Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces: Role of Learning Spaces in Narrowing the Gap across Social Classes 

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Posted by: Anuradha Saigal and Nilay Sagar
Category: Literacy Day
Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces: Role of Learning Spaces in Narrowing the Gap across Social Classes 

In a country where functional washrooms for girls are an aspiration, labs and smart classes seem like a far-fetched dream.”  

Each year, on September 8th, the world commemorates International Literacy Day, as declared by UNESCO in 1967 to evoke literacy as a crucial component of dignity and human rights amongst the public. The theme for the day this year is “Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces,” highlighting the role and importance of learning spaces.  

This topic becomes highly relevant in the post-Covid-19 pandemic phase, especially in developing countries like India. With most educational institutions being shut down by the Indian government during the pandemic, a disruption in the regular educational setup was created, affecting children across various age groups. It also widened the existing gap between urban and rural education systems due to the lack of adequate digital infrastructural support among the latter.  

To understand the inequity in learning spaces, we need to track a child’s formal and informal learning pathways. Much of our brain develops by the time we reach age five; hence, Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) play a critical role in preparing children for formal education.  

For most children, the primary learning space is their home, within the presence of their immediate family. As a result, socio-economic factors of the household and parents’ education influence learning at a very young age. This is one of the phases where the divide between rural-urban and inter-class starts to materialize.  

A 2022 study based in Bengal found that less educated parents were more likely to consider ECEC not important, reflecting that the disparity in a child’s education begins at an early age. This embarks the early vicious cycle of learning gaps —the baggage of the previous decade affects and influences today’s learning. In the case of rural areas where kindergarten and playschools are inaccessible, Anganwadis have been established in similar capacities but are often over-burdened and are unable to fulfill the needs for early age development. Unavailability of qualified Anganwadi Workers, poor infrastructure, and low attendance of children due to lack of transportation services in the rural areas only add up to the complexities of the structure. It is also found that parents from disadvantaged groups are less likely to invest in children’s cocurricular activities, which aid in developing cognitive competencies at an early stage.  

The following stage in the educational setup comprises primary schools. According to UNESCO, India has achieved near-universal school enrolment rates in primary education, with significant improvements in school access, teacher-student ratio, infrastructure, and teachers’ salaries over the last decade.  

In addition, incorporating digital technologies into teaching methodologies has been a remarkable change observed in the last few years, making teaching and learning more convenient. However, access to quality education remains a cause for serious concern. It has been reported that children do not seem to master basic literacy and numeracy even after four to five years of schooling. Another well-known element is the disparity between public and private facilities, supported by on-ground experiences of government schools not opening on time, lacking proper infrastructures, qualified teachers and staff, and being devoid of digital interventions such as smart classes.  

“The inequality in access to good quality learning spaces translates into inequality in learning outcomes.”   

The challenges concerning inequity across learning spaces deepen as the child moves through their formative years into secondary and higher secondary education. In an age where much emphasis is placed on learning-by-doing, the existence of unavailable, inaccessible, and unaffordable learning spaces such as labs and libraries act as a catalyst in fortifying the barriers.  

Sadly, despite such inevitable differences, students are assessed on standardized metrics when it matters. As a result, students from disadvantaged groups perform poorly on standardized tests like boards or competitive exams. Additionally, remedial and tuition classes that prepare students for those exams are expensive and sometimes inaccessible. Even with reservations, many seats in good universities go vacant for marginalized communities. Also, it has been reported that the rich are more likely to pursue professional courses. Additionally, the majority of SCs and STs are found to follow more humanities-based courses, which do not necessarily guarantee a job in the Indian market. This also translates to students not getting equal opportunities in the job market — hence the vicious cycle continues.  

To address the barriers across learning spaces and make literacy inclusive of all genders and classes, it is important to focus on bettering the monitoring and implementation of current models of delivery of schemes and policies and creating pragmatic models. This could be done by developing a continuous feedback system whose inputs are utilized to improve the efficiency of established capacities. Building capacities for parents alongside school staff helps improve the learning environment around children and propagates ideas about hygiene via facilities such as clean washrooms. The concerned authorities should provide transportation services and state-government schemes such as cycle distribution schemes. This will entail distributing cycles to children residing in difficult terrains to make physical education spaces more accessible, especially for girls. Improving access to resources and technology for adverse pandemic-like situations should also be considered. Enough security nets need to be in place such that pandemic-like shocks to the economy don’t affect students differently.  

At an individual level, people must know that developed and functional physical spaces can transform the education system. What is required is the promotion of such spaces should be society-wide. The focus should be on policy reforms that make India’s education system inclusive along with the actions needed to ensure its systematic and smooth implementation. In a country like India, with one of the youngest populations in the world, creating an equitable literacy environment should be emphasized early in the form of collective initiatives by the stakeholders at various educational levels. If the goal is to tackle multidimensional inequality globally, what looks like a far-fetched dream right now must immediately be made an accessible and achievable reality.   

References:  

1 Celebration of the International Literacy Day in UNESCO Headquarters. (2022). Retrieved September 6th, 2022, from https://en.unesco.org/events/celebration-international-literacy-day-unesco-headquarters 

2 Ghosh, S., & Steinberg, H. (2022). Parents’ attitudes and unequal opportunities in early childhood development: Evidence from Eastern India. Journal Of Early Childhood Research, 20(3), 413-430. doi: 10.1177/1476718×221077170 

3 Sinha, D., Gupta, M., & Shriyan, D. (2022). High Risk without Recognition: Challenges Faced by Female Front-line Workers. Retrieved September 6th, 2022, from https://www.epw.in/engage/article/high-risk-without-recognition-challenges-faced 

4 Aravind, I. (2022). Affluent Indians are doing everything to support the extracurricular ambitions of their children. Retrieved September 6th, 2022, from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/affluent-indians-are-doing-everything-to-support-extracurricular-ambitions-of-their-children/articleshow/69284818.cms?from=mdr 

5 Das, J., Dercon, S., Habyarimana, J., Krishnan, P., Muralidharan, K., & Sundararaman, V. (2013). School inputs, household substitution, and test scores. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 5(2), 29-57. 

6 Chiplunkar, G., Dhar, D., & Nagesh, R. (2020). Too little, Too late: Improving Post-primary Learning Outcomes in India. 

7 Butani, A. (2022). ‘CUET is Anti-People, Pushes Marginalised Students Away’: Delhi University Prof. Retrieved September 6th, 2022, from https://www.thequint.com/news/education/cuet-anti-people-marginalised-students-du-professor 

8 Kishore, R., & Jha, A. (2022). Mapping education inequalities. Retrieved September 7th, 2022, from https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/mapping-education-inequalities/story-xhTIlYty7kF7MNqxnOyGtO.html 

Anuradha Saigal – Research Manager, Sambodhi

Nilay Sagar – Research Consultant, Sambodhi

Author: Anuradha Saigal and Nilay Sagar

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