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Early Literacy Project, India

  • Date published:
    24 January 2014
© UNESCO

Programme Overview

Programme Title Early Literacy Project
Implementing Organization Organization for Early Literacy Promotion (OELP)
Language of Instruction Hindi
Programme Partners Indian Government (through the Department of Education); UNESCO, Plan International (India), Barefoot College
Date of Inception 2006 (ongoing)

Context and Background

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India has witnessed tremendous economic growth and increased political democratisation in recent decades. These developments, coupled with increased State investment in education through, for example, comprehensive educational programmes such as the National Literacy Mission (NLM) and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), have greatly improved educational opportunities for all citizens. As a result, the country has achieved near universal primary school attendance rates (more than 95% as of 2010) while the national youth literacy rate has increased from about 52% in 1991 to about 65% as of 2000 to 2006 and to 81% as of 2005 to 2010.

However, these impressive developments overshadow the deep-rooted challenges such as endemic poverty, acute shortages of learning resources and professional teachers as well as the entrenched language barrier for non-Hindi speaking learners, which continue to undermine India’s educational system and thus governmental efforts to promote access to quality education for all. Indeed, a recent Annual Status of Education Report (ASER, 2011) revealed that not only is India facing great challenges in universalising access to basic education but also that the quality of education in most public schools in the country, but particularly within public schools in under-developed rural regions of the northern and eastern states, such as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, is generally declining. The decline in the quality or standard of education in public schools grossly undermines children’s school performance and thus their capacity to acquire effective functional literacy skills. This situation is reportedly worse among traditionally disadvantaged population groups such as women, ethnic minorities, lower castes and migrants, most of whom live in under-developed and marginalised communities. Against this backdrop, some studies have argued that despite the rise in the average national literacy rates, about one-third of India’s population is functionally illiterate (i.e. cannot read or write) while illiteracy rates among the youth (19%) and adults (37%) remain alarmingly high. Hence, in an effort to improve the quality of education in public schools within disadvantaged and marginalised rural communities as well as to address the challenges faced by children from these communities in their learning processes, the Organization for Early Literacy Promotion (OELP) initiated the Early Literacy Project (ELP) in 2006.

The Early Literacy Project (ELP)

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The ELP is an integrated, intensive and culturally sensitive early literacy-training programme which is currently being implemented in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The ELP primarily targets out-of-school children and youth as well as under-achieving school-going children (in Grades 1, 2 and 3) attending rural government primary schools. Most of the targeted children come from the poorest and most marginalized communities (such as migrants and ethnic minorities), with high illiteracy rates. In addition, they also have different socio-cultural, linguistic and economic traditions and experiences. Most importantly, many of these children work during the day to supplement family incomes, a practice that deprives them of access to education.

These existential experiences, coupled with the lack of effective parental support in nurturing children’s literacy skills during their formative years and acute shortages of learning resources and professional teachers in most rural schools, have grossly undermined the standards of education in rural public schools and thus most children’s potential to access quality basic education and / or to succeed at school. This situation is exacerbated by most children’s limited command of Hindi, the official language of instruction in the formal school system, as most come from families that speak other languages such as Marwari. Accordingly, the OELP initiated the ELP in 2006 in order to address these challenges and, most importantly, to improve access to quality education for children living in marginalised rural communities.

Aims and Objectives

In addition to the previously mentioned primary goals, the ELP also endeavours to:

  • Create sustainable and quality learning opportunities for out-of-school children and under-achieving school going children living in under-developed and marginalised rural communities in order to enable them to acquire functional literacy skills;
  • Improve the quality of education in rural public schools;
  • Support governmental efforts to universalise the provision of quality basic education in the country,

  • Nurture a culture of learning among socio-economically disadvantaged and marginalised population groups;
  • Empower public schools within disadvantaged and marginalised rural communities to improve their teaching methods and thus their standard of education in order to improve children’s learning performances,
  • Build strong foundations, attitudes and skills among children necessary for meaningful and lifelong learning in Hindi;
  • Enhance the livelihood opportunities of children from socio-economically disadvantaged communities, and
  • Strengthen community participation in child education.

Essentially therefore, the ELP endeavours to help children from poor and marginalized socio-cultural groups to build strong foundations in reading and writing (i.e. to acquire effective literacy skills) in order to enable them to enhance their potential for lifelong learning as well as to function effectively and sustainably within the contemporary and modernising global community.

