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20 September, 2018 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 18 September, 2018 11:26:45 PM

Bishwo Shahitto Kendro

DEVELOPING READING HABIT FOR 40 YEARS
Maria Mohsin
Bishwo Shahitto Kendro

“Robinson Crusoe was the first book I ever finished reading on my own, and for the first time, that book taught me how one could travel around the world in one’s imagination” said Nusrat Jahan, 25, a school teacher from Dhaka.

“In 2005, when I was in class six, our school introduced us to a book reading programme, under which I was given a new book every week, and at the end of the year, there was a quiz on the books we read. There were prizes for the students who passed the quiz. That first year, I hadn’t read a single book I borrowed, as I found reading boring and it seemed like hard work to me. But in class seven, when my best friend got a prize and I didn’t, I decided to start reading. The first book I read, which was not a textbook, was a Bangla version of Robinson Crusoe and by the time I finished the book, I fell in love with reading. Now, you can say I am a bookworm!”

Bishwo Shahitto Kendro (BSK), or World Literature Centre, was behind the book reading programme Jahan was talking about. The non-profit organisation has been working for four decades to promote reading among youths so they will develop enlightened minds and progressive ideas. The motto of BSK is ‘Alokito Manush Chai’, which means ‘We want enlightened humans' in Bangla. The centre is now helping to brighten up more than 2.5 million young minds, as that’s the number of their members at present.   

In 1978, the World Literature Centre started its journey just behind Dhaka College on Mirpur Road (near New Market) with a very small group of readers. Now, the centre is housed in a nine-storeyed building on Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue at Bangla Motor and includes four hall rooms, a cinema hall, a library, conference rooms, book shops, picture and art gallery, world cinema and music library and cafeteria.

M Firoj Alam, personal secretary to BSK chairman, said: “This building is a wonderful place for readers. The gallery and the library are designed so book-lovers can experience the real joy of reading. There are more than two lakh (200,000) books in our library, which is open for all to come, sit and enjoy reading.”  

Muhammad Rezaul Hannan, a retired college teacher, who was sitting in the library and reading, told this correspondent: “I come here to read in peace. I have been a permanent member for a very long time and this place is like heaven for me as I can read all day long in here.”

The most famous project of BSK is the reading programme for school and college students. The nationwide 'enrichment' programme mainly started from 1984 and at first, only schools were included, while colleges were added from 2010. The programme is an effective and successful initiative that offers students the chance to read a carefully selected collection of high quality literature, which is perfectly suited to diverse ages, ability and tastes. Each student can borrow 16 books over 25 weeks. At the end of 25th week, a quiz is held on the books read and the students who pass are called out for a colourful ceremony and awarded prizes.

Muhammed Zafar Iqbal, a popular science fiction writer and a professor at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, has been involved with BSK from the start. He also teaches some courses on literature at the centre.  

“I am invited every year to the prize-giving ceremony for readers and every time, I am surprised to see so many students taking interest in reading. It gives me a special kind of joy to hand over prizes to the students. I love reading books and when I see those students, I feel like they are related to me,” Iqbal told this correspondent at a recent science festival in the capital.

As recognition of BSK’s contribution to promoting reading habits among youths and innovations in the field of education, it was given UNESCO's prestigious education award, the Jan Amos Comenius Medal, in 2008. BSK was founded by Abdullah Abu Sayeed, a popular writer and TV presenter, who himself has received many important awards, including Ramon Magsaysay Award (2004), Ekushey Padak (2005) and Bangla Academy Literary Award (2011).

“Our chairman, Abdullah Abu Sayeed, dreamed of an enlightened nation, and he believes people can get the light of knowledge only by reading beyond textbooks. That’s why he has been working to enlighten our young minds with books for 40 years now. But without the help of the education ministry, we couldn’t have achieved the result we have today,”said Firoj Alam.

Realising the impact and effectiveness of BSK's ‘nationwide enrichment programme’, the Ministry of Education decided to support the project and began funding it from 2010. The programme was included in the ministry's Secondary Education Quality and Access Enhancement Project (SEQAEP) from 2010 to 2017, and renamed ‘developing the reading habit programme’.

By 2017, the reading habit programme covered around 25 lakh (2.5million) students of 14,000 educational institutions across the country. Some 250 upazilas have introduced this programme in all of their schools, colleges and madrassahs.

