15 October 2019

Why books are our best friends

By Anviti Singh

The opening line of one of the poems of Safdar Hashmi is, ‘Books want to say something’, (kitabe kuchh kahna chahti hain). And he is right. Books do want to say something but only to those who strike a chord of friendship with them. As the popular saying goes, ‘books are the best friend of people.’ It becomes pertinent that from children to grown-ups everyone should develop a friendly relationship with books and strive to make them an essential part of their lives.

But the reality is that the culture of reading has not developed in every part of our country. Moreover, in states where it has made its presence felt, it has not seeped in every strata of the society. Consequently, majority of children get to know the concept of books only when they enter a school to initiate their formal education. It is to be noted here, that a school is a formal structure which runs according to a pre-planned schedule in a controlled manner. Books too, comes under its purview and are taught following syllabus and lesson plans. Interestingly children have a variety of books in their bags but do not have the freedom to go through them at their own will. In such a situation, hoping that children will be able to develop a friendly and healthy relationship with books seems to be a far-fetched idea. Accordingly, these academic books- especially the Math and English ones, become the cause of nightmares to most children.

A cursory look at the milieu of children attending government schools, reveals the fact that a major chunk of the population belongs to lower income group families and are in dire need of affirmative actions from the government. Moreover, in most cases, they are first generation learners. Let alone books, availability of printed material in any form is scarce in their homes and even if their parents are educated enough to guide them, they are engaged in arranging their livelihoods and are of no help to their children, in studies. Evidently, the school and teachers remain the only pillar of support as far as studies are concerned. 

Now the question is, what steps should be taken at the formal and controlled environment of schools, to ensure that instead of being afraid of books, children befriend them and dive in their beautiful world?

Now the question is, what steps should be taken at the formal and controlled environment of schools, to ensure that instead of being afraid of books, children befriend them and dive in their beautiful world? It is a valid and pertinent question, keeping in mind the way a teacher introduces books to children on the very first day of school. Do teachers introduce the concept of a book to children in a proper and precise way?  Remember a book has its own vocabulary viz. the cover, the front page, the last page, middle of the book, page number, chapter name, bibliography. Do teachers help children in understanding these terms? Or do they presume that the children know all about books? Who ever has seen the movie ‘Taare Zameen Par’, can connect to the reaction of the protagonist Ishaan, who appears baffled when his teacher asks him to open the book to a particular chapter. A lot goes within the mind of children while they try to process the information/direction given to them. This process can be made easy for them, through proper introduction to all aspects of information. In this case- the book. It is essential to acquaint children to books and its vocabulary, before making them read it. The children should be encouraged to go through their books even if they do not know how to read it. The teacher should ask the children a variety of questions, so as to let them explore their books and to think about it in detail. 

In addition to academic books, the school library too can be an excellent source to arouse interest in children about books. it is better to leave children with age appropriate books so that they have enough freedom to go through them. They should also be asked questions about different aspects of a book, they seem to be interested in. This helps in developing their meta-cognitive abilities.

Nevertheless, the process of adapting children to school-controlled routines should be slow and designed in a phase-wise manner. At first, children should be made familiar with their books so that the process of following lesson plans and the class routine can become hassle free and easy. Believe me, once they are properly introduced to books, they will become a lifelong friend. 

(The writer is a pedagogue expert with Sampark Foundation. Views are her personal)