Fate of elementary school libraries in India
There is no way to blame the coming of portable visual technology in drastically reducing quantity of reading through printed paper and increasing disinterest in Libraries. School Education in 21st century have just dramatically forgotten value of libraries, the values that one can get flipping books sitting in libraries and the whole philosophy around the library method of learning. Libraries have merely remained for the purpose of issuing books. The school education has no doubt more driven towards the education that has quick (economic/grade) returns. The axiom accepted by everyone is that mere reading is good for anything. Paradoxically, the curriculum per se has so much focused in functional linguistics, Mathematics, Science and other vocational courses that the opportunity cost of the time for leisure reading is comparatively very less.
The degree of informational acquisition and cognitive development that can happen through mere reading during elementary education is underestimated to a great extent and also ignores the fact that reading can help perform better even in those non-language subjects. Tons of research finding, e.g. done by American Association of School Libraries, has established that reading and library method learning significantly contribute to increase learning outcome especially in Language and also in other subjects too.
The significance of library in the school is not the library as a space but the type of books, the time and freedom provided to children. The time and space provided to children to reveal and express their own choice without or least interference and also the variety of books children are exposed to is how we prepare our children to have their independent stand of thought. The aesthetic and moral values one can get through engaging and reading varieties of books is how we nurture a child to become a good citizen of a nation. These opportunities are seldom given to children even in low fee paying schools; it is much away for schools managed by States. But majority of children in India are from rural and most of them are enrolled either in low-fee paying schools or public schools. This also predicts the future of the nation.
There is very high disparity in the distribution of libraries among the States of India though provision is same for all States. According to data culled from 2013-14 report of Education Development Index Manipur (26.25%), Arunachal Pradesh (25.9%) and Meghalaya (10%) are the states that have least number of schools with library, private and public together. As per DISE data Manipur do not have libraries in more than 85% of elementary schools managed by Department of School Education. Manipur (9.9%) and Arunachal Pradesh (8.3%) are the states that spent least in Education sector. Consequently, these states perform least in the Education Development Index.
For Manipur, learning outcome has no correlation with the poor expenditure on schools from State budget because more than 73.3% of total school children are enrolled in private schools, which is highest in India. The above statement is drawn from ASER data as Manipur, unfortunately, do not have its own tools to measure children’s learning outcome in public schools unlike states like Rajasthan have.
According to Sec. 19 of Rte. Act of India and Sec. 11 and Schedule of Rte. Act of Manipur schools should have library and as per SSA school central libraries shall be funded using the one time Grant or the recurring School Fix Grant. There are enough ways and provisions in the existing system to set up libraries in the schools. It is not about which State can or cannot maintain libraries in school but about why it is children in public schools not given the opportunity of library, it is about the attitude of the State and the mass as whole towards library as an space of learning in elementary schools.
By 1930, school leaders in US started the movement of ‘Why not a centralised elementary school library’. In 1935, New York passed the first permissive legislation to allow schools keep bulks of book in the schools in the form of a library. American Association of School Libraries had been since 1940 and especial committee was established. Such were the attitude of US towards elementary school libraries as a separate department apart from school, much before India’s independence. There is no clear mention about Library across any educational policy or any committee’s report in India. India just included the word library in an Act in 2009, Rte. which is also in a vague sense (in the Annexure for recognizing a school, but not explicitly/implicitly applicable to the already existed school) and in almost negligible scale implementation.
Relative to the time elapsed since India became republic and the number of human resource India has brain-drained, we are much late or something gone missing in our concept of Education that we failed to push for the similar movement, ‘Why not a centralized elementary school library’ across the country. It is now a right for all children that parents and educators are ought to ask ‘Why not a centralised elementary school library’.