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Cultivating Language and Cultural Connections Through Storytelling

Dhyanvi Katharani and Shrutika Silswal

In the remote villages of Gular Dogi in Tehri Garhwal, Uttarakhand, Simple Education Foundation's Pathshala Learning Center has been on a mission to bridge gaps in English language proficiency across grades. Our courses, designed to cover Phonics, Reading, and Speaking, initially faced challenges in achieving desirable learning outcomes. Despite employing level-appropriate and research-backed course designs, we witnessed a concerning dip in learning levels during one of our earliest cycles – a red flag that demanded immediate attention and course correction.

As we delved deeper into areas of improvement, a profound realization emerged: children learn best when they can relate to the stories they read, stories that resemble their surroundings and culture. 

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, "Because of writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye, I went through a mental shift in my perception of literature. I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature. I started to write about things I recognized.” Therefore, we decided to meet the glaring lack of literature from the region that could facilitate meaningful learning experiences where they feel like they belonged through characters that spoke like them and a setting akin to the Garhwali mountains. 

Bringing Stories from the Hills:

Driven by this insight, we embarked on a journey to craft relevant, contextual, and engaging stories that would not only build English language proficiency but also offer a window into the rich culture, challenges, and radiance of Garhwal. Our aim was to provide access to educators, parents, and children alike, ensuring that the stories resonated with the essence of the mountains they call home.

The process began with identifying a language and theme framework, seamlessly integrating the two. Dhyanvi, our author, conducted interviews with stakeholders from the community, including ASHA workers, Anganwadi workers, and members of the Gram Sabha. These interactions shed light on the roles and on-ground challenges faced by these individuals while also providing valuable secondary data that helped us understand the hierarchies within the systems and envision an ideal state of affairs. Meanwhile, Ramya and Neha, our illustrators, crafted visuals that captured the geographical topography of the Garhwal villages, ensuring that children could instantly relate to the settings they saw in the books.

With a keen awareness that these stories were intended for children, we ensured that every set of problems presented was accompanied by solutions driven by the children themselves, encouraging the community to come together.

"I was motivated to see children in the stories taking initiative, collaborating, and building the belief that I have the potential to create change despite my age." - Preeti, Student, Pathshala Learning Centre

The Impact of Contextual Storytelling:

As these stories found their way into the hands of our students, we witnessed a profound transformation. English, often perceived as an elite language in much of Garhwal, is now accessible and relatable through characters that spoke like them and settings that mirrored their own mountains. Aligning the text with their reading comprehension levels ensured engagement and motivation to continue reading. At the same time, the story itself sparked their curiosity, leaving them eager to know what happened next.

Through these storybooks, we observed students attaching their context to the language, making the learning experience more engaging. We also saw a sense of pride and ownership develop over the cultural abundance woven into their roots. 

Most of the central characters in these stories were children who understood the problems of their village and took action, enabling our students to forge instant connections and recognize themselves in these narratives. They realized they were not passive onlookers but could take on responsibilities and bring about positive change, regardless of age.

Astha Rayal, who taught these stories during online classes over three months, believes that the stories helped children better understand the characters, settings, and problems. With consistent settings and characters across stories, she could focus on building vocabulary, comprehension, and socio-emotional skills.

"I learned new words like 'Emergency’ in the story, and on my visit to Rishikesh, I could read it on the bus door and understand the meaning." - Vandana, Student, Pathshala Learning Centre

Classroom activities revealed behavioral shifts, with children exhibiting more kindness and empathy towards their classmates. Children grew more confident, participated actively in classroom discussions, and became more aware of the problems in their villages, recognizing themselves in the characters they encountered.  Astha also believes that teaching these stories has made her a more conscious and empathetic educator, closely connected to the challenges of her community.

Through our endeavor, we have witnessed the transformative power of storytelling, cultivating language proficiency while celebrating children’s culture and we are happy to announce that another series of these stories has just* been launched on Pratham's Storyweaver Platform!

You can access these stories through Pratham’s Storyweaver 

Read-aloud versions are also available on our YouTube


Disclaimer - This blog has been edited by an Ai Software

*(May 2024)

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