As part of Beyond Access’ cooperation with Save the Children on the USAID-funded READ program in Bangladesh, 20 public libraries throughout the country have begun offering early-grade reading services to children and parents in their communities. While Bangladesh hosts more than 5200 public libraries including those run by governments and NGOs, they have tended to serve older students and adults, missing an opportunity to serve as part of the country’s drive for children’s literacy.
Through Beyond Access, a group of library staff have been trained over the past year in using tablets and other materials to bring in younger learners and their families to supplement reading education at schools. Throughout the network, libraries are beginning to offer innovative reading activities previously unavailable in their communities and are providing a welcoming, informal space where children can learn to associate reading with fun and enjoyment.
Shromo Kallyan Public Library, Rangpur
Before joining Beyond Access, there were no activities for children and fewer than eight children a month visited the library. But following this year’s training, they began reaching out to children. “As a result of the using tablets in the past month, we’ve noticed a lot of children’s development. Children are learning correct Bangla pronunciation, they are learning to write Bangla letters and draw pictures on the tablets, and they are making stories through the Comphone app, which is enhancing their creativity,” said librarian Emam Hossain Emu. “We are also visiting schools to inspire more children.” The library is now averaging more than 300 children in a month, most of them tablet users.
Goalbazar Adarsha Gono Library, Sylhet district
Children have been exploring Bangla alphabet apps, and are learning new words by drawing pictures, listening to music, and watching cartoons on the tablets. The library has also seen an increase in parents visiting the library with their children. Whereas children previously weren’t among the library’s users at all, it is now serving an average of 10-15 children per day along with approximately two to five caregivers.
Nilima Islam Gono Pathagar, Sylhet district
The number users at this library has increased rapidly since librarians returned from Beyond Access training. In November, more than 1000 people visited the library, and over a third were children. Average monthly visitors were less than half that number earlier. Observing the children using the tablets for literacy games and apps, librarian Numan Ahmed remarked, “Now the children find more pleasure in reading and they are getting more interest towards the library.” The library has recently conducted a parents meeting, reading festival, and has started regular storytelling times.
Gyandeep Gonogronthagar, Tangail district
Library staff have begun offering regularly-scheduled activities for children. On Sundays, they offer tablet activities for children up to grade three, focused on arranging letters and learning numbers. On Tuesdays, the library hosts Bangla letter memory games on the tablets for grade two and grade three children. On Thursdays, parents attend with their children and have the chance to observe their children’s new skills. The library has found that on average, 26 children and six parents visit the library daily. Like many libraries in Bangladesh, the library has limited indoor space, so most activities use mats in the front yard.
These changes reflect the first experimentation with making use of the country’s existing libraries to serve as a focal point for community mobilization around reading, as well as using public access technology targeted at early readers. In November alone, among the 20 libraries in the Beyond Access project, nearly 2400 children and 850 parents have participated in reading activities.
-By Mubarrat Arfin (Sylvia), Save the Children-Bangladesh