Saturday 16 March 2019

A mom created a children's newspaper to improve her son's GK

Despite good academics, most job applicants have very poor GK. When Nidhi Arora noticed this and saw the sheer lack of children's newspapers, she decided to make one herself.

When IIM graduate and consulting firm director Nidhi Arora sat on various recruitment interviews for organisations and colleges for over a decade, she noticed a consistent pattern -- two out of three candidates were rejected, and this was because they did not read the newspaper.

"The talent that was walking in that interview room door was awesome -- above 95 per cent in academics throughout, studied from IIT or an equally prestigious institution, done very well in the preliminary or entrance exam etc," explains Nidhi in an interview with India Today Education.

Nidhi Arora noticed there was no daily children's newspaper. So she created 'The Children's Post' for her son (pictured here).

Yet, the problem was that most candidates couldn't discuss current affairs.

"Most of them did not read current affairs at all, and a few depended on online news or TV for their current affairs and ended up reproducing the same things that they had read or heard. There was no analysis and no depth to their answers," she said.
Understanding what is going around the world is vital for the growth of children because it gives them a clear perspective of what they need to do in life - what does the world need? Is there any technology that could help save the environment? Could I create something to do that? -- such questions can form in a child's mind only when he or she clearly understand the crucial world issues around them.

"The candidates who were able to clear the interviews had read about current affairs, knew their numbers, and were able to present both sides of the story," says Nidhi.

"When we asked them where they went for their current affairs, every single one of them said that they read a detailed story in a newspaper, and supplemented it with TV debates or online news," she added.

Observing this issue for over 14 years of her professional life, Nidhi Arora realised that even after a child has excelled academically and done everything right, when it came to that last step, "how you view the world makes all the difference".

This awareness sets apart candidates sitting for job interviews - some have a clear idea of what is going on around them and can even give their own opinion on the same, and these kids grow up to be real changemakers.

So, the solution to this sounds simple -- ensure children have access to a good newspaper. However, this turned out to be the second problem.

The seven main editors of 'The Children's Post'. Nidhi Arora is in the centre with one of the editors on video call.
Lack of children's newspapers in India
The Aroras get four newspapers every single morning at home - in two languages -- but the language is complex and none could be given to a child of seven or eight years of age.

"When my son turned eight, I started looking for a daily newspaper for him. I looked, and looked, and looked -- for a year. When he turned nine, I decided he will either form the habit now, or never. So in June 2017, I made a sample 4-page paper at home," says Nidhi.

Thus, 'The Children's Post' was born out of encouragement from a group of mothers on Facebook -- Gurgaon Moms.

"When my son got the paper, he vanished into his room. When he came out about 20 minutes later, he said, 'Mom, if you think you know how happy I am, you know nothing,'" says Nidhi.
How did 'The Children's Post' become popular?
Once this unique paper was launched, everyone who heard about it loved it! Right now, it is the only daily newspaper in India for children.

"The response since releasing it is so empowering, supportive and awesome," gushes Nidhi.

The Children's Post is a 4-page print-at-home e-paper. Parents and educational institutes get the e-paper version of the children's newspaper, which can then be printed on A4 sheets for children.
"Yashoda Hospital, Ghaziabad, shares it with everyone in their pediatric ward and the OPD for children. MGM in Aurangabad is also introducing it to classes in their schools. We share it with NGOs who work with children at no cost," says Nidhi.

"The target age is 8 to 13 years. I am aware that children much older than that are enjoying the paper and ask for it every day. That kind of feedback makes our day," she adds.

The paper has news on every conceivable topic -- international affairs, environment, economics, internet security, ecology, history, gadgets and technology, knowledge about the Indian democratic system and how to be a responsible citizen of India.

It also includes puzzles, quizzes, poetry, short stories, cartoons, and even in-paper courses.

"Our USP, I think, is the sheer volume of child-generated content that we have - around 40 per cent. All our cartoonists are children. They generate one comic strip a week! There is poetry, phonics, stories, mazes, quizzes -- you name it and it's there," says Nidhi.

A screenshot from the November 18 issue of 'The Children's Post'
How is the children's newspaper created every day?
"Our delivery and creation model is designed to ensure that the child comes first -- every edition of the paper is made by a parent keeping in mind the needs of their own child. Each parent-editor puts in 5-6 hours a week to curate content for The Children's Post," says Nidhi.

