Children in remote areas can now read books other than their school texts thanks to an initiative by Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the Directorate of Elementary Education. Vaibhav Shastry finds out about the programme’s far reaching impact

M. Vineetha of Class VIII knows interesting trivia about science that many of her friends are not aware of. She shares facts and is the first to head out and do more research on the latest project given to her.

For S. Nandini from class V, comics give her the laughs and information she needs after her day in school.

These are not girls from privileged backgrounds. For them, access to an education doesn’t come easy. Hailing from a village called Kalikkanaickenpalayam, they have to walk a few kilometers to school. There are four small classrooms where they sit on the floor, often cramped for space.

Survival on a daily basis is quite a struggle for their parents, with their fathers working as daily wage labourers. Their parents run the household with the bare minimum that they make.

Bright future

However, a novel initiative by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the Directorate of Elementary Education launched during the World Book Day on April 23 this year could well ensure that the future of the younger generation turns out to be brighter.

About 5.94 lakh students from Classes I to VIII, from remote villages in the city are getting access to additional books and reference material, which will not just promote the reading habit but also keep them updated with news from around the world.

Sixty children from the Panchayat Union Middle School at Kalikkanaickenpalayam have been enrolled in a library located close to their school, and learn more about the world around them with exposure to quality reading material.

Making a habit of it

“All children have to compulsorily read at least one library book every week. Most of the children head straight to the library after school or after tuitions and spend an hour there. There is a marked difference in their confidence levels in the classroom, and the additional time spent at the library keeps them away from distractions like the TV,” says Roseline Rajammal, headmistress of the Panchayat Union Middle School at Kalikkanaickenpalayam. “When the children are now given a project, they automatically head to the library and search for additional information, without using the Internet as the primary resource,” she says proudly.

Resource centre

The library at Kalikkanaickenpalayam, located at a small single floor space less than a kilometer away also doubles up as a public library with private college students, local poets and writers making use of its big collection of over 11,000 books apart from periodicals, magazines and newspapers. The annual subscription fee is Rs. 20 (Rs. 5 + Rs. 15 deposit) for village and town panchayat libraries, while it is Rs. 30 (Rs. 10 + Rs. 20 deposit) for Corporation and municipal libraries. For those unable to afford this amount, sponsors have come forward to finance them.

“The librarians went on door-to-door campaigns to talk to people about this scheme. There was a positive response from various clubs to sponsor them. There was also an elderly man, who didn’t have the benefit of an education himself, donating Rs. 100 so the children could benefit from reading books,” says District Library Officer J. Karthikeyan.

Benefiting the parents

For some uneducated mothers, getting their children enrolled in a library has worked out much to their benefit. “I did not have the fortune of going to a school. However, my daughter teaches me new words and reads out stories from books she gets from the library,” says S. Revathi, a homemaker.

For the 24 children of classes IV and V at the Panchayat Union elementary school in nearby Chikkarayapuram, reading sessions in the library have brought out innovative creative output of their own.

“The children formulated 50 questions in each of the five subjects and answered them all while enacting a Thiruvilayadal for an annual day function,” says P. Jayamani, headmistress of the Panchayat Union Elementary School at Chikkarayapuram. This particular act gained them recognition all over the city.

The Readers’ Club in the library also organises monthly reading competitions to encourage the children to compete with older readers and improve their confidence levels in front of an audience. This initiative goes to show that distance need not be an impediment when it comes to access to knowledge.