Schools alone can’t teach children to read

Schools alone can’t teach children to read

Joel Turner


Schools alone can’t teach children to read
Kids need time and space outside the classroom to practice reading. Here is how one community in Bangladesh is responding.


This article was originally published on Medium.

Believe it or not, schools alone can’t teach kids how to read. Kids need an enabling home environment — parents or siblings that encourage reading — in order to enrich the concepts they learn in the classroom. But kids also need to have fun. And when kids associate reading with fun, good things happen.

Good things are happening at Shromo Kallyan Public Library, a small library located in the village of Purba Daliram in the northwest corner of Bangladesh. In February, this library hosted a children’s reading festival. Over 800 people were in attendance, including primary school-aged children, siblings, parents, village elders, and just about anyone within a five-kilometer radius. There were craft stations, there was music, and yes, there was dancing. Simply put, it was the place to be.

The library grounds were abuzz with activity. It was a carnival-like atmosphere and the children of Purba Daliram were the guests of honor. At the entrance, an enterprising old man sold fried snacks from a pushcart, taking advantage of the voluminous foot traffic; a librarian was leading a story time to a young, attentive audience; children were thumbing through locally-produced picture stories (courtesy of Bloom); inside the newly-constructed children’s corner (a large, free-standing building reserved for reading activities), a group of kids were huddled around a collection of Android tablets, taking turns navigating the latest reading game.

The annual reading festival has become the most anticipated event in the village, but Shromo Kallyan Public Library wasn’t always viewed as a place for kids to learn. The library was formed in 2010, by a group of local youth that wanted to form a committee to assess and address challenges faced by their community. The committee eventually formed a space that, in addition to hosting community meetings, would serve as a public library. But at the time, even the committee members didn’t see children as one of their target beneficiaries. After all, it is the schools that are charged with educating children.

This changed in 2015, when members of the Shromo Kallyan library committee took part in a Beyond Access training, led by IREX and Save the Children in Bangladesh. The training focused on low-cost methods to transform the traditional library into a vibrant, child-friendly space. Librarians learned how to engage the community — school teachers, parents, older siblings, to serve as change agents capable of dramatically transforming the educational experience of children in their communities.

Today, Shromo Kallyan is a space for children to access books and other learning materials in a fun, print-rich environment. In communities such as Purba Daliram, schools are filled beyond capacity, meaning children attend classes in shifts. This results in fewer contact hours and less opportunity to practice reading.

The library, long seen in many western countries as a natural extension of the education system, can play a vital role in increasing a child’s exposure to text in an informal environment. In Bangladesh, despite being a country with a rich and storied tradition of local literature and poetry, such an idea is relatively new. But things are changing. Kids in one village are learning that reading isn’t just the key to a bright future, it can also be a little fun.

An initiative of IREX and partner organizations, Beyond Access is a movement of people and organizations committed to the idea that modern public libraries help drive economic and social development.