Early Learning Initiative (ELI): Need and objectives

The fact that Indian children are not learning to read or write very proficiently is fairly widely known. The ASER annual reports document this dismal picture year after year - with little improvement shown over the years. “Fixing” early literacy is not an easy task. The solutions don't lie simplistically in finding the “right methods”, or teaching the “right skills”. Early literacy and language learning in India occur in complex landscapes characterised by rich linguistic diversity, and riddled with deep socioeconomic divides, poor teacher education, and a somewhat poorly functioning educational system. Debates related to issues such as medium of instruction and language planning and policy making abound. In this context, a key need is to facilitate conversations around important issues, as well as to contribute to knowledge creation and dissemination. In a country with poorly prepared language professionals it is also important to help prepare a cadre of professionals in this domain; as well as to help build visibility for the domain in policy-making circles.

Recognising this to be an area of significant concern, the Tata Trusts funded a three-year (2017-2019) domain building initiative at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS)-Hyderabad. While anchored largely at TISS-Hyderabad, satellite projects also exist at Ambedkar University, Delhi; and at Bangalore, Karnataka. ELI is largely a university-based initiative invested in teaching; knowledge creation and dissemination; and outreach and advocacy. Another core commitment of the ELI is to respond to “burning issues” on the ground. Efforts at creating new knowledge will balance, for example, action research projects with more traditional academic projects.

ELI has been working towards accomplishing the following broad objectives:

Research: To conduct new research in early language and literacy in India; and to disseminate knowledge that is already available. ELI is currently conducting three projects at different locations. They are:
Action Research, Telangana - http://eli.tiss.edu/index.php/action-research/
Community Literacy and Schooling, Delhi - http://eli.tiss.edu/index.php/action-research/
Socio-Historical Studies, Bangalore, Kolkata and Goa - http://eli.tiss.edu/index.php/socio-historical-studies/

Teaching: To create a cadre of knowledgeable and well-prepared professionals in the area of early language and literacy. For details, visit http://eli.tiss.edu/index.php/teaching/.

Advocacy: To provide visibility and leadership to work in early language and literacy by engaging in national level dialogues with scholars, policy-makers and other professionals working in allied areas. ELI will also provide networking support for practitioners and scholars working in the domain through a variety of means, such as, a visible and dynamic web presence, offering short-term workshops and courses, collecting and disseminating relevant information, and so on. For details, visit http://eli.tiss.edu/index.php/advocacy/.

ELI also runs a blog to make space for discussions it believes people learn best through dialogue. It is a space for informed conversations amongst people who are interested in the field of Early Language and Literacy. The blogs are thematically organised. The first theme was Multilingualism which was run for a period of three months. The current theme is Children’s Literature.