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‘Everyone should have clarity about goals related to foundational learning’

By The EDge Editorial Team

Mar 30, 2020

As the education ecosystem gathered to deliberate upon the findings of yet another Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), it was also an opportunity to talk about the learnings from large scale foundational learning programs and find solutions to solve the learning crisis in the country.

The draft National Education Policy (NEP) makes very specific comments on our education system. It underlines that “if action is not taken soon, over the next few years then we could lose 10 crore or more students from the learning system to Illiteracy.” Every study including the government’s own data paints a sordid picture of learning outcomes among children in India. The recently released World Bank report says that nearly 55% of children in India are ‘learning poor’.

As the education ecosystem gathered to deliberate upon the findings of yet another Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), it was also an opportunity to talk about the learnings from large scale foundational learning programs and find solutions to solve the learning crisis in the country. Central Square Foundation in partnership with Pratham, Room to Read and Language and Learning Foundation organized a panel discussion “Rethink Learning: Making Foundational Learning through NEP a reality.” The discussion delved into the ideas and recommendations to improve sustainability and scalability of foundational learning programs in light of the draft NEP. The panel also touched upon key issues like importance of setting a common goal, curricular gaps, systemic challenge and some simple solutions that can address the learning crisis.

Setting the context for the panel discussion, Bikkrama Daulet Singh, Co-Managing Director, Central Square Foundation, said “lack of focus on Foundational Learning will result in increasing learning gaps during the school years and problems in middle school will not be solved.” Data shows that India is close to achieving universal enrolment of children in schools, however, the transition rate from primary to upper primary and primary to secondary still needs focus.

Making foundational learning everyone’s business

The central theme that emerged from the discussion was that there is a need to generate more evidence on learning outcomes and finding ways to simplify foundational learning instead of making it a domain of experts.

Everyone should know and have clarity about goals related to foundational learning. We need to simplify it in every language and make it everyone’s business

Dr Rukmini Banerji, Chief Executive Officer, Pratham

She called upon partners to make effective use of media and films to make foundational learning an issue of masses.

Panellists felt that basic reading and mathematics should be the goal to energize all stakeholders – parents, teachers and government officials. Role of parents and community members, is important to improve learning outcomes in children. Clear goals and targets should be set and everyone should be aligned with them to achieve these goals. Another panellist, Saktibrata Sen, Program Director at Room to Read also underlined the importance of simplifying foundational learning. He said there is a need to work with academicians and publishers towards enriching discourse on early literacy and organize state-wide reading campaigns to develop a culture of reading.

Language learning key to improving learning outcomes

Another key takeaway from the discussion was that language learning is a key lever to strengthen the foundational learning. Speaking about the learnings of the Haryana government in early learning programs, Kalpana Rashmi from Haryana School Shiksha Pariyojna Parishad talked about Prarambhik Bhasha Shikshan Karyakram. The Haryana government is building the capacity of teachers and teacher trainers in seven districts of the state with the objective of improving learning outcomes of 1,20,000 primary school children. A third-party evaluation of the program has shown significant improvement in learning levels of students in 175 schools of Kurukshetra, Haryana. In schools where language learning programs are run, students show better oral language expression and language learning levels. By 2022-2023, the state government plans to scale up this program in all schools of the state. The Haryana government is running this program in partnership with Language and Learning Foundation (LLF).

Connecting the importance of language learning to lifelong learning, Dr Dhir Jhingran explained three pillars of LLF’s intervention in Haryana and other states – continuous professional development (teachers and mentors), school level interventions and systemic reforms. He further added that children’s language should find a space in the classroom, and this must be reflected through flexible policies and strategies. Children should be given a lot of oral language work to help them find equivalence with medium of instruction. This helps the children learn Hindi and English as well, and also develop an attitude of tolerance in language, especially towards non-dominant languages.

Building a culture of ‘orality’

In a multilingual and multi-scriptal country like India, orality must be dealt with in a more focused manner, said Saktibrata Sen while emphasizing on its importance. Describing orality as the basis on which larger meaning is negotiated, he said a child’s experience with transactions in language needs a place in the classroom. The way around developing these skills in children is to design oral language development activities that encourage them to have open discussions, frame questions and articulate their thoughts. He felt that the overemphasis on classroom management tends to overlook the special needs of age groups and language needs of the region.

Children’s literature should made accessible

The panel also made a strong pitch for making children’s literature more accessible, which is central for improving their language skills.

Books help in cognition, visual literacy, critical logical thinking, problem-solving and metacognition. For early readers, wordless picture books can be effectively used to build stimuli for oral and written language.

When exposed to wordless books, children are able to analyze the visuals and develop their own interpretation of the story, strengthening their cognitive functions and expressing themselves through language.

“Books are thought of as ‘good to have’ and not a ‘must have’ in a child’s literacy experience,” said Saktibrata Sen while talking about children’s literature. He further added that human beings are natural storytellers, and many studies suggest that processing information predominantly through narrative pathways comes naturally to us. Another panellist, Dr Dhir Jhingran said “flood schools with children’s books which are interesting and simple.” The collection of books for each stage of the continuum will allow children to progress from simple to complex texts with appropriate challenges as they progress through various stages of their reading skill development.

The discussion also delved into the role of teachers and systemic reforms required to strengthen foundational learning. Describing a teacher as a change-maker, the panel felt that they need more autonomy when it comes to Indian classrooms. Kalpana Rashmi from Haryana School Shiksha Pariyojna Parishad said “monitoring should be converted into mentoring of teachers, which is a more challenging process and Haryana has been able to bridge this gap.” Systemic challenges like low-instructional time, availability of staff for teaching-learning activities, lack of convergence among government departments, procurement of children’s literature, a robust and centralized system for assessments were also highlighted during the discussion. The panel highlighted the need to demonstrate to the government that change is possible. It also stressed on the importance of documenting and reflecting on best practices related to foundational learning, and figuring out the scope of scaling initiatives by working closely with the government.



Authored by

The EDge Editorial Team


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