Learning to read early has multiple benefits for a child – neurological, educational, psychological, social and linguistic. Reading helps in the development of the brain’s neural connections, improves concentration and hence boosts grades at school, and develops self-confidence in a child.
Recognising the importance of learning to read early in the overall development of a child, the United States government, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the federal agency responsible for administering foreign civilian aid, in collaboration with the Centre for Knowledge Sciences (CKS), has embarked on a massive project to improve reading skills of children in India. New Delhi-based CKS is a leading innovation consulting firm, employing user-centred research to help organisations create products, services, and systems.
The project, called READ Alliance (Read – Engage – Achieve – Dream) aims to spend $3.2 million to improve the reading skills of millions of primary school children all over India. It will address the issue of early literacy in India, especially among children at high risk of not learning to read.
Early experiences greatly influence the way a person develops. The earlier a child learns to read, the earlier the brain starts developing and vital neural connections are formed. A child is born with about 100 billion active brain cells or neurons; this number will remain the same. But what changes are the connections between them, called synapses. The more the number of synapses, the better the cellular connections and faster would be the brain functions. At birth, the number of synapses per neuron is 2,500, but by the age of two or three, it is about 15,000 per neuron.
Reading is one of the primary methods to enable this development of the brain, and through it, the personality of the child. Also, at a young age, a child learns much faster. The unencumbered brain is eager to take in a lot of experiences. Reading helps in academic success as it leads to improved attentions spans and consequentially, better concentration. A richer vocabulary, improved writing, better spelling and more articulate oral communication result from learning to read early. Better communication leads to an improved self-image and self-confidence, and as a result, a better personality. Interacting with others in positive ways is critical to success in life.
The Alliance aims to achieve its aim through targeted events and online collaborations. It also aims to incubate promising projects to improve reading skills in children and help take those to scale. The project will bring all those with a stake in children’s education - schools, teachers, researchers, non-profit organisations, corporations, think tanks, and anyone else – on a common platform.
Importantly, the project will use Indian innovations and resources on a large scale to support the literacy projects. This will also help to bring many indigenous innovations to the fore and popularise them, and help their usage in similar projects all over the country.
Written by Anushtup Haldar for Team M3.tv