READ-nalysis: A discussion on Early Grade Reading

Reading proficiency amongst children at an early age is an important indicator of their ability to understand and comprehend various aspects of their everyday life. Our esteemed chairperson and distinguished panelists engage in a revealing dialogue around the needs and gaps in the current education system that lead to low reading proficiencies and what the way forward should consist of or espouse. Our Honorable Chairperson Dr. Venita Kaul discusses how reading and writing are the most essential part of early literacy and are the building blocks of one’s social identity and persona and a healthy dialogue around it is a must.

She then opens up the discourse to the panelists who share their experience and learnings on what the current scenario is and how innovation can be a key participant to the change that is required. They talk about how there is a dire need to bring about an improvement in the quality of teachers in the school (more so in rural areas), to introduce a more context appropriate curriculum, to introduce vernacular teachings, create a better school and familial environment for the child and so on. Amrita Patwardhan brings forth the fact that even though the low levels of reading proficiency is a fact known to all, not much is been done- be it through policy creation, curriculum building or reforms. Even the landmark RTI does not cover the pre-school phase, thus undermining the relevance of early age education. As a result grade 1 becomes the introduction of the child to the world of literates. Both Amrita Patwardhan and Sunisha Ahuja stress on the fact that how grade 1 and 2 are given least importance even though they act as the foundation to child’s later education and learning. Sourav Banerjee Further talks about how there is major problem of attendance which makes imparting education a task. The instruction hours in a year for most of the schools is too low, in some cases even less than 90 a year.  Moreover attendance of children in lower classes like 1 and 2 is the least. Thus invariably the early grade reading experience of the children loosed its relevance and impacts the quality of their comprehension of later education.

Having talked about the lacunas in our education system our panelists moved on to understanding what kinds of innovations or initiatives can contribute to improving the reading proficiency amongst children. Avantika  thakur, a fellow with teach for India teaching class 3, talked of a very interesting approach to reading, drawing from her own experiences. For the first two days of the week she would read some chapters from a book. By midweek she would ask her students to form groups and read in groups and at the end of the week she would make them read individually. Similarly she would start by teaching phonetics then move to vocabulary and then come to comprehension of words and texts. The purpose is not to just make them understand text but also comprehend things beyond classroom, be it poster, an election agenda or anything in any nook and corner. Amrita talks about the importance of various organization coming together to form an alliance and working together to improving the early learning experience of the children, exactly the task Read Alliance has taken up. Sunisha also talks about how it is futile to talk about changing the classroom environment and the way of teaching, etc. as that takes away the teacher’s distinctive way of managing a class. Rather one should look at designing better training module for teachers.

The panel discussion leaves us both – informed and curious. Informed of the various failings of our early grade reading system and curious about how we can design different ways to tackle it. There is lot to think, lot to do. Let’s dive into it together.

Think before you speak and read before you think… that’s the mantra to a happier life.


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