“Our main idea is a book in every child’s hand” – Rajesh Khar, editor of Pratham Books, a non profit publisher.
On 1 January 2004, a group of friends set up the Pratham Books trust to ensure that every child gets a chance to read and learn in their mother tongue. The initiative emerged from the Pratham Education Foundation, when a group of people who worked in underpriveleged areas found that the only reading material available in their languages consisted of teacher learning material (TLM) aids to be used by teachers.
Khar explains, “Education has to be imparted to a child in her mother tongue. Language plays a very critical and despite being a country with a rich tradition of storytelling, children did not have anything to read in their languages. The group wanted to create a readership program on how to impart knowledge when you don’t have books.”
Pratham Books believes that stories written in the mother tongue help children to develop their language skills and trigger curiosity and imagination. The publishing house published 10-15 books initially; gradually the number reached hundreds of books annually. It now produces books in 24 Indian languages; each book is translated in these languages. “Last year we produced 700 books. This year we probably produced almost 1000 books,” Khar adds.
Storyweaver – content in 115 languages
Storyweaver, Pratham’s opensource platform, is a huge treasure chest of stories that allows anyone to create their own stories by downloading and translating the stories as long as credit is given. These can be downloaded in Word and PDF format, and printed and repurposed. The platform currently has 1,00,000 stories in about 115 languages. The transcripts are not limited to Indian languages and include spoken languages such as Khmer, dialects of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as tribal languages. The storyweaver platform has an offline feature as well that allows downloads of up to 15 books offline.
“In fact, just yesterday, we were about to add another language spoken in Latin American countries,” Khar says. The platform also allows anyone to download illustrations for creating new stories. It also has audio, GIF and video libraries for incorporation in more engaging forms of storytelling.
Pratham books also has a book donation platform called Donate A Book (DAB). It is a unique platform where anyone who needs books can raise a campaign asking for books and the organization connects and guides them towards people who can donate books. Pratham books also collects crowdsourcing funds to provide subsidized books to those who are in need of quality reading material.
Read-along audio stories
Pratham Books launched Readalongs and Hyper Local Libraries in 2018. Readalongs are a set of audio stories in Hindi and English for children to engage them in reading. “Readalongs help children not only to develop reading skills but also teaches them how to pronouce particular words, improve fluency in the language and teaches them the correct accent. Sometimes, supervisors, teachers or parents might not be able to give sufficient attention to a child. Readalongs are meant for children who enjoy reading,” Khar informs.
Hyper Local Libraries encompass local reading material. The local translators translate a story in their language which can later be printed or go online. Pratham Books empowers them with complete independence to assemble their libraries and content.
Giving an insight on the new developments at Pratham, Khar explains, “From this year, we are launching non-fiction in story-like form. Subjects like science, maths, environment, and history will be presented in a child-friendly manner so that the child will feel like she is reading a story while learning facts.”