Message from Prof. Shailaja Menon

Dear Friends,

As we mark the International Literacy Day today, we pause for a moment of reflection.The Census reports inform us that the dismal 12% literacy rate at the time of independence has now reached a more respectable 74% across the country (2011 Census), but all of us working on the ground realize that there is much left to be done. 

The work lies not just in closing the gap between 74% and 100% literacy rates, but in creating foundational shifts in our cultural understandings of literacy. One kind of shift that we need to aspire for includes acknowledging that literacy is about more than script mastery, that it includes sense-making while reading and writing, meaningful uses of texts in one’s life, the ability to critique texts and textual worlds, to value books and their role in our lives, and so on. Attending these primary shifts, are other kinds – shifts in the institutional fabric of how literacy is taught and learned in schools today – stronger language curricula in schools; better teacher education programmes; availability of good children’s literature in different languages; comprehensive, balanced multilingual pedagogies; and so on. It would be impossible to accomplish these changes without shifts in supportive policies; and also the creation of supportive knowledge bases related to the teaching and learning of early language and literacy in our fabulously multilingual nation. Undoubtedly, we have much left to do!

It is easy to despair, or worse, to become cynical when faced with such enormous tasks! But, luckily, Jacqueline Ayer’s heart-warming book, The Paper Flower Tree, comes to the rescue in the nick of time. In the book, the old man who sells paper flowers hands one over to the little girl, Miss Moon, and points out that it had a seed (a little black bead) dangling from the paper flower.

“Plant it — perhaps it will grow. I make no promises. Perhaps it will grow. Perhaps it will not.

And thus are the conditions for hope in the story born. Hope does not reside in known certainties, or in predictable despair. It flourishes in the terrain of “perhaps it will-perhaps it will not”.

So, the time is ripe for hope in our country today. Like little Miss Moon, we must plant our seeds, build little shelters for them, nurture and tend them carefully, ignore the surrounding cynicism, and hold on to the hope that our seeds will sprout and grow one day.

To mark the day, the Early Literacy Initiative (TISS-Hyderabad) is releasing the Proceedings of the National Conference on Early Language and Literacy (Delhi, December 2017), where a group of practitioners and scholars came together to present and discuss their work, and more importantly, to build networks and begin long term exchanges and dialogues. The proceedings are attached to this message, and can also be found here.

You can also hear the voices of children as they reflect on what reading means to them here.

Finally, we invite you to view a variety of our themed blogs here.

We hope you enjoy these resources! 

With hope,



I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books, 
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,,,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter, 
such and so many blinding bright lights,,,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words,
and each of which were alive forever
in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.

- Dylan Thomas (Notes on the Art of Poetry)

Leave a Reply