Language teaching in India focuses on rote memorization, choral repetition and copying/ handwriting practice. There is little focus on meaning-making. Children are largely passive. These ‘safe’ teaching strategies do not support strong language and literacy development in the early grades. Classroom language situations are quite varied in our country in terms of children’s first languages, medium of instruction and language used in the teaching-learning process and language background of the teacher. Children who come to school with a different home language background and/or little exposure to literacy at home face a big disadvantage in the early years. Many of these languages are considered inferior and the children are considered deficient and lacking in ability to acquire strong literacy skills in the school language. The teaching-learning of language needs a thorough overhaul and children’s languages need to find a place in the classroom.
Dhir Jhingran is the Founder Director of Language and Learning Foundation, New Delhi, an NGO focused on professional development in language, literacy and multilingual education. He has worked in the primary education sector for over two decades, within and outside the government. He served as Principal Secretary, Education in the Government of Assam and Director in the Ministry of Human Resource Development as an officer of the Indian Administrative Service. He has been part of the development and implementation of several EFA (Education for All) programmes in the country including the District Primary Education Programme, Janshala and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. He has been involved in policy making and systemic reform in the education sector, both in Assam and at the national level. As Chief Program Officer for Room to Read, an international education NGO, Dhir led the conceptualization, design and implementation of early grades reading programmes in 9 countries in Asia and Africa. He has helped guide early language and literacy projects in Nepal and Assam. His work in primary education has focused on improving the quality of education, specifically the teaching-learning of literacy and language in primary grades. He has made a significant contribution to multilingual education in the country and inclusion ofchildren belonging to vulnerable and marginalized groups. Dhir strongly believes that equity issues need to be strongly addressed to help all children learn. He has authored two books based on empirical researches in primary education and contributed to many books and journals. Dhir holds a Master’s degree in Economics and a PhD in Education.