Reading comprehension issues in Indian Elementary Schools

Are you comfortable with reading comprehension? Reading comprehension is a significant challenge for children in Indian schools. Generally, Indian students and teachers think that the act of reading is straightforward and easy, or some consider reading as a simple way of reading in the classroom. Therefore, they spend zero time reading. This all results in poor academic performance of the students.

But on the contrary, I have seen in my 27 years of teaching in schools at different levels that reading is a complex task and needs to be mastered by teachers and students. The real problem starts at the elementary level where kids are not properly trained in reading skills. It means that if a student is unable to do the reading comprehension, he won’t be able to learn. Reading problems start developing at an elementary level when kids’ reading skills are not properly taken care of by parents and teachers. Therefore, the teachers should take care of reading skills at the elementary level.

Reading difficulties in Indian elementary schools

Reading comprehension in Indian schools is a great challenge for kids. Students’ inability to understand what they read, especially in English, is caused by a number of things.

Reading is largely related to speaking and listening. Indian children lack both these skills as their mother tongue is different from English. They are not exposed to an English-speaking environment, which results in poor reading comprehension of the English language. The following are the reasons behind poor reading comprehension skills among Indian students:

  • Reading is closely linked with speaking and listening. Indian students are not exposed to either of these skills.
  • Illiterate parents are helpless in helping their wards learn reading skills.
  • Children have not learned to communicate in the English language. Therefore, we can’t expect the children to perform well in reading comprehension.
  • Poor households and a lack of English-medium schools increase their struggle to learn reading skills.
  • For instance, the authors of the Literacy Research in Indian Languages (LiRIL) study discuss how Indian languages differ from English in many ways. While English alphabets can have different phonetic sounds depending on the word they are in (the famous ‘put’ vs.’ but’)—Indian languages have “a one-to-one correspondence between letter and sound.”
  • There is a difference between aspirated and non-aspirated versions of sounds in Indian languages. Let’s take an example. But and “put” are two words that create problems for Indian students as their vowel sounds are different and students get confused in their pronunciation.
  • Another difference lies in the subtlety between different letters in Indian languages, such as the aspirated and non-aspirated versions of a sound. Take, for example, the sound ‘guh’ for gaana (song) versus the sound ‘gh’ for ghee in Hindi. “In English, the word ‘ghee’ might be pronounced as’ gee’—without the emphasis on the ‘h’ sound—because it does not have the same aspirated sounds as in Hindi.”
  • Script differences in languages create problems for kids to understand the meaning clearly.
  • Teachers are not properly trained to teach in English. More classroom time should be allotted for activities such as storytelling, poetry, and unstructured conversation.
  • Children always try to understand things in their mother tongue first, and then they try to translate the words into English.
  • Most of the time, English teachers teach English in their mother tongue, irrespective of the fact that we can’t write anything in our mother tongue in English paper.

What are Some Reading Comprehension Strategies for Indian Students? 

    • Reading is closely linked to listening and speaking. Therefore, adopt a strategy to speak in English and play an audio or video in English. Some English cartoons can help students learn English words.
    • Ask parents to take the help of an English teacher to improve their children’s reading skills.
    • Reading books and newspapers in English in English will help the students learn to read better in school.
    • Help kids to say something in English in prayer.
    • Teachers must provide some sentences of daily use to students and encourage them to use them in school and at home.
    • The school must provide some storybooks for students to learn English at the primary level.
    • Ask students to read aloud and involve each student in this activity.
    • develop the vocabulary of the students by providing five new words daily.
    • Teach grammar rules in all classes.
    • Help them to learn synonyms and antonyms.
    • Ask every student to read something in front of all students and then ask them to say something about what they read.
    • Do pre-reading activities in the class and explain the keywords.
    • Try to use audiobooks to improve the word recognition power of the students.
    • Teach students about text structure elements such as setting, characters, initiating events, problems, resolution, explicit themes, cause and effect, compare and contrast, and problem and solution.
    • Demonstrate to students how to annotate text or take notes that summarise and sequence key events.

4 Simple Tricks to Boost your Reading Comprehension Skills

The followings are the four tricks to enhance reading skills of the elementary students:

1. The decoding of words by students at the elementary level

Students decode words while reading, and they try to remember the words that they have never used before. At home, kids speak so many words. They don’t even know how to write these words. These words work as foundation skills in their learning to read skills. They develop phonemic skills during their childhood. Individual sounds in words are known as phonemes.

There are 44 phonemes, with 20 vowels and 24 consonants. It also allows them to “play” with sounds at the word and syllable level. They learn to recognise the sounds of vowels and consonants even though they don’t know the rules of phonemes.

Some kids are born with reading skills, while others have to learn. Therefore, teachers have to maintain a balance between natural readers and learners. It may be because of their background also. They also face problems pronouncing words.

Indian students, especially those in rural areas, have lacked reading skills in the English language.

2. Fluent readers are comfortable with reading comprehension.

Some kids are quick at reading and they instantly recognise the words. Fluency in reading makes reading comprehension easy. Children who can read fast and with no mistakes are called fluent readers. Reading fluency makes comprehension easier. Recognizing words boosts comprehension skills. Therefore, learn to recognise words. Reading books enhances the reading skills of everybody. Strong vocabulary boosts reading comprehension.
Develop your vocabulary as much as you can. The greater the vocabulary, the greater the reading power and, ultimately, the reading comprehension. Start reading newspapers, novels, and magazines to strengthen your vocabulary.

3. The formation of sentences helps in improving reading comprehension.

Students should learn the formation of sentences. Learn the tenses comfortably. Imagine the situation and write a story. Give words to your ideas and, ultimately, the strength of sentence formation increases.
Learn the art of connecting sentences and, ultimately, you can join your ideas.

4. Prior knowledge also improves reading skills. 

Read as much as you can as it will increase your knowledge and improves your reading skills.

Don’t feel obligated to teach all of these reading strategies to every student who struggles with comprehension. Instead, assess each student’s needs and tailor instruction to their specific deficits.

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