100Books: Bengaluru volunteers take English to underprivileged kids, with 100 books and a tab

The books for the initiative have been selected with a view to develop an interest in reading, and most of them are pictorial and well-illustrated.

To make sure students of government schools are well-versed in the English language, a group of citizens has come up with a unique initiative in Bengaluru. 100Books is working to improve the English reading and comprehension skills of students in underprivileged schools in the city as well as neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

100Books was conceived by Vijay Mehra, a BITS Pilani & ISB graduate and a serial entrepreneur. Explaining its concept to Indianexpress.com, Mehra says a lot of schools that cater to underprivileged children teach English, or their curriculum is in English, but tests conducted by his group showed English-reading skills of these students were poor, and comprehension worse.

Mehra says more than 100 million children enrolled in Classes 1 to 5 in the country do not read books other than their textbooks, and do not develop English reading skills. Studies by this team have shown that students might even know how to read in English, but they have no idea what the words mean. This was the situation not only in government schools, but also the lower-end privately run English medium schools in the city, Mehra says.

To remedy matters, his group has come up with the 100 books program, under which each student reads a hundred, carefully selected books. Mehra says while the research for the idea began in late 2015-16, they started visiting schools from March 2017.

A pro bono initiative, 100Books is now working with eleven schools and communities with around 50 volunteers.

Each child reads four sets of 25 books each, with the difficulty level increasing progressively. The books are selected with a view to develop an interest in reading, and most are pictorial and well-illustrated. Each of the books has a customised vocabulary mobile application too. This customised vocabulary builder can be viewed either on a smartphone or on a tablet.

All of the schools currently covered under the initiative are government schools, and the volunteers go with the tabs and spend time with each child. The target group is Class 2 to Class 5, and it should normally take two to three years for the student to go over these 100 books.

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Only when the child finishes book 1 can he go to book 2 and so on till book 100, after which the child can read age-appropriate English books or content independently. The app is used for developing vocabulary before reading the book and testing the child as soon as he finishes each book for comprehension.

As it is a volunteer-driven effort, books are given to the child to take home and a logbook is meticulously maintained. It is a personalised plan as each child can learn at his speed and convenience.

Vijay Mehra has spent the last two years researching the content of the books. Through trial and error, he has arrived at the list of 100Books. The plan is that the child should know around 1,000 words when he finishes the programme.

Mehra says he has come a long way from being a specialist in semiconductor development to tackling English reading and comprehension in underprivileged schools.

Now the challenge for the initiative is scaling it up using technology and relevant e-learning methods. But for now, Mehra is focusing on taking it to a larger number of schools in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, all using the goodwill of volunteers.