Importance Of Developing Reading Abilities And Habits In Children In Early Grades

The ability to read and write in early grades can determine the future of a child and the nation.

Even as the world gets ready for a digital revolution, and thousands of kids’ logon to online classes via smartphones and laptops, there is a contrasting reality. Even today, nearly a billion people are unable to participate or join conversations because they cannot read or write. 750 million adults lack basic reading and writing skills. 124 million children and adolescents are not in school and one in four children in low-income countries cannot read.

If a nation has to progress, then education must be based on some solid foundations. The ability to read and write in early grades can determine the future of a child and the nation. The two critical pillars of early education are literacy and numeracy, as this determines future learning. In most cases, poor literacy and numeracy are linked to lower rates of entry for further education and early school leaving. This invariably translates to longer periods and higher rates of unemployment and the type of work that a child will do in the future. Left unchecked, poor literacy can also lead to problems such as crime and substance abuse.

The National Education Policy 2020 highlights the extremely vital role of Early Childhood Care and Education. It states, “It is believed that over 85% of a child’s cumulative brain development occurs prior to the age of 6. This indicates the critical importance of appropriate care and stimulation of the brain in the early years in order to ensure healthy brain development and growth. Strong investment in Early Childhood Care and Education has the potential to give all young children access, enabling them to participate and flourish in the educational system throughout their lives.”

India’s pioneering National Education Policy 2020 mentions the critical need for foundational literacy and numeracy. The ability to read and write, and perform basic operations with numbers, is a necessary foundation and an indispensable prerequisite for all future schooling and lifelong learning. Currently, various government surveys indicate that India is currently in a learning crisis. A large proportion of students currently in elementary school – estimated to be over 5 crore in number have not attained foundational literacy and numeracy i.e. the ability to read and comprehend basic text and the ability to carry out basic addition and subtraction with Indian numerals.

The Government of India has rightly recognized that attaining foundational literacy and numeracy for all children is an urgent national mission, and has proposed immediate measures to be taken on many fronts and with clear goals that will be attained in the short term (including that every student will attain foundational literacy and numeracy by Grade 3). The National Education Policy 2020 has rightly recognized that the priority of the education system will be to achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy in primary school by 2025. It has also recognized that the policy will become relevant for students only if the most basic learning requirement (i.e., reading, writing, and arithmetic at the foundational level) is first achieved.

Addressing foundational skills and inculcating a habit for reading

One of the most transformational ways that learning can be encouraged is by promoting the habit of reading among children through the establishment of child-friendly libraries. Books give children an opportunity to discuss them, internalize them, learn from them. A library full of diverse, high-quality literature for recreational reading, help to develop enthusiastic readers and improves achievement. If children are empowered early, they read with understanding, and view reading as exciting and fun. By the completion of primary school, these children are able and motivated to read independently. The accomplishment of being able to read independently makes the meager and proud readers both at school and at home. Libraries can play a vital role in a child’s development, as children are able to read and take part in reading activities in a welcoming, supportive and non-threatening environment.

Children need books or instructional materials that are designed for their skill levels. Challenging or complex texts can intimidate students and discourage them. We have addressed this challenge by developing an innovative Comprehensive Literacy Approach that looks at ‘learning to read’ as a comprehensive experience immersed in which the child learns all the skills that are required to become independent and fluent readers. Hence, it aimed to combine the ‘Science’ of learning to read with the ‘Magic’ of loving to read in an enabling reading environment. The program emphasis on comprehensive literacy learning by providing knowledge of ‘akshara’, exposure to oral transactions (Phonics, vocabulary, blending of words, read aloud sessions in class) and good literature.

Unfortunately, good children’s books for early readers are often limited or nonexistent in the countries where we work. We have placed great thrust on not only providing but also creating books, under our publishing program, covering topics that capture children’s imaginations and make reading fun. Books in Room to Read libraries are graded and arranged according to GROWBY. GROWBY stands for Green, Red, Orange, White, Blue & Yellow. Each successive colour denotes an increase in the degree of complexity of language, themes and the stories with green level books meant for beginners and Yellow for proficient readers. Room to Read libraries have something for everyone. Our emphasis on providing levelled local language books has helped in improving readership.

Our goal is to inspire children to read, expand their minds, and develop a lifelong love for reading and learning. Having content in local language greatly improves readability. This is vital as India has huge linguistic diversity and language is one of the fundamental pillars for comprehensive learning.

In summary, education is the most effective tool for solving some of the world’s greatest challenges including poverty, environmental degradation, racial injustice and inequality. If children are taught some foundational skills of reading, they can learn the skills that enable them to become change makers and solve difficult problems in new ways. These skills help them define their place in the world and seek a fulfilling future.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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