Readers for Life: The South Asian Perspective

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“Literacy unlocks the door to learning throughout life, is essential to development and health, and opens the way for democratic participation and active citizenship.”
-Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General


The UNESCO Institute of Statistics- UIS, 2015 report on ‘ADULT AND YOUTH LITERACY National, regional and global trends, 1985-2015’ show the literacy rates in South and West Asia (63%) as below the global average. The literacy rate in this region is second lowest followed by the Sub-Saharan African region. With a population of 1.721 billion (, 2014) it is the most populated region in the world. In majority of these countries-the ability to read (interpreted as being literate –to be able read and write), is directly linked to the eradication of challenges such as poverty, unemployment, hunger and many more faced by these countries. In this post, I have featured some of the organizations working towards developing reading programs to eventually boost literacy rates in this region. Every effort made at the International, National and local level is a step towards building life – long readers.

  • READ (Rural Education and Development) Global founded in 1991 in Nepal is currently also working extensively in India and Bhutan. The statistics indicate that this program has reached out to 2.3 million rural villagers. In 2006, READ Nepal won the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Access to Learning Award (ATLA).
  • Room to Read’s Literacy Program is spread across multiple countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, and Vietnam among others. Be sure to check out the impact story on ‘How Fun in the Library Leads to a Habit of Reading’. The program has its origin in 1998-2000 and has impacted 9.7M children worldwide establishing 17000 libraries (Annual Report, 2014). With the Local Language Publishing program launched since 2003, Room to Read has published 1100 books in African and Asian languages.


Although India has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, 25.7% of the rural population still lives below the poverty line (World Bank Databank, 2014), having the maximum number of illiterate people in the world. I would like to share the work done by some non-governmental organizations in India to promote reading.

  • The Hippocampus Reading Foundation has been helping its partner schools to set up better libraries, with an improved collection of books.
  • Pratham (means first in Sanskrit) through its Read India and Pratham Books- Story weaver  initiatives has published 300 original titles in 18 languages from India which are available under the Creative Commons Licenses.
  • The organization Katha  (which literally means a story) with support from UNICEF and UNESCO has been instrumental in setting up reading centers in the slums of India.

These are few of the many organizations working at grassroots level with school and community librarians putting in their efforts. These organizations are working with support from all over the world.

Here are some questions you might like to discuss with your partner:

  1. Are you aware of reading/literacy programs in your country?
  2. What are the programs your library arranges for developing readers for life?
  3. How many languages does your reading program cater to?

We look forward to hearing from you us via our Twitter,  Facebook  and LinkedIn pages, or in the comments section below.

-Bhakti Gala, ILN Content Officer

Posted in Discussion topics, Round 2016A and tagged , , , , , , .

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