Quite a few editors are involved in the making of the paper apart from Nidhi Arora. They include -- Aditi Hingu, Shalaka, Neha, Munmun, Monica, Pradeepthi Visamsetty, Deepti Chhabra, Bhavneet Arora, Harinder, Shivani, and Ekta.

The parent-editor of the day decides the content -- s/he can pick up any number of articles from the pile of contributed content, while the rest of the stories are written by him/her.
The completed copy then reaches Nidhi and Ekta for the second round of editing. They ensure grammar and facts are correct and ensure that the written language is simple enough to engage kids and doesn't violate any of the basic tenets of the children's newspaper.

Ekta sits up for a couple of hours every night to review the paper, while Nidhi is the second reviewing editor.

"Every edition is that editor's baby. Usually, we ask the readers what they want to read more of, and change accordingly," says Nidhi.

Challenges encountered in making the children's newspaper
Two primary challenges came up while helping the children's newspaper grow.

"They all enjoy the paper, they send in contributions, but feedback? We literally have to plead! So we use Facebook polls, posts, questions," explains Nidhi.
The second challenge is spreading awareness about the paper. "I truly believe that the work we are doing is vital for children in India today. There is nothing like this available to our children, and that has an impact on their future. We really don't know how to make more children and parents aware of this," she says.

Pradeepthi Vissamsetti, one of the editors of 'The Children's Post' preparing a copy of the children's newspaper.
What is the print-at-home newspaper model like?
The Children's Post is not an e-paper but a print-at-home children's newspaper.

"A4 sheets can be easily printed on any home or office printer. In my house, we have printed the paper every single day since June 30, 2017, and we recommend the same to other parents. The model of print-at-home content is new and unexplored, but we believe it is the future since delivery costs are rising and printing costs are falling," says Nidhi.

Every morning, the e-paper version of the day reached email-ids and Whatsapp inboxes from where it can be printed into a hard copy for the kids.

"Our advantage is that A4 size is perfect for the small hands of our readers and they love holding the paper in their hands," she adds.

But how will a children's newspaper help in today's digital world of GK apps?
The sheer number of apps available to make learning of children fun and engaging can almost be confusing sometimes. In such a time, creating a children's newspaper might seem irrelevant, but it is precisely because of the technology influx that reading a newspaper can help.

Too much of screen time can affect the brains of children in adverse ways.
"It is my belief that a non-reflective surface like paper will send fewer stimuli to your brain and you'll be able to focus. Screens, even if you're reading only one thing, are stimulating your brain all the time, literally programming your brain to look for a new stimulus every few seconds. I have found myself getting distracted lately when trying to read a book. This never used to happen earlier," explains Nidhi.

She adds that she prefers not depending on TV or online websites for news -- "TV is pure cacophony and online is full of fake news and one sided propaganda items."

Yet another problem with reading news online is once you open one website or app for your child, it's only a matter of time before s/he goes to other, less verified sources. "You won't be able to control that," Nidhi says.

The third issue she points out is how children can become easily blocked in as per their own interest areas.

"When you go online, you choose the kind of news you want to read and stick to your comfort zone. But a newspaper is like a digest. You may not read everything, but your horizon and frame of reference are expanding. You are becoming capable of discussing more topics, without even realising it," Nidhi explains.

The last reason that sets The Children's Post a notch above GK apps is its curated content "that speaks in the language of the child, helps them make sense of the world, truly understand fundamental concepts, and not just spew jargon."

How can you get a copy of the 'The Children's Post'?
The children's newspaper can be found online to print or download here. You can opt for their monthly subscription as well.

There is a Whatsapp group for parents where the pdf of the print-at-home paper is sent -- no interaction takes place here and they are reserved for the Facebook group.

To join the Facebook group where feedback, discussion and richer interaction is encouraged, the parent needs to mention the age of the child and their interest in the paper.

"Institutional subscribers get a copy in their email inbox. They can take a printout and keep it outside the library or read out in the assembly. We have seen both models work," says Nidhi.

Nidhi Arora with her husband and child.
Are there plans to make 'The Children's Post' bigger?
"Oh yes! Being the only daily newspaper in India made exclusively for kids, the Children's Post should be a staple in every house which has a child above the age of eight. When you read a few sample copies, you see that this is, in fact, a door to a magical kingdom," says Nidhi.

"We currently have about 3000 readers, but we would like to take The Children's Post to every child all over the country who can enjoy it," she adds.

So how does a working mother manage to give time to this project?

"I just do. It's easy to stay the course when you see your child transform," Nidhi smiles.

(Source: India Today)

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