A group of children in Howrah’s Bagnan, for whom studies had taken a backseat during the pandemic, are finding it difficult to get back to books and reading.
A study centre they go to has started keeping Bengali comics to encourage them to read.
At Howrah Vivekananda Siksha Kendra, students come from a cluster of villages near Bagnan, most of whose parents are daily wage labourers who work in brick kilns.
The children go to government schools and the two years of pandemic have reversed whatever progress the centre in Raynagar made with them.
After the government announced the reopening of schools, the centre opened the doors of its library. But the books remained mostly untouched or not looked beyond the first few pages.
“We then started giving them comics (Handa Bhoda, Batul The Great) and saw that at least they were making an effort to flip through the pages and read,” said the founder of Siksha Kendra, Tanmoy Patra.
“The idea is to get them back into the habit of reading in the first few months,” he said.
The setback is deep and has impacted their academic growth, Patra said.
“There is a detachment from books. A student is in Class VII but his academic level is in Class V or even lower. Many of them are unable to read and many who are reading are unable to comprehend what they are reading,” he said.
“We hope the library classes will improve their academic performance.”
Books with only text will fail to interest them, Patra said. “Comics will at least encourage them to make an effort to read.”
The library classes are conducted every Saturday and Sunday for three hours, when 70-odd students from classes IV to VII come to read and also carry back books.
Sumana Pal, a senior student in charge of book distribution, found many students just staring at books with disinterest.
“When they first came to us we asked them to tell us stories but they were unable to do so. At the most they told us what they saw around their house. It was apparent that they had no opportunity to read,” said Pal.
The students are expected to narrate a story that they have read.
“Some of the children understand what they read and tell us the synopsis after finishing the story. But some of them are only mugging it up without understanding anything,” she said.