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In the recent budget on 1 Feb 2023, the Union Finance minister Smt. Nirmala Sitaraman announced that the Govt. Of India was planning to set up a National Digital Library for Children and Adolescents and the books to be written to cater to these age-groups. Another point, the books have nothing to do with the curriculum. Such books are entrusted to be published by the National Book Trust (NBT) and Children’s Book Trust (CBT). This step is in response to the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2022 conducted by NGO Pratham that showed children’s basic literacy during COVID-19 had taken a big hit and their reading ability worsened. Even before the Pandemic, report after report of ASER amply made clear that a fifth-class child in rural India was not able to read a second-class book fluently. To be able to read well is the first step to progress in education. And understanding what is being read (for some children don’t understand what they read) is the following/next step. Reading is a life skill. As far as children are concerned, they should be allowed free-reading more and more. For free-reading to happen they need to be provided with the different genres- books viz. books on history, adventure, family values, science/scientific fiction, ethics, civic behavior and mannerism, stories from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata and novels of their standard.
Undoubtedly, children would love to read any books other than the superimposed curricular books. For, the books provided in the National Digital Library are for enjoyment rather than for testing and grading. Of course, the books should have “comprehensible input” i.e. the input provided in these books should be understandable to the child. To be ‘understandable’ meant: the vocabulary, the text or diction in it and also the background knowledge of the text has to be of their level. Because what is not understandable is uninteresting to read. Hopefully, the National Book Trust would look into all these aspects while preparing the National Digital Library. This Digital Library is to build a “culture of reading” in general among children and also to make up for pandemic-time learning losses.
In India, only parents of affordable sections in society buy books for their children to read. Since the children of that section develop their reading and understanding capacities their progress in education is rapid. In addition to that, their imaginative and creative capacities increase. Lamentably, in the poorer sections of society children lag behind, as the parents cannot afford to buy the extra-reading material (other than their school books. Of course, all state governments and the Govt. at the Centre provide textbooks free of cost to the poor in the country). This deprivation of extra-reading material becomes a disadvantage to the poor and unaffordable. Hence, the proposal to set up this National Digital Library for Children and Adolescents for facilitating the availability of quality books across geographies, languages, genres and levels, and their device-agnostic accessibility is a well-thought-out step by the Govt. of India. But this step is not enough to motivate the children to read. Nowadays, many children and grown-ups are losing the habit of reading because they are viewing things they need on multimedia.
For children, the interest in reading develops over a period with the encouragement of parents and also teachers to an extent. Not all schoolchildren have reading habits. Because reading requires a lot of effort on the part of a child to do by himself/herself. This has to be acquired. It begs a question: how many children would spare their time to read although it is useful to them? In this digital-age, children have moved on to viewing pictorial stories on-screen or listening to them rather than solitary reading. Undeniably, reading is a lonely activity, it also gives pleasure to the reader in understanding and contemplating what is written in the text. Eventually, the Digital Library for Children could be another text with the multimedia effect to attract them. In the Digital Library, children find umpteen books from which they can select the one they would like to read. This kind of “self-selection” of reading material encourages the child to read more and more. As grown-ups, we all experienced that if someone gives us a book as a gift, we tend to pile it up on our book-shelf. On the contrary, if we go to a book stall and select a book on our own, we would like to read it. Because our own selection would suit and compel us to read. Unless we have a compelling desire to read (sometimes because of the narrative i.e. storyline, the theme and characterization would appeal) no one reads a book.
Reading is for life. Adolescent learners need to read any reading material cleverly and smartly. They cannot read the entire library in any case. Hence, they need not waste time reading all books from beginning to end. Not all books need the same attention i.e. to completely read them. Here, the selection of books works depending upon the reader’s interest. Adolescents should also learn the techniques of reading viz. skimming, scanning, intensive reading and critical reading. Whereas, these skills are automatic to adult readers. Adolescents need to skim the text in the book in a superficial or cursory way to get the gist in some books. They need to scan for particular points minutely i.e. the items of importance they need. Some books have to be read intensively i.e. between the lines to infer. In some, they need to go beyond the lines to evaluate or make a critical analysis. This way, they learn more from each other. As Francis Bacon aptly said in this regard: …’ Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.’ Adolescent readers’ books need to attract them to gain knowledge rather than just information that they get outside. India i.e. Bharat has been a knowledge hub from time immemorial. With this introduction of the National Digital Library, the country would again develop by leaps and bounds to acquire that status once and for all.