The skill of reading is necessary for nourishment and ensuring a good quality of life. Therefore, for children to develop skills in any subject, reading is a non-negotiable skill.
Reading does not come easily to anyone. We are born with all the neurons (brain cells) that we will have throughout our lives. However, the number of synapses or connections formed later between brain cells determines the growth of abilities such as communication, reading, writing, painting and singing. Between the ages of 0 and 5/6, children develop almost a million new neural connections every second. These develop through a child’s everyday experiences. Therefore, it is crucial that children are exposed to the right stimulation and interactions during this time.
The science of developing language in a child through constant exposure to spoken sounds and words is perhaps as old as the Indian art of storytelling (katha). Although katha was originally intended to transmit ideas and beliefs to future generations and to preserve the culture of a community, it was also considered necessary for the holistic growth and development of a child. It is well established that a child’s first attempt to develop their language skills, and therefore their reading skills, begins when they begin to respond to noise, words and cooing by crying or gurgling. The later sounds a child encounters, such as the sound of conversations and music, lay the foundation for the child to learn reading and writing skills.
Knowing how to read means being able to imagine, to be curious, to think critically, to develop better interpersonal skills, to appreciate diversity and to be able to realize one’s full potential and productivity. So the question is what is the best way to acquire this skill.
We are not born with brains ready to read. The brain has to work hard to coordinate its areas of visual processing, sound-symbol connection, language understanding, and speech production in order to be able to decode words and sentences. To further hone reading skills, it is important to focus on repetitive reading practices, read beyond textbooks, and listen to nursery rhymes, stories, and songs.
Cognitive neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene said: “Existing neural networks in the brain are retrained for reading. Due to what is called brain plasticity, during brain development a range of brain circuits can adapt to new uses. When we learn a new skill, like reading, we recycle some of our old brain circuitry.
Research-based evidence indicates the following: if parents or family start reading or storytelling early with their children, there is a much greater chance of developing better reading skills (James Hutton, MD, 2015) ; for most elementary school children, systematic instruction and repeated classroom exercises are more than enough to “wire” their brains for reading. There will be dyslexic children. However, the good news is that by focusing all teaching efforts specifically on phonological awareness and decoding skills, the brains of children with dyslexia can be “trained” to read.
Although the pandemic has affected students’ reading skills. But lost ground can be regained through “deliberate practice” of reading and listening to a diverse set of texts, and “intensive instruction” by the teacher in phonetics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, communication fluency and comprehension. This, according to Cunningham & Rose; Eden; Hudson et al, (2016), will strengthen students’ brain circuits and make them strong and successful readers.
The government has embarked on a nationwide 100-day elementary school reading campaign from January 1. The idea is to take full advantage of brain plasticity and reverse reading skill losses by retraining brain circuits wherever needed through consistent, repeated and diverse actions. reading practices. The campaign has been designed so that each week a learner is exposed to a new activity that is joyful and engaging, and can be undertaken at home or at school. If you join us in reading to children, reading with them, or helping them learn to read or become better readers, you are contributing to the larger cause of nation building.
Anita Karwal is Secretary, Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Education Opinions expressed are personal