Mesbah Uddin Ahmed, joint director (programmes) of Bishwo Shahitto Kendro, said: “When I first started working here in 1999, there were only 300 schools across the country that were included in our book reading programme. By 2005, the number of (participating) schools had doubled to 600. But after SEQAEP included our programme and started financing us, we saw an unbelievable growth in our numbers. Right now, there are 14,000 schools and 506 colleges and more than 25 lakh students that are involved in our programme. About 70 percent of them are active readers, and they have regular interaction with us.”

Ahmed added: “The SEQAEP programme ended in 2017, but the government has assured us that they have a bigger plan for us, and we will be included in their next project very soon. But even though we are not getting funding from the government this year, we are conducting all our activities in the same way and we plan to continue doing that.”

While visiting the BSK building recently, this correspondent met some students from Siddheswari Boys College. Raihan Uddin, one of the college students, said: “We are already members of the college book reading programme, but we came here to become members of the library as we want to read more books than what we get in our college. I am addicted to reading and I came here before to sit and read in the library, but now I want to take the books home, too, and that’s why I want to be a permanent member.”

BSK has officers who coordinate the reading programmes all around the county. They also train at least one teacher from each school to manage the programme internally. Besides encouraging book reading, they also arrange different extracurricular activities, like preparing wall magazines, poster-making and book reading competitions on different occasions. BSK also helps to establish school libraries and sells books at the cheapest prices to the schools and delivers them at their own expense. Sometimes, they also give books as donations.

BSK also pioneered the concept of ‘mobile library’ in Bangladesh. The mobile libraries transport books on specially designed vans to the doorsteps of the readers across the country. At present, around 20,000 general readers borrow books from 46 mobile libraries at 1,900 localities of 56 districts.

“We have another interesting project going on all year round, all over the country. That is a mobile book fair. It’s happening in every small part of Bangladesh through the BSK vans. People can enjoy the fairs for a particular time and buy books,” Ahmed said.  

Another project of BSK is ‘Alor Pathshala’, which is a website and mobile application designed for using its e-library. Through the app, readers can get easier access to books online and read what they like.

“Alor Pathshala is a new project for us and we have seen a huge response to it already. In this digital world, we have to spread the light of reading virtually,” Ahmed explained. “We started this e-library in 2014 and till now, 1,450,260 books have been downloaded by readers. The mobile app is being used by 21,973 users and in total, we have 14,000 registered subscribers for this project,” the BSK joint director added.

BSK also has a book reading programme for primary school teachers. Under the programme, the centre promotes reading among trainee teachers at teachers’ training institutions. There, the teachers form a reading circle with 20 members and they get to borrow a dozen books to read. They also hold group meetings to review each book they read.

Alor Ishkool is another initiative for people above 18 years of age. Under this programme, BSK offers different courses and provide classes for adult readers. Participants take part in study circles on literature, philosophy, music, world history, theology, cinema, fine arts and so on.

“We offer around 75 courses in Alor Ishkool and about 80 percent of them are free of cost. Many well-known personalities take these courses,” Ahmed said.   

BSK also publishes Bangla translations of popular works of literature from different foreign languages, as well as selected books in Bangla; more than 500 titles are now available on BSK’s publication list.  

“The books that BSK publishes and the books available in our stores are the cheapest in our country. We don’t add any tax (VAT), and sometimes, we sell classic books for less than the cost price to our customers, as our aim is to get those books read, not making a profit,” Ahmed said.

“Every year, we arrange an event to reward our book readers with new books. In 2017, we provided 12 lakh (1.2 million) books as prizes all over the country. Bkash and Grameen Phone sponsor most of our events. The a2i (Access To Information) programme, run from the Prime Minister’s Office, also helps with many of our projects and courses. Without financing and help from the government, we would not have reached this position,” Ahmed added.    

“I got all my dreams and imagination from reading books. Books can give people dreams, and having a dream and working on its success is very important for the young generation now. They don’t know how good the pages of a new book smell. They have very little power of imagination; they live in a digital world full of logic. That is why we are losing the youth spirit from our country. I feel reading books can obviously remedy that,” writer Zafar Iqbal concluded. 

Photos: Courtesy.

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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