UNICEF is committed to doing all it can to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in partnership with governments, civil society, business, academia and the United Nations family – and especially children and young people.
A mobile library project aims to improve access to books for children in remote and impoverished northern Thailand, where most families have few books at home and children are eager to learn.
MAE HONG SON, Thailand, December 2015 – Today is a special day for Apisit Sripornlumlert and his friends at Ban Huay Pueng school, which nestles between towering mountains in Mae La Noi district, in the northern Thailand province of Mae Hong Son. It is the day the mobile library is coming to their school, bringing them more than 1,200 children’s books.
A mobile library van on its way to bringing books to children in hard-to-reach areas of Mae Hong Son, in northern Thailand.
As soon as they hear the van’s horn, Apisit and dozens of other students run excitedly to the school playground. The mobile library van arrives and parks in front of the school. Other children squeeze and stretch to catch a glimpse of it through the windows of their classrooms.
“I am very happy that the mobile library visits our school,” says Apisit, 9, who is in the third grade. “I like to read, but I only have one book at home.”
Apisit is not alone.
More than half of children under 5 years old in Thailand live in households with fewer than three children’s books, according to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), conducted in 2012 by the National Statistical Office, with support from UNICEF. The proportion of children with 10 or more books is only 14.2 per cent nationwide.
“All children should have the opportunity to access interesting, age-appropriate and inspiring books to nurture their creativity, language ability and promote social interaction,” says Bijaya Rajbhandari, UNICEF Representative in Thailand. “But there are too many children in Thailand growing up without this opportunity. As a result, they lack the reading skills they need to survive and develop to their full potential.”
According to the MICS results, urban children have more access to children’s books than those living in rural households. The proportion of children under 5 who have three or more children’s books is just over 50 per cent in urban areas, compared to 38 per cent in rural areas. In mountainous and remote provinces like Mae Hong Son, the difference is pronounced.
“Children’s books barely exist in households around here,” says Dararat Phiwphan, director of schools under Khun Yuam Education Service Area District. “Here in Khun Yuam district, we don’t even have a bookstore.”
Poverty also leads to limited access to children’s books. The families who live in these mountainous areas are mostly from ethnic minorities making their living by farming. “They use money to buy food and other necessities for survival. They can’t afford to buy children’s books,” Dararat adds.
Children help carry books from a mobile library van. Each mobile library carries around 1,200 children’s books.
UNICEF has worked with the Mae Hong Son Education Service Area Office, local communities, private companies and other partners to establish the mobile library project here. Under the project, there are three mobile libraries running through winding roads, up and down mountains and into forests to bring books to children at 33 UNICEF-supported public schools for hill tribe communities in the province. The books themselves have been selected in consultation with children and approved by local education authorities.
“The mobile library project is the solution to children who live in remote areas who hardly have access to good books because it really brings the books to children,” Dararat says. “And it’s worthwhile because it’s benefiting not just one school, but tens of schools that the mobile libraries are visiting.”
When the mobile library arrives at the school, a trained animator who accompanies the mobile library sets up a book exhibition and organizes activities for children to help engage them in reading. Parents play a vital role in promoting the early readings habit of children so they are also encouraged to join in the activities.
The mobile library stops at each school for three to seven days each time it comes. During this time, children can borrow their much-loved books home so they can read to their siblings and their parents as well.
“I am happy that the mobile library comes here,” says Suree Sakolprai, a mother of two girls studying in Grade 6 at Ban Huay Hung school in Khun Yuam district. “Reading activities help my daughters read better. They like to read for me and my husband, and ask questions about the stories they read. I am really proud that they can read and write well.”
Foundation for learning
“Reading is not only a skill; it is also a way for children to learn about the world, to develop a curiosity for ideas, and to understand positive values,” says Hugh Delaney, Chief of Education for UNICEF Thailand.
Apisit Sripornlumlert, who studies in third grade at Ban Huay Pueng school in Mae La Noi district, reads a book from the mobile library. Apisit says he loves to read. “But I only have one book at home,” he says.
Mr. Delaney points out that reading is an important foundation for lifelong learning. Children who read and write easily are more likely to do better in school and achieve their full potential. Reading also helps expose children to language and literacy skills and build these skills in them, especially those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and families.
More than 700 school children and 1,400 parents are expected to benefit from this project in 2015. UNICEF hopes to reach more children in hard-to-reach areas with more mobile libraries in the years to come so that other children experience the joy of reading like Apisit and his friends.
“I want the mobile library to visit my school often,” says the boy who dreams of becoming a policeman. “I want to read well. And I know that reading will make me smarter.”