Imparting Basic Education — Numeracy, Literacy and Other Skills

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 14 Sep 2020

Ravi P. Bhatia and Ambika Roshan – TRANSCEND Media Service

Although World Teachers Day is celebrated on October 5, in India we celebrate Teachers Day on September 5 in honour of our former Philosopher-President S Radhakrishnan. The Day is being celebrated to honour teachers and academics for promoting education among all people in India by their devotion and newer techniques.

Education — both school and higher, is desirable for everyone in today’s society. But unfortunately many students in Asia, Africa and Latin America are not only deprived of higher education but do not get even good school education. Even if the curriculum at school level is appropriate, many students, especially belonging to poor marginalised families do not learn much and drop out of school because of academic and economic reasons.

I will not talk much about economic constraints of families that percolate down to their children. In this essay I confine myself to academic issues that deprive children of desirable learning outcomes and suggest simple means for promoting these among small children.

Let me start with writing numbers and alphabets for the beginners — four or five year old children.

See how a three or four year old child holds a pencil or crayon. She/he can draw straight lines up down or left to right or vice versa. He cannot draw a curve or circular lines. Of the digits 1, 2, 3 ….. 8, 9, 10, some are straight lines for digits 1 and to some extent 4 and 7. These digits can be drawn relatively easily by a child. But 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 0 have curves that are difficult to draw for a child of that age. So while we may emphasise the child learning to speak numbers from 1 to 10 and even higher, we should not put too much emphasis on his writing of all the numbers for the reason given above.

Let us take the concept of addition. This is relatively easily understood by the child by showing groups of two pencils in one stock and three or four pencils in the other stock and asking the child to just count from one to five or six respectively.

Teaching multiplication comes after some months, maybe a year. It is built on the concept of adding numbers as explained below:

When we write 2 x 4 = 8, this can be explained by saying we have two pencils to start with. We add two more to make the total 4. By adding two more pencils twice more to this number, we get 8 pencils.

Another issue — we know 2 x 3 = 6; also 3 x 2 = 6. How to explain this to a six year old?

One method is to have two stocks of three pencils each in the first case and rearrange the six pencils by having three stocks of two pencils each. The six pencils have only been distributed differently. Understanding this will take some time but gradually the child begins to appreciate the concept of multiplication and rearrangement of digits.

Coming to letters of the English (Roman) alphabet, the simplest letter is I. Other straight liners are A, E, F, H, L, M, N, T, V, X, W, Y, Z (thirteen in number). But remaining letters — C, D, … R, S have curves that are difficult to write for a five year old child. So pedagogically, we should understand the difference of writing the curved ones. I am not talking of the small letters of the alphabet which pose their own difficulty. However, while speaking, the child should not have difficulty of pronouncing these letters from A to Z. From letters, words will follow, but these should be taken subsequently with two or three letter words like ONE, ANN, BOY, PEN, INK, ME, YOU, etc.

I may mention that other written scripts such as those of Hindi, Bengali, Tamil languages etc pose various difficulties in reading and writing for children. These have to be tackled in similar ways as outlined for English. French, German languages have similar Roman alphabets but have specific accents that are tricky for beginners. Of course Russian, Hebrew, Arabic have their own distinctive alphabets and styles of writing.

We have only referred to numeracy and alphabet skills. There are several others that need to be gradually introduced. Two of these are observation and location. On asking a child to observe what is there in a class room or the garden etc, the observation skill is gradually introduced. A garden is a good site to observe with flowers, butterflies or some insects that may be flying around the flowers.

The location skill of   up/down or left/right etc may be introduced by asking what direction the bus in which children were travelling took from their home to the school. The school itself with rooms or toilets located in different floors can help a child to gradually understand the concept of location . This location skill is generally termed as spatial ability.

Thus gradually a child starting from three or more years is introduced to numeracy (familiarity with numbers), literacy (letters of alphabet, word making), observation and spatial abilities etc. All the while the child’s language (spoken) skills are developing as interaction with teachers, other children, and parents, siblings at home continues constantly. Spoken language consists of words as well as grammar or how to construct simple sentences correctly. In fact it is rightly claimed that a five year old child can pick up a new language and speak it fairly easily.

The above ideas for promoting literacy, numeracy and other concepts are only suggestive in nature. They will naturally be modified depending on the social and economic structures of students and other parameters. One positive feature that has emerged in today’s complex world is that like proper nutrition, a safe and healthy home plus education must be imparted almost with religious fervour and patience, not just the rote form of teaching-learning process, generally observed earlier.

Hare Krishna

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Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. ravipbhatia@gmail.com

Ms Ambika Roshan is a passionate educationist with 20 years of experience in school education with both Indian and International curricula and served in schools across the length and breadth of the country. Currently, she’s a principal of a Senior Secondary School in Delhi.


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 14 Sep 2020.

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