‘Reading should be part of curriculum’

By Neeraj Jain

Are books losing their charm? Are children today trapped in the digital world? How can parents cope with the changing habits of their wards? What role do schools play in encouraging reading habits among children? These are some of the questions which worry parents and teachers alike. But Neeraj Jain, managing director of Scholastic India, always sees the bright side. In fact, he has a completely different take on the impact of digital world on children today. He was in the city recently to hold an interactive session with teachers and principals of reputed schools and guide them to innovative ways of teaching.
Scholastic has presence in all the northeastern states for more than a decade. It has increased its presence in the region in the last five years. “We have had encouraging response from states in the North East, the dearth of good material available and focus on quality content makes us stand out,” says Jain during an interview with
The Shillong Times. He also elaborates on academic issues and the Indian book market.

Is the digital world adversely affecting reading habit?
I would say digital world has a limited impact on reading habit but we always find it easier to put that as the reason. If you look at the Kids and Family Reading Report (KFRR), it clearly points out a few things like, Kids love Read Aloud by Parents, Kids want read alouds to continue even when they become independent readers, they wish schools had more leisure reading time. If all of this is true then probably we are not giving them the right environment and assess to the variety that would help them become readers.

Has Google spoiled the natural quest for knowledge and enthusiasm to discover information in children?
Google has become the primary resource for getting information and that cannot be denied. In my view, rather than looking at this as a problem we should find ways of using this as an opportunity. If getting information has become easier then we should look at what do we post that and how do we authenticate the information and also focus on application of information.

Many school students want to possess Kindle. Do you think this is favorable for reading at a young age?
Again, very difficult to comment on what is the right age as well as what should be done to encourage students to read books. I always say, let’s take a step back and try and answer this question for us, what do we need to focus on children reading or children reading (what and how) the way we want. In my view first step should always be that kids read and leave both what and how to them. Once they start enjoying reading both can be managed.
In KFRR, 80 per cent of the children who were exposed to e-books and had read at least one book digitally, said that their preference was a print book over e-book.

Reading as we all agree helps in bettering language skills, among other things. But considering the Indian book market, especially for children, is not qualitative (for English readers). How much is it affecting children and how can this be checked?
In a market like India you would always have the issue of all kind of books available. In my view, India market has a lot of good quality books available what is more important is to have “Reading Specialists” who read current generation children books and then engage with kids on them. The bigger issue that I see is that people who are recommending books to children have not read these books and then they limit them to what they had read which more often than not is not liked by the children.

Reading in vernacular languages has decreased over the years. What do you think are the reasons?
This is a very real situation and since English is a language that connects this country and also since we see it as the language that makes us more marketable not only in India but also globally our focus has been much more on English in comparison to our mother tongue. This is the primary reason why kids today though can converse and understand mother tongue but find it difficult to read. Another reason is lack of quality books in vernacular languages. You either have limited original writing happening or books that have not been well translated.

How do you check for quality of books?
Content has to be authentic, appropriate, relevant as well as contemporary. At the same time it also has to be aligned to what kids want to read (KFRR clearly outlines this) and quality of production. Order of these points is also as important as the points themselves.

How should parents guide their wards before exploring the digital platform (in the context of reading)?
This is a very tricky question. I have always observed that guiding children on digital devices/platforms is a difficult case as mostly they understand these things more than the parents. I always feel that we have to lead by example and will have to practice what we are guiding them on esp. when it comes to devices / digital platforms.

Most of the schools in the country are yet to change their curriculum or way of teaching with time. What changes do you think are needed in schools to make children interested in reading and books?
The biggest change that is required is that schools would have start seeing reading as an integral part of the curriculum rather than seeing it as co-curriculum or extra-curriculum. Reading has to be at the heart of curriculum design and all the other things have to fit in around it.

How often do you plan to hold such sessions in Shillong/Meghalaya?
We at Scholastic feel that such engagements with schools and parents should be done on a regular basis and we would try our best to equip the schools in such a way that they can do such sessions on a regular basis with parents.

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