Transforming Learning Beyond Literacy

There is a breadth of skills that are needed to prepare children including social, emotional, cognitive, creative and physical development

Globally September 8 is recognised and celebrated as International Literacy Day every year. The theme for 2022 is 'Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces' to ensure quality, equitable and inclusive education for all.

In India, one of the important literacy learning spaces is the foundational years for children with 164 million children between 0-6 years of age (Census 2011). As 80 per cent of the brain develops in the first few years of a child’s life, the foundational years play a critical role in supporting how a child develops: cognitively, linguistically, socially and physically.

Recently, a lot of emphasis has been given to ensuring young children attain Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) which is the ability to read with meaning and perform basic math calculations. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has accorded the highest priority for all children to achieve FLN by 2026-27 as it estimates 50 million children who have not attained these basic skills of reading and mathematics. The Ministry of Education launched a national mission on FLN with the National Initiative for Proficiency in Reading with Understanding and Numeracy (NIPUN) Bharat guidelines. The Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (PM-EAC) 2021 report also underlines how effectively implementing FLN can potentially grow GDP by 7.39 per cent, when benefits are calculated over 20 years.

However, the keywords being ‘effective implementation of FLN’.

In India, schools and society have a tendency to treat education or literacy as synonymous with achieving marks in examination from a young age. Learning from a young age has been focussed on mastering the 3Rs known as Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic, which are considered to be the ‘only’ essential skills for a child’s successful future. The ASER Report of 2019, which surveyed on the early years, showed that Grade 1 children who could solve numerical problems lacked cognitive skill to apply the same knowledge in real-life situations. This is reinforced by the 2030 Skills Scorecard which claims, 'By 2030, India will have the highest number of secondary school graduates in South Asia, but nearly half of them will lack the skills to enter the job market'.

A notable challenge has been the lack of the learning through play component in foundational learning. School is still seen as an institution for academic learning, not a place where children engage in collaborative, imaginative and creative tasks. These lead to an overtly textbook-centric education and cause huge drop-out of children. The longitudinal study India Early Childhood Educational Impact (IECEI) (2011-2016) identified the absence of age-appropriate methods and activities as a major challenge in pre-primary and primary education. There is a downward extension of the primary school curriculum emphasising on reading, writing and numeracy skills in a mechanical manner, rather than focusing on the holistic developmental needs of the children. Moreover, prominent gaps exist within the system with poor quality of training of teachers with only 53 per cent of teachers in 18 states who were not imparted with any training. The situation has further been aggravated with the pandemic with pressure to catch up on the learning lost over the past two years.

Therefore, the recognition and importance of FLN in NEP 2020 provide us with an opportunity to ensure its implementation will provide the right start for children with the right building blocks.

The aim of education should be to create holistic and well-rounded individuals equipped with key skills from the foundational years. The goal should not only be the achievement of basic numeracy and literacy skills. There needs to be a change in the same classroom ethos which focusses on the chalk and talk method of teaching, textbook-based examination system, teachers not trained to support the socio-emotional wellbeing of children and children not aware of self-assessment techniques.

We need to consider that there is a breadth of skills that are needed to prepare children including social, emotional, cognitive, creative and physical development. These skills should support a holistic view of learning addressing the various domains of development from language development and communication, physical development, cognitive development, and socio-emotional development from the foundational stage. The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) being developed should promote a range of skills such as 5Cs known as creativity, critical thinking, communication, cooperation and compassion. There should be a change in pedagogical processes with emphasis on play and discovery-based learning and not memorisation. There is a need to assess and develop the skills of teachers, Anganwadi Workers and caregivers who can deliver this breadth of skills in classroom processes. Enhancing parental demand along with sensitisation of the community will also be a critical step. Finally, nothing can be possible without adequate public investment for the effective and holistic implementation of FLN.

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

Around The World

Our Publications