What if someone told you that almost 50% of the students in government schools in rural areas are first generation learners? If you were the quintessential pessimist, you’d probably blame the archaic education system for this sordid state of affairs. Room To Read, however, has a diametrically opposite viewpoint.
The international non-profit organization started by former Microsoft exec John Woods looks at the positive side and believes half a class of students coming from families with no previous educational background whatsoever is a great start.
Room to Read, which Woods founded in 2000 after a long stint at Microsoft, takes enhancing education as a challenge. The organization mopped up $249,000 (Rs1 crore) from global banking major Credit Suisse on 16 April 2007 for a programme aimed at educating underprivileged children in India.
The amount will be invested in a host of literacy programmes, including construction of educational infrastructure — libraries, computer labs and public reading material in local languages in the Capital. The Delhi state government is a partner in these initiatives, which seek. to provide elementary education (primary and secondary education up to 14 years) under the Sarv Shiksha Abhiyaan programme.
“We have already built computer labs in Dakshiunpuri in South Delhi, Khajuri Khaas in North Delhi and Jodhpur district in Rajasthan for slum-dwelling children, who will be familiarized with new technology and multimedia software. Our trained local community members will help facilitate a quality teaching learning process”, said Sunisha Ahuja, country director, Room To Read. She claims no other NGO in the education space offers such teaching methods.
Says Paul Calello, CEO-Asia Pacific, Credit Suisse: “In India, we have been focused on supporting long-term educational opportunities for disadvantaged children and have tied up with Room to Read for their expertise in this area in Asia.”
Reading material under the local languages publishing programme has been designed to offer context and relevance to children. For instance, each book comes with a poster that has a small poem explaining its theme. Through its books, Room to Read tries to sensitize the child towards his environment. ”The book, Pankho ki kitaab, for instance, tells a story of how an injured bird helped by children returns the favour by helping them with a project on birds they have to deliver to their class. This spirit of thanksgiving has injected humane feelings in the children,” explains Ahuja.
Room to Read, which made its foray into India in 2003, currently runs its activities in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan. The NGO now plans to set up education facilities in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, UP, Bihar by 2008.
The organization has been able to garner financial assistance from global institutions such as Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, First Boston, UBS, Scholastic, Microsoft and Google. Around 60% its funds come from private sources and family foundations, 20% from corporations and the rest from traditional foundations.
The fundraising consistency has helped Room to Read build 3,600 libraries, publish 47 new local languages titles and donate 2.8 million books. At present, the NGO claims to support 1,000 schools in India, including 300 in Delhi. It plans to build 115 schools and add 400 libraries this year.