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Mumbai, 29th November 2017: Azim Premji University and Tata Trusts today jointly announced the findings and recommendations of a 3-year study, the Literacy Research in Indian Languages (LiRIL). The research, which has important bearings for the country’s education policy, was conducted in two socio-economically disadvantaged regions – Yadgir block (Yadgir district, Karnataka) and Wada block, (Palghar district, Maharashtra) and followed 360 students per site as they moved from grades I to III from 2013 to 2016.

The LiRIL project deep dives into how young students are taught in early primary grades and how children learn reading and writing in two Indian languages—Kannada and Marathi. It documents the challenges faced by learners in this process. Through a variety of quantitative and qualitative data collected over a period of three years, including children’s performance on a variety of literacy tasks, classroom observations, teacher interviews, in-depth child studies, and curricular analyses, the project found that:

  • The scripts—Kannada and Marathi—like most Indian scripts– take several years to master. The number of symbols are extensive and complex. However, school curriculum and textbooks do not account for this.
  • Children perform poorly on tasks related to decoding the script. Word and passage reading are not automatic outcomes of learning to read the aksharas.
  • Comprehension and composition are not automatic outcomes of learning to decode the script. Even students who performed well on script-reading tasks, performed poorly on tasks assessing their understanding of what was read, and their ability to communicate ideas through writing.
  • Teachers are not specifically equipped to teach language and literacy. Most teachers in the sample did not possess clear understanding about aims and approaches to teaching early language and literacy, or ways to address specific student difficulties.

Ms. Amrita Patwardhan, Head- Education and Sports, Tata Trusts, said, “ It is widely known that children are not able to master strong foundational skills in literacy, despite completing primary schooling. Reasons behind student’s inability to read and write with understanding has not been studied and understood in Indian classrooms. LiRIL is first of its kind longitudinal research of literacy instruction and learning in Indian languages. Multi-pronged approach that looks at curriculum, teacher preparation and teaching learning processes helps uncover key gaps and makes specific recommendations that can inform practitioners and policy makers alike.”

Professor Shailaja Menon, Principal Investigator of the LiRIL project said, “There is more to learning to read and write than meets the eye. We need to push our understandings about the specific contexts in which Indian children–especially, those from socioeconomically marginalized communities–learn to read and write. We need to have better understandings about the teaching and learning of Indian scripts. We need to have a vision of an appropriate early language and literacy curriculum- and see how the curricula we currently have measure up to our ideals. The LiRIL project tries to push the conversation beyond simply stating that many children in India fail to learn to read and write proficiently by analyzing reasons for the same. The findings from this project could help guide educational initiatives and policies, although it is only a small step in the larger journey that we need to undertake.”

The LiRIL project endeavors to present answers on how curricular, pedagogical and teacher education reforms should be based on careful consideration of factors related to robust understanding of what helps children, at an early stage, in learning to read and write in diverse Indian contexts. Highlighting the need for early literacy, the research highlights select recommendations:

· Balanced approach to literacy –time and organization: At a minimum, 4 blocks of time are necessary to adequately support early reading and writing – Read Aloud Block; Phonics and Word Work; Guided Reading (where students practice reading passages/books at an appropriate level of difficulty); and Guided Writing (for compositional efforts).

· Teacher Education: Teachers should also be encouraged to develop themselves as readers and writers in order to teach in rich and meaningful ways to children. Supportive formats should be created for examining strong beliefs that many teachers hold about the capabilities of marginalized children and communities.

· Comprehensive Language and Literacy Classrooms: Curricula must focus simultaneously on a variety of language and literacy skills from the very earliest grades. Listening, speaking, reading and writing need to be taught in inter-related ways and used for communication, expression, analysis and discussion. Both higher order and lower order skills need to be nurtured together, from the very beginning.

· Children’s Literature and Read Alouds in the Classroom: Higher order meaning making can be supported by the presence of children’s literature in every school/classroom. Read Alouds of good books by teachers have been established in more literate societies as one of the most powerful formats for early language and literacy learning. Read Alouds are opportunities for listening and developing oral language; and if interspersed with discussions, become an opportunity to engage in meaning-making.

Azim Premji University and Tata Trusts endeavour to create positive impact on the shaping of the New Education Policy so as to affect long lasting change in the Indian education system.