Step-4 (from Seven Steps to Reading): Literacy skills already acquired by the child need reinforcment through practice and continued learning

Guidance provided to a child helps in developing habits of reading through practice and consolidation of skills already acquired. Core literacy and reading skills need to be reinforced regularly for several years of the child hood so that they are retained and developed by the child over a period of time. This leads us to believe that basic reading skills may be lost, if the child is not exposed to continuous learning during early childhood years.

Seen in the context of school dropouts, this requirement for reading abilities poses a challenge in the retention and development of reading skills. A substantial number of children continue to drop out of primary education, with grade V having the highest average dropout rate at 15.9%. Grade I follows with 10.4% dropouts (School Dropout Prevention Pilot Program, 2011). These figures indicate that the impact of high enrolment rates in primary school (98% enrolment in primary education, DISE, 2009), on a child’s reading skills may be lost, if the skills imparted are not consolidated through continued education, either formal or informal.

In addition to this, there is a number of children who are less likely to make it to school. This includes children living in condition of risk, such as on the street, or children who face community biases to education, chief among them being girls. In 1994, UNICEF estimated that there were 11 million street children in India. By some estimeates, this number is a drastic under estimation (Childline India). The children of short term migrants and people displaced by natural calamities are also likely to not attend school regularly or drop out of school. Although no clear data is available, some studies indicate that there are about 15 million child migrants in India. In all there are about 1.67 million out of school children in India (UNESCO, 2010-11). This also indicates that there is a lack of information and research on the learning opportunities and reading abilities of children who are not in school.

There are policies in place which focus on inclusive education for at-risk children, offering special assistance to at-risk children through non formal education centers, bridge programs and scholarships, but considering the number of out of school children and dropouts, it is difficult to estimate the impact of these programs on making reading skills accessible to these children. A study of Bridge Course Centers undertaken by the Research and Evaluation Cell of the District Project Office, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in Bardhman district of West Bengal in 2008-09 indicated poor performance by these centers. At the primary level Bridge Course Centers, children’s regularity was only 37%. This increased to 57% for upper primary level. Out of the 13000 children enrolled in these programs, 8000 would not reach the learning level required for mainstreaming them by the end of the academic year.

The design and structure of the bridge programs seem to be such that they are disconnected from the ground realities of the child’s life and that of her or his community. The same report also indicated that lack of guardian support and acute poverty of the children’s families are major reasons for their failure to transition from the bridge programs into mainstream education. In addition to this, the timings of the bridge program are such that, even after their completion of the bridge program, it is impossible to place them in formal schools. Also, in the primary school curriculum recommended by the state, there are no special policies or provisions for education or teaching of reading to dropout children .

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