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

The OELP has devised various strategies and methodologies in order to ensure the effective and sustainable implementation of the ELP. Key among these includes the establishment of functional partnerships with other developmental institutions and local communities; production of culturally and contextually relevant teaching-learning materials; training of community-based programme facilitators; implementation of capacity building training programmes for rural primary school teachers and establishment of Community Learning Centres (CLCs, or Bal Sahyog Kendras, BSKs) and community-based mobile libraries.

Establishment of Institutional Partnerships

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As experience from various situations amply demonstrates, an acute shortage of human and financial resources, the dearth of professional experience among practitioners and the lack of effective coordination between various stakeholders often impede the efficient and sustainable implementation of community-based educational programmes. In order to circumvent these challenges within India, the OELP has established functional partnerships with various institutions and stakeholders including UNESCO, Plan International (India), Barefoot College, local schools and communities. These institutions provide the OELP with critical financial, technical and moral support necessary for the effective implementation of the ELP. For instance, UNESCO and Barefoot College have actively collaborated with the OELP in the development and production of culturally relevant programme materials as well as in the training of programme facilitators (see below). Furthermore, local communities – through their leaders – assist the OELP in coordinating the recruitment of programme facilitators and learners (i.e. out-of-school children), mobilising community members to support the ELP and in establishing and managing CLCs which function as learning sites for out-of-school children, most of whom work during the day to supplement family incomes. Local community leaders also monitor the operations of mobile libraries within their communities as well as the activities undertaken at the CLCs.

On the other hand, local school teachers and School Management Committees (SMCs) assist the OELP in identifying and encouraging under-achieving school-going children to participate in the ELP as well as in managing school-based BSKs which function as remedial learning centres for under-achieving school going children. They also play a critical role in the development of teaching-learning strategies and learning materials that are sensitive to the particular cultural, linguistic and developmental needs of learners. Most importantly, they also actively participate in the implementation of the ELP as trainers or facilitators. The active participation of these stakeholders has been the primary catalyst that has ensured the successful and cost-effective implementation of the ELP over the years.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

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In addition to forging functional institutional partnerships with various stakeholders as noted above, the OELP has also recruited and trained a cohort of 20 community-based master trainers or facilitators who are employed on a permanent basis as well as about 100 part-time trainers who are engaged as and when the demands of the programme necessitates. These programme practitioners are primarily responsible for the practical implementation of the ELP in the field and are paid a monthly stipend of about INR 2000 (about US $40).

In order to enhance their training efficiency, the OELP provides all trainers with induction and on-going in-service training and mentoring in a wide range of subjects including:

  • Teaching-Learning methods or approaches;
  • Design and development of appropriate teaching-learning materials
  • Class room management practices; and
  • Assessment and evaluation of teaching-learning outcomes.

Upon successful completion of the induction-training programme, programme trainers are deployed to existing CLCs within their communities and / or at local schools where they conduct day and night classes. Each facilitator is entrusted to teach a class of between 5 and 25 learners.

In addition to providing these training services, the facilitators are also required to assist the OELP in recruiting new learners (out-of-school children); mobilising the communities to support the ELP and evaluating the impact of the ELP on the communities in general and on children’s school performance, in particular. Facilitators are also required to liaise with community members in order to ensure the proper and cost-effective management of CLCs and mobile libraries.

The OELP has also initiated in-service capacity building training programmes for professional primary school teachers. These programmes train teachers on, for example, how to develop learning resources which are organic and grounded in classroom experiences as well as in the systematic documentation of classroom experiences to generate valuable field based resource material for policy makers, administrators and practitioners. The main aim of this exercise is therefore to empower teachers to be effective practitioners in order to improve the quality of education in resource-poor rural schools.

Development of Teaching-Learning Materials

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In order to facilitate the efficient and sustainable implementation of the ELP, the OELP has developed a wide range of illustrative / attractive and culturally relevant teaching-learning materials for children at different learning levels. The learning resources are mostly published in simplified Hindi in order to facilitate effective use and learning by non-Hindi speakers. They are also distributed free of charge to schoolteachers, school children and programme facilitators or trainers. Examples of key teaching-learning resources include:

