How did this unbelievable situation arise in a Bihar State often maligned for being non-responsive to initiatves to do with elementary education?
Colourful, lovingly-written and well-produced books are on the way to thousands of little ones attending school in over 70,000 government schools in Bihar. In fact, three truck loads of children's books got sold out in just two and a half days! And teachers who could not buy books on the third day were so disappointed that they created a ruckus in Gopalgunj, reported 'Hindustan', the Hindi language newspaper from state-capital Patna. The book fair organised by the Bihar Department of Education, was the first in the series being held in all districts of Bihar.
How did this unbelievable situation arise in a state often maligned for being non-responsive to initiatves to do with elementary education? The Central govenment recently decided that schools could utilise 2% of the funds given to them through Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan to buy books and resources to improve reading levels. The goverment of Bihar decided to use this fund to encourage all schools to buy story books for students of class 1 and 2. The first step was to call independent publishers to provide books for distribution across Bihar. The next step was the selection of books by reading experts. The third step was to get publishers to sell the selected books through melas in 37 districts between November 23, 2008 to January 7, 2008.
Bihar selected 20 books and 20 story-cards from Pratham Books. In a massive operation, the Pratham Books team set out to print, dispatch and make available books for sale in the melas, many in remote and not-easily accessible places in Bihar. With ample help from the local members of our partner NGO, Pratham Education Initiative, we've hired people and vehicles to assist us in this unique initiative from Bihar. The demand for more books in the very first set of melas, in Saran, Siwan and Gopalganj, is an indication of the interest that teachers have to go all out to improve reading levels among their children. Bihar's initiative is a model that can easily be replicated in other states to improve reading levels among young students.
Even as this blog is being written, our colleagues are doing brisk business in West Champaran, East Champaran and Muzzafarpur. The 20 books and 20 story-cards packed together in flat cartons, are being bought by teachers for their school libraries. Multi-tasking is the order of the day, as our team leaders hand over the books, keep an eye on the money box, count out small change, make sure the cheques that they receive are filled in properly, dispatch assistants to deposit cash in the local bank, answer a petulant teacher who wants to know why he can't have one of the BIG cartons that he sees in the corner. And what about your food and water, I asked ? Well, that's just not as important as 'putting a book in every child's hands' my colleague shouted into his mobile phone just now!
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