The Early Literacy Project (ELP) began in July 2006 as an exploratory search for ways of building strong foundations for meaningful reading and writing in Hindi. Intensive work was undertaken for a period of one year, in Classes 1, 2 and 3 of a few Government (MCD) schools located in the Najafgarh Zone of Delhi. Most children within these schools belong to poor migrant families from different parts of India, most of whom are daily wage workers. They bring with them varied linguistic, social and cultural traditions. The ELP methodologies were developed through close engagement with the diverse learning processes of these children inside classrooms. Through the course of this work in Delhi we were involved in the training of approximately 600 in -service MCD School teachers from 5 zones of Delhi. In response to a demand from these teachers a Resource Pack of supportive material based on the ELP methodologies and a few classroom based films were subsequently developed by us.
In January 2008 the ELP project was relocated to rural government primary schools in Rajasthan. It was implementedin 8 government upper primary schools and 8 non formal bridge schools in the Silora Block of Ajmer District, as a pilot project. The intervention in these schools received support from the Block and Cluster level Education Department and SSA officials, who have responded positively to the ELP methods. Based on a demand from these officials, ELP conducted teacher training workshops for teachers from approximately 200 Government schools from across the Silora Block. The ELP Resource Pack and CDs were also provided on request to most of these schools.
In 2009 ELP shifted its focus to children who are out of school. These children belong to the poorest and most marginalized communities. Many of them migrate to cities from time to time in search of a livelihood. ELP worked in partnership with the Barefoot College, Tilonia to strengthen the reading and writing processes in 100 non formal schools in rural Rajasthan ,covering more than 2000 children who belong to the poorest and most vulnerable social groups. The effort is to try and mainstream as many children as possible.
Since February 2010, OELP is running 20 Bal Sahyog Kendras within the Ajmer District of Rajasthan. These include the following:
- Bal Sahhyog Kendras being run as remedial centers which are located within Government Primary Schools
- Community based Bal Sahyog Kendras for out of school children
- Mobile libraries in 10 villages
- Teacher training and capacity building programmes which use the Bal Sahyog Kendras as demonstration sites
- workshops and meetings with the village communities and School Management Committiees
Conceptualization of ELP
Within the rural schools that ELP has worked in, we have found many children who are unable to understand much of what transpires in the class, since they speak Marwari while the lessons are in Hindi. Most teachers in these schools translate the school texts for the children. Getting the children in these rural schools to relate to print in meaningful ways has also proved to be challenging. In some schools it took us a couple of months of work with children in Class 1 just to establish meaningful sound- symbol relationships for a few written letters. Most of the children in these classes actively engage with the written forms of language for the first time only when they step into school, since there is hardly any exposure to printed words in their homes and real life situations. Within current literature on Early Literacy such children, who have not interacted with print during their early childhood years, have been viewed to be at a major disadvantage when they enter school. They do not have the same degree of preparedness as children who have experienced various informal and meaningful print based interactions with literate others in their home and social environments during their early childhood years. While the issue of language disadvantage has been clearly identified as an area of concern within the Indian context, a parallel concern which has not received as much attention is the shift that a large number of young children are required to make from the oral cultures in their homes to the unfamiliar print culture of a classroom. Research indicates that this transition does not come naturally, and can be very challenging for children from non literacy backgrounds who often do not have any support for reading and writing in their home and social environments. Recent perspectives on Early Literacy have emphasized the importance of understanding and catering to the special literacy learning needs of first generation learners so that they can engage meaningfully with reading and writing.
One of the main objectives of ELP is to develop classroom interventions which equip children from marginalized and non literacy backgrounds to build strong foundations for reading and writing with understanding in Hindi. ELP has worked intensively inside classrooms and developed methodologies for equipping young first generation literacy learners with the linguistic knowledge and skills required for processing the sounds and symbols of the Devanagari script; and the cognitive skills required for meaning construction. The ELP intervention combines a structured approach with opportunities for free exploration, so that the children are gradually able to express their words, ideas, and real life experiences through written and pictorial forms. This enables them to experience reading and writing processes as purposeful and meaningful for them.
Work within the ELP project has been taken up at two levels:
- For young beginning level readers and writers the methodologies focus on building script knowledge i.e. skills required for phonological processing and for meaning construction.
- For young readers and writers who are at a more advanced level the methodologies aim to strengthen reading and writing with understanding and develop a supportive print rich classroom environment to enhance and strengthen meaningful and purposeful reading and writing.