers of CBSE schools through the Pratham Books Reading Programme, a free, easy-to-use guide containing curated books and activities for six months for classes I to VIII. Every month teachers can access a new theme, through this structured programme, which has 36 storybooks from Pratham Books in its schedule. The storybooks are grouped by grade-appropriate themes featuring diverse topics, and each storybook is accompanied by engaging activities to hold children’s attention.

The programme can also be used offline through StoryWeaver’s Offline Library, keeping in mind the digital divide that continues to exist in India.

How vital are printed books to boost the quality of education in India?
While digital literacy has opened the doors to new possibilities, particularly in the wake of the Covid pandemic and school closures, there is nothing that can quite replace the magic of a printed storybook in the hands of a child. Particularly a child from an underserved community who has never had access to a storybook in her mother tongue. We have worked hard to take our storybooks to the last mile underserved child, especially in marginalised languages that have traditionally been oral languages.

Creating storybooks in these languages has in many ways brought stories to life for the next generation of children from these communities, opening windows to new worlds for them through storybooks in their mother tongue.

What is Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver?
As a not-for-profit publisher, Pratham Books created a new paradigm in multilingual publishing — a low-cost, high-volume model that distributed over 30 million storybooks and story cards to children across India. Yet, with 200 million children in the primary school age group, one of the questions that we kept coming back to was: how can we continue to bring books to children in a sustainable and scalable manner to accelerate progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 — Quality education for all? So, in 2015, we did something very unconventional for any publisher — we decided to leverage open licenses and technology to tackle the wicked problem of knowledge inequity. We created StoryWeaver, a digital platform built for scale, to address the scarcity of books for children through a new approach for book creation and distribution.

How does it help with literacy outreach?
At its core, StoryWeaver is a repository of high-quality, openly licensed multilingual storybooks. Everybook is freely available in multiple formats. They can be read online, and keeping in mind the digital divide, can also be read offline, downloaded, printed and even repurposed.

StoryWeaver hosts content from other global publishers as well. Translation tools on the platform help customise the books for localised requirements and an image bank of more than 54,000 images allows users to create new books. These resources become available to other users as well, creating a multipliereffect and amplifying impact.

StoryWeaver was launched with 800 books in 24 languages in 2015. By creating a participatoryframework, we have distributed the ability to solve the challenge of scarcity of children’s books. This has helped scale StoryWeaver’s repository to over 38,000 books in 300 languages with an online readership of over 13 million, in just six years.

Today, StoryWeaver is a platform built on networks composed of all the key stakeholders working on children’s literacy: governments, educators, librarians, NGO partners, parents, and of course, children.

Pratham Books works with public and private institutions. This project benefits CBSE schools. What happens to the underfunded, understaffed, government schools? Is there any project for this section?

We have several ongoing partnerships and more in the pipeline to reach the last mile child, a goal that became even more important after the pandemic. The Covid- 19 pandemic pushed us to innovate and introspect, as schools closed and the digital divide widened. Missed Call Do, Kahaani Suno! was a campaign we ran last year in several phases, where children could listen to hundreds of delightful audio stories in English, Hindi, Marathi and Kannada for free, using even a basic feature phone. We have done a lot of work over 17 years to make our storybooks available and accessible to children in many languages and many formats, both online and offline.

FIVE PRATHAM BOOKS THAT EVERYONE MUST KNOW ABOUT

Satrangi Ladkiyan aur Ladke written by Kamla Bhasin and illustrated by Priya Kuriyan; Your Body is Yours written by Yamini Vijayan and illustrated by Aindri C; Ikru’s First Day of School, a wordless picture book by Sunaina Coelho; On the Metro, a Big Book written by Neha Singh and illustrated by Rai; and I Wish.


How can the book printing industry and paper industry in India help with this project?
As we continue to strive to share the joy of reading with children everywhere, and to build a Reading India, we maintain our USP as a non-profit children’s book publisher to keep our storybooks affordablypriced. To that end, we do not make a profit on the sale of our books, and are always finding new ways to get our printed storybooks to as many children as possible.

Rising paper and printing cost shave hampered our work in a big way, particularly after the onset of the Covid- 19 pandemic, and while we understand that every industry has been hit by the economic downturn, it would help us greatly in our mission to work with suppliers who can keep our printing costs down, so we can continue to reachevery child with the joy of reading. Despite all the challenges brought about by the pandemic, we do not want to compromise on the quality of our storybooks, which have brought joy to the lives of millions of children all across India.

Tags: StoryWeaver

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