Pune: A recent report titled ‘Fast Reading Assessment’ by an organisation has revealed that maximum children in urban private schools across India profoundly lacked the skill of reading in English. The assessment has reiterated the need for bringing reading to the core learning focus rather than just being restricted to a namesake library period at schools.
Experts in the field believe that the children could be inclined towards reading more by providing them with the right kind of reading material right from the childhood. The report, which was the outcome of research by ‘Stones2Milestones’ organisation, has revealed that 9 in 10 children in urban private schools cannot read properly in English.
The largest study of its kind conducted till date, the assessment covered 19,765 children in 106 urban private schools across 20 states of India, who participated across grades, 4, 5 and 6 corresponding to the three levels of FAST 4, FAST 5 and FAST 6 in 2017-18.
Research indicates that a child must be an independent reader with fluency and comprehension by the end of grade 3. FAST reveals that in India children attain the independence only at the grade 6 level. Out of all the children who appeared for FAST, 12.5 per cent in grade 4 and only 2.7 per cent in grades 5 and 6, were reading at an age-appropriate level.
In fact, 11 per cent of those who appeared in FAST 4 didn’t even possess the abilities of the lowest level reader. This shows that all schools – public and private – need to pay attention to building the crucial skill in the children.
“We are hoping that the report on ‘Where India Reads’ is a significant eye-opener for even urban private schools. We will be taking the assessment to 1.5 million children over the next 12 months,” said Kavish Gadia, Co-Founder and CEO, Stones2Milestones.
Sandhya Taksale, Editor, Pratham Books, said, “Reading skills can be increased only if we provide the children with the right kind of reading material. The books that we give to the young children cannot be dull and long. They should be made to read short stories, with colourful pictures, in the beginning, to get them interested in reading. Even before they start reading, parents should read out stories to them. If you give the children the right kind of books, those which suit their reading level, why will they not read? It’s the responsibility of the facilitators – parents, teachers, NGOs that work with the children to ensure the interest is generated to encourage English reading skills.”
She further added, “Parents usually want their children to read something to go with the academics. However, reading shouldn’t be limited to that as reading across topics helps improve one’s command over languages, which is necessary to learn anything in the world.”
Reacting to the report, Kedar Tapikar, Chief Coordinator of Akshar Bharati, NGO, which runs libraries at several Zila Parishad schools in Maharashtra, said, “There are some main challenges that need to be addressed here. Firstly, the lack of appropriate resources. Only having libraries at school is not enough, but there is a need to provide the children with age-appropriate books that will interest them but this factor is missing in most of our schools. Secondly, we also need to teach children to read effectively at schools as well as in homes. Here, parents and teachers also need to consider the children with learning disabilities, and try to inculcate the habit of reading in them as well.”
Tapikar also said that encouragement from parents and teachers counts and they should not just focus on textbook reading, but reading as a whole. They should understand that reading books apart from the textbooks will equip the children with far greater knowledge, he added.
FAST also showcased that children with ‘reading-ready’ environments at home, characterised by access to books of their choice, regularity of reading and support from an adult, scored better than those who did not. This emphasised upon the need for a complete reading ecosystem with parents, schools and teachers as equal stakeholders in a child’s journey to build the will and skill of reading.
Ultimately, the objective of the FAST Assessment is to serve as a base from which educators and policymakers will understand the reading process, assess two components of the reading process – comprehension and vocabulary (meaning-making and word use fluency) as well as understand how the children’s home environment impacts reading skills.