Literacy is not only an end but also a means to other learnings along with social and economic empowerment. Early literacy (both reading and writing) development begins in the first years of life. The interactions that young children have with literacy material such as books and stories and with adults in their lives are the building blocks for language, reading and writing skills. This understanding of early literacy development complements the current research supporting the critical role of early experiences in shaping brain growth. In India, several largescale studies conducted have revealed that a significant percentage of the young children fail to develop the basic levels of reading achievement. The incidence of reading failure is even higher within poor families, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and ethnic minority groups and this impacts negatively on their later literacy learning.
Large proportions of Indian children grow up in non-print environments with little or no access to contextual reading material in their mother tongue or first language. Classroom organization and pedagogies adopted in schools do not acknowledge and appreciate multilingual diversity that forms the basic fabric of Indian society. Classroom pedagogy does not ensure continuity between the oral and written language and between the mother tongue or the first language and the medium of instruction. The availability and usage of comprehensive diagnostic assessment systems related to early literacy to inform classroom instruction remain negligible. There is a lack of system level composite initiative to influence reading culture both at the community and school levels.
The main challenge for early literacy programming in India is to articulate conceptions of literacy that place a high value on children’s oral language skills, and yet develop a strong foundation on reading and writing as part of the mainstream public schooling.
Conclusively, the key issues around early language development in India, especially where there is a substantial tribal and Dalit population, lie in four main areas.
First, the multilingual education context in language learning remains one of the key concerns for children from diverse communities. In certain specific pockets of some States, there exist as many as four to eight different languages/dialects which are different than the State language used for classroom instruction
Second, the curriculum, pedagogy and teacher education issues exist with respect to teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, approaches and strategies for teaching language as well as their attitudes towards the capacities of tribal and Dalit children. Issues remain as the existence of a blanket curriculum, discounting the child’s home language and the competencies the child brings into the classroom, the primacy of the textbook over the child’s experience and culture, the absence of the child’s voice in the classroom and the absence of recognition that children come from non-literate environments
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