  • Posters, story and akshara or word cards
  • Audio-visual films on CDs:
    • Man karta hai apni baaten likhoon (Hindi and with English sub titles),
    • Man karta hain panda likhna seekhoon (shuruati pathan lekhen ki vidhiyan),
    • Pathan Saathi, and
    • Kaksha mein likhit mahaul viksit karne ki vidhiyan.
  • Skill practice worksheets for learners at different levels, focusing on the following reading and writing skills competency areas:
    • sound recognition or phonemic awareness,
    • sound-symbol correspondence or phonics,
    • combining sounds and symbols to construct meaningful words
    • word recognition and vocabulary,
    • picture reading,
    • reading and writing with understanding,
    • reading and following directions, and
    • story completion,
  • A resource pack for teachers containing:
    • A teacher's teaching guide book;
    • Activity book,
    • An evaluation book,
    • CDs explaining teaching methods and giving suggestions for learning activities

Recruitment of Learners

The OELP’s field technical teams and programme facilitators, with support from various stakeholders such as community leaders, school teachers and SMCs are responsible for mobilising out-of-school children and under-achieving school-going children to participate in the ELP programme. To achieve this, programme stakeholders employ a wide range of community-based developmental meetings, literacy awareness and advocacy campaigns. These campaigns endeavour to encourage parents to support the implementation of the ELP and more broadly, to actively participate in the overall education of their children.

Teaching-Learning Approaches and Methods

The OELP employs various teaching-learning approaches, the main one being the Varna Samooha Approach (VSA). The VSA is a structured, participatory and interactive child-centred teaching-learning strategy or methodology, which encompasses a wide variety of teaching-learning activities such as group discussions, games and role-plays or simulations as well as question and answer sessions.

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The principal aim of the VSA is to equip learners with different literacy skills competencies with the linguistic knowledge and skills required for identifying and processing spoken sounds (phonemics) and sound-symbol correspondence (phonics) as well as for constructing meaningful words, phrases and / or sentences through the practical reading of stories and pictures as well as through games and role-plays. In short, the VSA aims to enhance learners’ knowledge and skills required for processing the sounds and symbols (i.e. phonological processing) of the Hindi script in order to enable them to read, write and communicate effectively.

To achieve this fundamental goal, the Hindi alphabet (varna mala) has been regrouped into six categories called the varna samoohas. Each category provides a symbol for each spoken sound. During the teaching and learning process, learners are taught to recognise the sounds and symbols of a few written characters or words at a time as well as how to break up the written words into speech (sounds) units or syllables (aksharas). For instance, breaking up the word mala into the sounds /ma/ / la/ enables learners to easily identify the word’s sound units since these are the sounds they hear from their speeches. Once the learners understand the sound-symbol correspondence or relationship required for engaging with a written script, they are taught how to combine the syllables to construct meaningful written forms (words, phrases and sentences).

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In order to ensure effective learning, various practical activities such as role-plays, reading of stories and / or poems, group discussions, writing and drawing of pictures illustrating their real life experiences are used to complement the theoretical component of the VSA.

Essentially therefore, the VSA combines a structured and activity-based approach to teaching and learning with opportunities for free exploration, so that children are gradually empowered to express their words, ideas, and real life experiences, through written and pictorial forms.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The OELP has devised various strategies and mechanisms of monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the ELP. Firstly, the implementation of the ELP and its outcomes are evaluated on an on-going basis by the OELP’s technical teams and programme facilitators through monthly community meetings; on-site observations of the teaching-learning processes and periodic qualitative assessments of individual learners’ literacy skills as exhibited by, for example, their written exercises, classroom participation rates and communication (language) skills. To this end, the OELP has designed a standardised questionnaire (checklist) to ensure the effective assessment of the learning outcomes and thus the learners’ literacy skills. In addition to these internal monitoring and evaluation processes, external experts from specialised institutes such as the Regional Institute of Education (RIE), are also engaged by the OELP to evaluate the implementation the ELP on an annual basis (see for example, Prof K.B. Rath, 2010, Evaluation of the Early Literacy Project, http://www.oelp.org).

