A bird’s eye view will give you an inkling of a big open classroom. As you come close you can easily recognize many classrooms within the classroom wherein some teachers are teaching one single student each, while some others are teaching two and the rest three, four or five students. This was - ‘Reading Mela’, organised by some vigilant citizens in collaboration with local philanthropists and self-help groups as part of the reading campaign of Delhi Government to ensure every child in government schools can read text in Hindi.
“I came to know about the ‘Reading Mela’ through posters so I brought my daughters here. They have difficulty in reading their respective textbooks and problems in mathematics,” said Satnam Singh who has brought his daughters at a Reading Mela in Baldev Park, Geeta Colony of East Delhi. His daughters – Harpreet Kaur (in grade III) and Jaspreet Kaur (in grade II), are students of Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in Chandra Vihar. They were taught only around an hour by a teacher but were happy.
“In the classroom, the teacher reads the text herself and explains it to us. She sometimes asks students to stand up and read but never solves our difficulties individually,” said Harpreet Kaur. Here the volunteer teachers first conducted a brief reading test to assess her then started teaching her. “We have a five level test – character (alphabet), word, paragraph, story and advanced story. We first identify weakness of the students and then adopt highly focused approach to improve their standards,” said Roop Mohan Sharma, a volunteer teacher.
So, how much are these ‘Reading Melas’ effective in terms of teaching the students reading? Are they organised regularly at the same place?
The organiser of the event, Ashok More, who is also a member of a School Management Committee (SMCs) of the government school said, “It’s practically not possible to teach reading in one sitting but we succeed in creating awareness in the locality. We conduct the fest on a rotational basis in every assembly constituency.” The melas are not restricted to government school children but any child in any standard can participate in it. However, the majority of the students were from government and MCD schools. Children from private schools who had learning problems also attended the fest with their parents and guardians.
Isha, class II student in a convent school was also there to improve her fluency in reading. “I can read but have problems with big words and long sentences. Here the teacher taught me on how to read the complex paragraphs,” said Sagar, a class IV student of the nearby MCD School. The organisers had made arrangements for refreshment as well to make the learning a better experience for the children. A XII standard girl Laxmi was also attending the fest as she was unable to read her English textbook fluently. “A teacher who regularly attends the fest has agreed to give me free tuitions for reading. I am hopeful to improve,” she said. The elite and middle-class men and women of the community have volunteered to serve as teachers.
“The decision to start reading campaign was taken after the shocking revelation that around half of class VI students were not able to read standard grade II Hindi texts,” said Atishi Marlena, Advisor (Education) to Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister Manish Sisodia. “We have so far organised over 700 Reading Melas in schools and community level. The purpose is to create awareness and initiative talk on reading among students,” she added. These ‘Reading Melas’ are organised with the active involvement of SMC members.
However, Delhi government could not achieve its target of ‘Every Child Can Read’ before Children’s Day on November 14, but according to the data of Directorate of Education (DOE), they have achieved a lot. The data suggest that as per baseline only 25 percent children of class VI standard could read an advance story, now it is 46 percent. At class VII the percentage of children who can read has now improved from 52 to 64 and for class VIII it has improved from 55 to 68 percent.
“Delhi government has initiated talks with MCDs to take this reading campaign to primary classes in MCD schools,” said Manish Sisodia. The DOE officials claim that as the result of the campaign almost one lakh more children have learnt to read advance stories.“Besides, reading problems ‘abusive words’ are a major problem in government schools. I shifted my daughter from a private school to Delhi government school in Geeta Colony in IX standard. She is so fed up with abusive words that she wants to quit the school,” said Purima Pandit, a parent in the area. The government needs to do a lot improve the environment of its schools to make it convenient and safe for middle-class children particularly girls.