India’s new National Education Policy (NEP) aims to address current educational challenges while envisioning to equip every child for future opportunities and challenges. One of the most debated reforms is foundational learning (literacy and numeracy). The policy states that ‘this skill is considered as a necessary foundation and an indispensable prerequisite for all future schooling and lifelong learning’. Hence, the announcement of the National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy is worth welcoming for many reasons.
One reason is that every child in India does not have access to a stimulating and conducive home environment. Concerted efforts at the school level should be made by providing dedicated and trained teachers, specific curriculum and instruction materials and other provisions. Second, millions of children do not have access to quality preschool education programme in our country; hence, the focus on foundation learning can address this gap. Third, foundational learning is critical to ensure that children complete their education with learning that allows them to transit to the next level. It will ultimately halt the trend of children dropping out.
Given the criticality, state and national governments must initiate a dialogue and collaborate in developing well tested operational plans, framework and content to operationalise vision of national mission on foundational literacy and numeracy. To design a quality foundational learning programme, the following principles should be considered:
- Address sociological and pedagogical barriers faced by first-gen learners and those belonging to marginalised families by ensuring equitable learning opportunities in each classroom where teachers are sensitive to the context of the learners.
- The early reading and numeracy strategy must use pedagogy and teacher instruction methods that value the home/mother tongue of the child and ensure their gradual transition to the standard medium of instruction. The focus needs to be on building conceptual understanding by encouraging the use of mother tongue and, simultaneously, building a sound vocabulary base and exposure to the medium of instruction.
- The reading approach must respect the linguistic and cultural diversity of children that exists in a classroom.
- Learning occurs where a child is cared for, loved and respected, which forms the backbone of any foundational learning program. Hence, a positive relationship between children, teacher and child, child and school environment is necessary.
- Teachers need to be trained to understand the aim of foundational learning, child development, structured instruction methods, where they understand different levels of learners in a classroom and come up with ways to respond to the diverse needs.
- The reading and numeracy program must use concurrent and continuous learning assessment in the classroom, not to track but to build children’s competencies and skills related to reading.
School and classroom must have an engaging and safe learning environment.
- Develop contextual and continuous teacher development using classroom processes tracking system to ensure all teachers are supported fully.
- School and community links must be re-visualised where parents and teachers jointly ensure every child gets to learn.
Foundational learning operational plans and approaches should be comprehensive and able to address any challenge that a child living in a remote village may face in achieving her/his dream of learning. New education policy can help curb dropout rates in later years of schooling.