Programme Impact and Challenges

Impact

The programme evaluation processes have revealed that the ELP plays a critical role not only in enhancing the literacy skills of under-achieving school going children but also in providing out-of-school children with an alternative route to accessing basic education. It has also rallied entire communities to support the education of their children and improved the quality of education in resource poor rural schools. In so doing, the programme has played (and continues to play) a critical role in cultivating a culture of learning among disadvantaged communities, all of which promotes social empowerment, economic development and poverty alleviation. More specifically, the major impacts of the ELP include:

  • Creation of basic educational opportunities for disadvantaged children: in addition to supporting rural primary schools through the provision of capacity building training programmes for teachers, the OELP has established more than 20 CLCs and 10 mobile libraries within the Ajmer District of Rajasthan. This has greatly improved disadvantaged children’s opportunities of accessing basic education and learning resources.
  • Improving school retention and performance rates: to date, the OELP has trained over 600 professional teachers and non-professional volunteers to teach disadvantaged children. It has also provided quality teaching-learning materials to primary schools and CLCs. These activities have greatly expanded the educational opportunities available to rural children and also improved the quality of education in rural schools;
  • Increasing learners’ levels of confidence and self-esteem: according to an evaluation study of the ELP (Rath, 2010), a conscious effort is made within the ELP interventions to enhance the active involvement of learners in the processes of thinking, understanding and constructing meaning while engaging with the written forms language. This has reportedly played a pivotal role in building the learners’ thinking skills required for meaningful engagement with aspects of reading and writing within and outside the school system;
  • The ELP has greatly assisted non-Hindi speaking children to acquire effective language skills, as well as to write in Hindi, all of which has promoted their integration into mainstream Indian society;
  • Social Empowerment and Community development: the ELLP has been a major catalyst for empowering traditionally disadvantaged and marginalized communities in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to be active participants in improving their socio-economic wellbeing.

Challenges

Despite its major contributions towards the universalization of basic education in disadvantaged communities as noted, the ELP is also encumbered by numerous challenges. These include:

  • Inadequate institutional support: although the OELP receives support from various public and private institutions, such support has generally been inadequate. Noteworthy, the effective implementation of the ELP has been hampered by the lack of adequate financial and technical support. This has, for instance, forced the OELP to employ inadequately trained programme facilitators. It has also hampered its efforts to expand the programme to other equally disadvantaged communities;
  • Poverty: as noted above, the ELP is being implemented in communities with high poverty rates. As such, children are often forced to attend classes intermittently because they are forced to work as labourers in order to supplement family incomes. This practice not only deprives children of quality learning time but also hampers their learning progress as they are often forced to repeat classes;

Lessons Learned

Several critical lessons have been learnt since the institutionalisation of the ELP. These include:

  • Children need to experience reading and writing as something that is connected to them and so is meaningful for them, therefore reading and writing activities need to begin with the children's language and experiences.
  • In order to ensure the success of non-formal educational programmes, it is critical to tailor and locate these interventions within the local socio-cultural and linguistic context. Similarly, the design and development of the teaching-learning resources for these programmes must be informed by the local context, traditions and needs;
  • To be viable and sustainable, bilingual educational programmes must be adapted not only to the needs of the concerned communities but also to the goals and vision of the entire State,
  • The active involvement of the community is critical for the effective and sustainable implementation of non-formal educational programmes;
  • It is also critical to balance the beneficiaries’ livelihood needs and the need to ensure that their children attend classes. As such, classes must be conducted in ways that enables beneficiaries to continue to engage in their livelihood activities. Without this balance, attendance rates are bound to be low; and
  • Non-formal educational programmes act as a critical catalyst for rural development and social empowerment.

Sources

  • Organization for Early Literacy Promotion (OELP), website>
  • K.B. Rath, 2010, Evaluation of the Early Literacy Project, National Council of Education Research and Training.
  • OELP, A study of the Reading Processes of primary school learners from Classes 3 to 6 in four villages of the Silora Block, Ajmer District, Rajasthan, www.oelp.org
  • OELP: A Study of the Reading Processes of primary school learners from Classes 3 to 6 in four villages in the Silora Block of Ajmer District, Rajasthan
  • Keerti Jayaram, 2007, Young Learners Learning to Read and Write in Hindi –An overview of the exploratory intervention and research undertaken in Phase I of the Early Literacy Project (ELP) — A report submitted to the ELP Research Advisory Panel
  • Keerti Jayaram, A Narrative Report of the Early Literacy Project (ELP). Phase 3. October 2009 to July 2010

Contact

Keerti Jayaram (OELP Secretary and Director of ELP)
Address B2-2198, Vasantkunj, New Delhi 110070
Telephone +91 4612 1427
Email: oelpliteracy (at) yahoo.in
Website: http://www.oelp.org

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.).. Last update: 21 July 2017. Early Literacy Project, India. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 24 January 2021, 04:41 CET)

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