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Foundational Literacy Matters!


  By Roli S
Perhaps the most consequential change proposed by the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is at the very beginning of a child’s educational journey — the first step of the learning ladder. The crucial importance of good quality early childhood care and education has been understood and promoted by experts for a long time. By giving ECCE its due importance in the NEP, it has been established that it is the greatest and most powerful equaliser and should be given the highest priority.

One of the fundamental objectives of ECCE is to achieve foundational literacy. This means that, by the third grade, the child should be able to read fluently, comprehending age appropriate text. Reading to learn is a critical skill for students to master, as it lays the foundation for academic and overall future success. Without adequate reading and literacy skills, students are less likely to understand what they are being taught at higher grade levels, more likely to struggle in other subjects, and may even be more likely to exhibit social anxieties or low self-esteem as a result.

Inadequate reading skills expose children to the risk of a ripple-effect of academic struggles. Low reading proficiency inescapably makes acquiring more-advanced level academic concepts challenging. It also impedes social development, leading to a higher likelihood of dropping out of school without even passing high school and this will lead to unemployment, poverty, and even repression.

Developing proficient reading skills in all students by the third grade is a must.
For you and me, third grade may seem like just another year in primary school but, when it comes to literacy skills, it is so much more than that. The third grade is a turning point in the educational journey of all children because it is from here children grow from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn. This changeover is the basis of a child’s life-long learning ability; educators and parents alike need take full advantage of this window in the life of the child to develop his/her literacy skills and build proficient readers.

In flashback moments, when I try to recollect my own formative years, I do not really remember about the third grade as an important milestone in my life. I can barely remember the name of my teachers, or who my friends were, maybe a vague memory of a few friends, not much else. But, now, I get the point that the third grade is one of the most important years in a child’s education because it is a critical time for developing reading and literacy skills.

In short, this means that children when they reach third grade are graduating from simply mastering the basics of phonics, vocabulary and other building blocks of literacy to grasping how to read in order to process complex information, think critically, solve problems, and apply concepts they read about to real world situations. More importantly, reading to learn allows students to take control over their own learning, by using reading skills to gain more information on other subjects in school, or their own interests outside of the classroom.

What then can our teachers, school leaders and curriculum providers do to achieve foundational literacy so that according to NEP when after completing grade 2 and foundational stage, children reach the preparatory stage of grade 3 to 5, all children of Indian schools become proficient readers?

Many states, as far as I understand, have language textbooks that align or at least try to align very closely with the previously existing curriculum frameworks, but at the same time, to teach the skill that early literacy requires. Teachers, textbook writers and curriculum developers need to recognise that teaching is contained in a value laden discourse. Skills like reading are closely tied to the kind of pictures, stories, texts and contexts that are chosen and children’s experience related to them. While language proficiency can be seen from purely a skill perspective, at the same time the pedagogy is dependent on the contexts, values and their representation in children’s lives, in which they use and are going to use, the literacy skill.

Thus, choosing the method, the technique, the tone to teach this basic skill and ensuring an unbiased content of images, texts or contexts that creatively challenge all children, is very important.

I think it can be achieved in the curriculum by bridging the gap between developmental psychology, educational sociology, and pedagogies. NCERT has the responsibility to develop the ECCE curriculum and pedagogy that suit the need of our school going children.

Further, the curriculum combined with teacher education that equips the teacher with developmentally appropriate practices and pedagogic principles of knowledge areas, will see our country achieving the goal of universal foundational literacy in primary schools by 2025, as stated in the NEP 2020.

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author & School Reviewer based in Mumbai)