Monday, May 10, 2010

A New Best Friend

(Veena Verma's guest blog post for today is a wonderful post to start the week with. Veena has worked as a Learning and Development Manager at Godrej Industries for three years before she joined Teach for India. Teach for India is a nationwide movement of outstanding college graduates and young professionals who commit two years to teach full-time in under resourced schools and who will become lifelong leaders working from within various sectors toward the pursuit of equity in education. In the last year Veena was a class teacher for a third standard class of 56 students at Holy Mother's English School in Malad, Mumbai. You can follow her blog here.)

Books have always been my best friends. I remember telling this to my 57 children in the first week of school. I stopped for effect and looked on as many of their jaws dropped, some wore the most quizzical expression and a handful couldn’t care less. Cut to today – and I have tens of children make a beeline outside the library every single day waiting to be blessed with a book by their teacher. And the word has spread – it’s not just them (my own bundles of joy from 3rd standard) but also their siblings, some of them a year or two younger and some of them much older. The little 3 feet x 2 feet cabinet I got literally looks like a treasure trove. The little bit of effort that I take in keeping the best, most colourful books in full view and behaving as if reading them is the best reward one could get has gone a long way in making them attractive not just for my third graders but also to many of the teachers in school.

I remember the time when almost 40 weeks ago, I started reading a story from a Value Education textbook to the class - every child in my class has one of those – and got dismayed very quickly because the words were too big and the sentences too complex. That’s when I decided that each child in my class needed to have her own set of books and those which will help them progress from simple to complex.

The day I discovered Pratham Books and then turned them over to check the price, my joy knew no bounds. I wrote an impassioned plea to all my close friends to help my cause of building a library for my children. One very close friend – Kienjle Devani - sent it out to all her friends and family and helped me collect Rs. 15000. That is how it all began. A sizable lot of educated citizens like you believed that these children, whose school fees is Rs. 250 per month and who can barely afford much else, deserved the same joy and wonderment that we derived from books as children. And that it is just as important to choose the right book for them as it is for our own children.

My search for the appropriate books continued. I rejected some because they were not relevant to the Indian context, some because they were phonetically too divergent, some because the illustrations were not attractive enough and so on and so forth. For my own birthday gift I usually get books but this time I made sure that they were appropriate for children aged 6 – 12. After making scores of visits to stores like Crossword and Landmark, I came across Children’s book stores like Comet India Foundation and Sutradhaar. And I got my friends in other cities to visit such stores in their own cities to then pass on the books that I wanted.

Today I have a good understanding of what books my children like but because their reading comprehension has improved so much over the last one year, now I am open to almost all books that are grade appropriate. Reading Comprehension scores have gone up from 18% to 64% on an average (on a Teach For India standardised test) and the Reading Fluency class average has jumped up from 22 words per minute (wpm) to 80 wpm. Abhay Gupta who in the beginning of the year read @ 28 wpm today reads @ 98 wpm. And the only thing that can hold him down to his bench and keep him engaged is a NEW book.

I want to use this platform to thank all the authors, illustrators and publishers who have put in so much thought and effort into creating a world of wonderment for children. For my children it is like going up in a hot air balloon and looking at the same everyday things from a different view. The ride itself is adventurous and it makes everything else around them come to life. It not only widens their horizons and offers them information on myriad things but also sparks off their imagination to nurture creative thoughts.

And just the other day I took up the same Value Education text book and read out a story. And this time they were hanging on to every word I read, making my own learning about them complete – that they are ready for more!

My wish for my children is that may this only be the beginning of a long and loving association with books, may their quest for newer stories put their own imagination to test and may their fondness for their new best friend never cease for want of a new good book.

If you think you can help my high-spirited bunch of 57 third graders who are all geared up for fourth grade by giving away books that your own children have outgrown please let me know. If you know of a publisher who may be willing to give away some books that are lying in his inventory, sad and unused, let me know. If you know of an association that does a book collection drive, let me know. If you have even a single book for 6 – 12 year olds, call me. We’ll find a way to create a union that’ll have increased the wonderment on my child’s face and put a smile on yours.

I teach for India...


Class teacher – Standard 3

Holy Mother’s English School

Kurar Village – Malad (east)

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