The Speaking Books Project
Eighty four million children in India don’t attend school.
Over a hundred thousand schools in India have just one teacher!!
Although the majority of students across this country, and perhaps many developing nations, have access to education, only a small minority of these have access to ‘quality instruction’.
These underprivileged children and their families deserve equal opportunity and a chance to broaden their horizons.
As government and non-governmental schemes continue to address this issue, countless parents despair of the fact that it is mostly in urban centres and to the more privileged that these opportunities present themselves.
The Speaking Books project, promoted by Roopantara Centre for Learning, in collaboration with Virtues First, USA will compliment in a small way the efforts of many other agencies in bringing not just educational material, but quality instruction within reach of the masses.
It would also serve as an invaluable resource for many teachers and educational institutions who themselves have limited access to programs aimed at upgrading teaching skills.
This project aims to contribute to three areas of urgent need - to develop the basic literacy skills of its readers, develop and nurture in the readers a keen interest to explore various avenues of learning, and last but most importantly, to reflect constantly on the context of true learning - individual and social transformation!
To build the capacity of the student in a way that empowers each one to take charge of her individual and social progress, and yet quiets the ego, is a formidable challenge, and the only way forward for a competition-weary generation, craving a better value system than the one passed on them by the previous generations, which in sheer ignorance gambled away their value systems at the altar of the ‘sovereign individual of consumerism’.
What is the Speaking Books Project?
What if any parent or teacher could access good quality study material, based on the academic curriculum of the required academic grades, accompanied by an experienced and skilled home-instructor - at a very affordable price? Sounds very improbable, but we are hopeful of achieving something along those lines with the Speaking Books Project.
We believe this can be achieved with a little spare time and effort from a small pool of dedicated, passionate collaborators, each lending their small share, over a period of a few years, to see this venture take root and blossom!
In the first phase of our venture, we are requesting a few friends – including you, to share one or two of your own inspiring short stories / songs / rhymes or creative puzzles / brain teasers.
If you can knit elements of your own life experiences and stories into the themes of your stories, that would be excellent!
[Length – perhaps around 100 to 200 words at the most. Age range – 3 to 8 years.]
Themes: Since this edition is only a trial run – to gradually refine our process and test the response of the readers to this format, we would like to keep the topics quite general and spread across a fairly large age range of 3 to 8.
75 / 25 Balance: An important thing to keep in mind though, is that we would like this edition to be in sync with local Indian culture /traditions where possible so we can connect more effectively with the masses of the readers.
If you happen to be a non-Indian, we would like you to share something from your local context, so these can be as windows to other worlds, and other perspectives, so that the unfamiliar gradually becomes familiar to the Indian reader!
At this stage, I would like to ask you not to worry too much about the final edition that will go into print, as we may come back to you with requests for some minor changes. We may also edit them a little if required.
I would like to request you to try and send in an item or two before Spring 2018, so we can consider a trial publication by the end of January!
Once we finalize the first set of 24 or so stories / songs / puzzles, I would like to request you to join us on the next step of the journey – to record the item in your own voice – completely natural in style, and your native accent – with verbal sound effects too if that is your style! (It could be narrated by you, or you and a small group of interactive listeners, like your family or friends – the more natural the better)
If possible, you could find ways to integrate elements that engage some of the 9 intelligences in creative ways, with the use of - art, drawings, puzzles, rhymes, songs, assignments, surveys, family activities, etc. (so it might be a story/ song and you would have ‘reflection questions’, or short projects appended, or suggestions for a certain drawing scheme / puzzle, a map of where you live or where the story unfolds, etc. The sky is the limit.)
Salient features of the Project:
The books will be printed on fairly firm paper, with little buttons beside each paragraph. When the button is pressed, the audio recording of that specific paragraph plays the audio file corresponding to that paragraph. (A prototype has already been developed and licence obtained!)
Although this is a non-profit venture, in keeping with good practices, 50% of the profits accruing from the sale of the books will be distributed to the authors and 50% re-invested into developing the project and for subsidies to be passed on to less privileged readers.
Publications will be under the name of ‘Roopantara Educaiton Trust’, but each author / contributor will be duly acknowledged for his / her specific contributions.
I have sent this request to a number of friends who I believe will be an inspiration to their readers. I also am very eager that the readers get to hear from a diverse group of writers with diverse experiences and who pursue various kinds of professions! Each reader would be unique, with her special set of aspirations and susceptibilities, thus making every story a possible bridge to connect with them in meaningful ways.
For some reason if the author of the story wishes not to narrate the item in her / his own voice, we can arrange for someone else to do this. Beyond the obvious advantage of helping the reader learn the right pronunciation of the words, this feature creates a special bond and sense of accompaniment between the reader and her narrator – which will ideally span a few years.
As the author periodically scripts new stories to suit the developmental needs and capacities of her students, we visualize the emergence of a pattern where narrator and reader can be seen ‘walking a path together’.
Once again, at this stage, I would like to request you not to worry too much about the subsequent publications. I think several rounds of consultation will happen before each ‘next-step’.
A few thoughts on our Methodology and Philosophy:
Today there is way too much emphasis on ‘performance’ and we are graded / labelled by our ability to do so. This is not really in keeping with our true nature. It pits one learner against another. Motivation to ‘perform’ is all too often driven by a hunger for ‘recognition’, and not the pursuit of excellence or the joy of learning. The learner gets confined and bound by warped motivational strategies, tragically undermining her ability to contribute to establishing environments where all labour in harmony to create a better world.
While we pen these new-age stories, it would help to keep in mind a rough framework that might include some of the following elements, among others - ‘the inherent nobility and equality of all beings, elimination of all forms of prejudice, our true nature and high destiny (essentially spiritual beings having a material experience), striving for excellence, modesty and humility, the imperative to view the world as one motherland, and all men as one family, unity of thought and action, celebration of diversity, consultation, collaboration, cooperation, reciprocity, equal opportunity and so on.
These essential elements of a global community approaching maturity can be taught very effectively through the most enjoyable medium – stories, songs, activities.
As I read the above quote, I visualize your stories meandering through countless neighbourhoods, touching many hearts and laying bare some ‘treasures’!