Published: 31st August 2019
A nation of readers: Here's why it is important to build the ability to ‘learn to read’ among children
As a nation, we have been able to solve access to schools, but we haven’t been able to ensure that learning outcomes are met adequately, especially in reading and languages
Read at every wait; read at all hours; read within leisure; read in times of labour; read as one goes in; read as one goes out. The task of the educated mind is simply put: read to lead
— Marcus Tullius Cicero
Cicero’s advice rings true even today. But are we equipped to read to lead? More than 95 per cent of children in India today have access to schools. Yet, more than 9 in 10 children across urban private schools of the country do not have the ability to read and comprehend unknown grade-level text.
As a nation, we have been able to solve access to schools, but we haven’t been able to ensure that learning outcomes are met adequately, especially in reading and languages. Moreover, the first step in formal learning is building the ability to ‘learn to read’.
Now, consider this, according to the country’s leading reading assessment for private schools, only 12.5% children out of 7,288 children in grade 4 (in unaided urban schools of India) demonstrate a full and detailed understanding of one or more kinds of texts and are able to challenge themselves to deal with unfamiliar ideas (FAST Reading Assessment report on Where India Reads 2017-18).
The challenge is that it has an even more significant impact in terms of individuals earning potential, global competitiveness, and general productivity in an age driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning. The task at hand is to sensitise parents, teachers and other stakeholders about the urgent need to revisit the pedagogy for teaching reading to children. In primary schools, more than anything, children look up to the behaviour of those closest to them — parents, teachers, librarians.
At this age, children learn best in ways that are developmentally and contextually right for them. This is more essential in the case of first-generation learners, hailing from homes with non-English speaking backgrounds. Learning requires a community, not just a classroom. The first step is to (a) start early, (b) surround the children with age-appropriate literature, follow it up by (c) creating an internal pull for reading; and (d) design the entire system for scale and sustainability.
The idea is to take these maxims to teachers to teach in a fun classroom setting, encourage parents to explore reading with children at home and inspire the whole learning ecosystem to assess reading readiness and implement intervention accordingly — thereby enabling all stakeholders to do their part in ‘Creating a Nation of Readers’.
Before children are able to read for pleasure, they should experience learning to read in an ecosystem approach that is deliberate, systematic and incremental so that they are met with success right from an early age, creating a pull for reading for pleasure.
Nikhil Saraf is the Co-Founder of Stones2Milestones