Shubhrata Das

Program Manager - Wipro Foundation

Shubhrata Das

Program Manager - Wipro Foundation


Having spent a couple of years as a teacher before moving on to do a Master’s degree in Education, my deep interest in Education, Sociology and Literacy pedagogy stemmed from questions that we grapple with everyday. I went on to work with the Education vertical at my current organisation that works on sustainability and education initiatives; beginning with spearheading a scholarships program for young women from disadvantaged backgrounds, to working on certain other education programs/projects partnering with civil society organisations. What has driven me all through these years is our work that is focused on trying to bring about small improvements while working on access to education and joining hands towards quality/systemic improvements in the education domain. The rich experience has enabled me not to look for solutions but small improvements in the current conditions in the sector.
My interests include Literacy, Early Childhood Education, Sociology and Philosophy of Education. Presentations include Work in literacy, Work in Education, and Sociology of Education (Class and Gender). Have spent hours doing read alouds for children from diverse backgrounds. Have also been instrumental in helping organise literacy events.

Learning to Read and Reading to Learn

The conversation would centre around literacy and learning. Given the theme, what is it that we would like to address and arrive at? By far one of the challenges the nations face is the shift in the conversation from mere ‘access to education’ to ‘quality’ of learning. In our scope of dialogue, we seek to understand and gain perspectives on literacy and literacy instruction within our spaces and contexts and more importantly concerning early childhood. It is accepted that the early childhood is a critical period of development and incredibly important in terms of educational outcomes, primarily literacy and language. The central aim that we would like to uphold is to enable students to use the requisite language skills and practices to participate meaningfully and in an empowered manner. Let’s hope to deliberate upon this idea as our central theme in literacy learning.

That children struggle to read and write in most parts of the world, is fairly well known, and the Indian context is no different. Year on year, annual reports paint a dismal picture on the status of our children’s reading and writing competencies. Practitioners, policy makers and educators are grappling with complex landscapes marked with rich linguistic diversity yet powerful socio-economic divides, poorly functioning education systems, less than adequate teacher education programs, and the rest. How then do we create a literate world?
‘Learning to read and reading to learn’ is the all hailed idea that is believed to be an answer to this malaise of the society. We begin with the conviction that literacy and language learning is not an end in itself but a gateway to most other learning and social and economic empowerment. Further, this places much value on oral language development, strong foundations in reading and writing; than mere adeptness in decoding and encoding. At the end of it, we would like to see our children as independent readers and writers; and even better as critical and empowered thinkers in doing so.

For our purpose of dialogue, among the other elements of literacy learning, let’s draw our attention to ‘reading’; and second the value of rich literature. Can we embed the former within the latter? Further, when one deliberates on the idea of ‘learning to read and reading to learn’ what do we mean?
In my opinion, there is a pressing need to empower our young by enabling them to ‘learn’ to read and write as a starting point. Reading to learn implies that we have learned to read and make sense of the texts. Further, creating literate human beings is not just so much as creating economic beings but in also creating human beings who are able to reposition themselves in a modern complex society.
How do we get at this? It is more about us providing the young the tools to read and write, which act as an enabler that creates empowered adults who are able to make meaning, question and critically engage with the world around them. However, what do we mean when we say ‘learn to read’? Is decoding just enough? What about the pragmatic and critical competence? To reiterate, our broader goal is to create motivated and independent readers who are socially and economically empowered that enables them to meaningfully engage in the society.

Second, while encouraging reading behaviours, how do we engage children with texts in their life? So here as we dwell upon the value in engaging with meaningful texts, we enter into the world of children’s literature. How do we teach language in creative and imaginative ways? How do we connect the child’s world and the word? While navigating the written world, it provides them with opportunities to think, reflect and act in ways that give meaning to living and being. It permits the young learners appreciate the aesthetics of language and the collective knowledge that enables the young to relate to themselves and the others. Equally important is the role the learners take to critically examine certain subtle questions of life. It drives the young learners in this direction as deeply literate individuals than the others to take a stance in the socio-political-economic life. One finding to this end is that the more the children are immersed in literature and writing, it increases the children’s understanding of the nature of reading and writing and stimulates children to do things that are literate ( Graham & Harris, 1994, Morrow, 1990,1991; Neumann & Roskos, 1990 in Pressley 2002). Conscientious efforts in the direction, in more ways than one can empower the young to develop into deeply literate adults who in turn are capable of transforming our society into a just and an equitable society.