Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Let a Thousand Tongues Speak

Pratham Books is a finalist in the Google Impact Challenge. Our idea is to create an open source platform for children's books. We need all our readers and supporters to VOTE FOR OUR PROJECT IDEA so that we can win this grant and make this dream a reality.
Our project will build collaborative web platforms that solve the three major problems that affect children in India – a very low number of books available for them, a lack of linguistic diversity of books and a lack of access to funding for libraries and books so that children can experience the joy of reading.
Yesterday, we shared a brief note about the project idea. Today, Manisha Chaudhry, writes about the language situation of children's books in India and the need for language diversity. The post sets the context for why we want to build a platform that can tackle the problem of limited books in limited languages.


Manisha writes ...

“No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social realities. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached.” Thus spoke Amy Tan very perceptively about how languages hold a key to how we make sense of the world. If indeed it is so, then India is home to many distinct worlds. With over 122 languages that are spoken by over 10,000 speakers, it is a lush multilingual landscape with vibrant speech communities in constant interaction. 

We would like to see this vibrancy reflected in the world of Indian language publishing also. And even more so in the world of children’s publishing. We believe that all children have a right to be educated and that means so much more than what happens in a classroom with a text book. It must mean something larger if every child is going to have equality of opportunity within and after school. Books beyond the prescribed texts are as important as what the teacher teaches in the classroom. They open windows to the whole wide world of information, emotion, ideas, communication and imagination. They are indeed the key to what can make education integrated and holistic for every child.

For a young child who can best express herself in the mother tongue, it is vital that her first books are in the language she knows best. They not only help her to acquire the basic skill of reading that is needed in school, they also help in making her world whole and complete. Once she has learnt to read with meaning and enjoyment, it opens up the world to her and makes her an autonomous learner. She should have a wide array of choices available to her but most often that is not so.

In most Indian languages, there is not enough being published for children. A lot of it is not well produced or culturally rooted. Many languages find no representation at all in the canon of children’s literature. The tribal child who grows up with a rich repertoire of songs, art and stories will be hard put to find a book that reflects these traditions.

At Pratham Books, we publish engaging and affordable books in up to 12 Indian languages and have recently ventured into publishing in four tribal languages of Odisha. Written by tribal authors from Saura, Munda, Kui and Juanga languages, these will be the first books for children created by people working in early childhood education. They recognize both the tribal traditions of knowledge transfer as well as the demands of a formal school education and have written stories that best reflect this transition. 

It is by engaging with language communities across the country that Pratham Books is going to create children’s literature that speaks in many voices. This is how the joy of reading and stories becomes democratic and perennial.


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