Role of reading

Good reading skills are not common among children

Learning to read lies outside the original (i.e. genetic, by birth) repertoire of the human brain’s functions and requires a whole new ‘circuit’ to be build afresh for every child.
Unlike vision or spoken language, there is no genetic blueprint for reading (literally and physiologically) and the brain changes itself to suit each individual reader’s medium of reading, level of reading, frequency of reading, content of reading, etc.
Expectedly, the very plasticity of the brain with respect to
reading, i.e. the facility that allows every novice reader to build her own new circuit to read efficiently and effectively, proves to be not only an asset but also an Achilles’ heel. For a reader, reading becomes easier by the day but for a ‘not-so-frequent’ reader, reading becomes difficult by the day.
And why proficiency in reading is such a big deal? Reading may perhaps be the most complex of human activities as it requires ‘deep integration’ of over a dozen processes such as analogical thought, inferential reasoning, perspective-taking, critical analysis, imagination, insight, novel thought.
It takes years to deeply align all the relevant processes of reading. How does a child keep up with reading to reach the level where these processes start aligning for her? Reaching that level of neurological sophistication requires far larger volumes of reading and lots of reading every day. Such larger volumes cannot happen in schools and need reading homes. Therefore some adult in a child’s life must be a good reader, in any language.
Further, reading as a skill cannot be taught once and for all within the primary school years (up to Class V) and it must not be assumed that for years beyond the primary classes it would simply be about adding newer vocabulary. Reading skills grow as the genre of reading diversifies; reading must remain an important part of ‘curriculum’ for all stages of education. Incidentally, this also brings out an important aspect of achieving higher competence in a language. It is the difference between the role of listening and the role of reading in the quality of learning a language.
In general, a language which develops primarily out of extensive reading in the language will be of a higher quality compared to the case when it develops primarily out of speaking in the language in social context. The reason for this difference is the fact that there is far higher diversity, complexity and ‘tighter structure’ in a written texts compared to the spoken words. Children should develop competence in English language through extensive reading in English.
Unfortunately, our country has had a rather limited culture of reading and not many homes read every day. Of course, we are not talking about reading newspapers or magazines. For, reading as a skill in school years requires a very different level of preparation which is reading a few tens of pages every day and ideally from diverse genres. Where are such homes? No wonder reading skills are such a struggle for children in India.

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