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Children’s Literature in the Context of Orality and Literacy

Mahendra Kumar Mishra

Children’s oral culture

IN oral society listening and speaking of tales and narratives is first stage of
children’s learning. This is the gateway of concretizing the imagination of
children’s mind. It is during the child hood that the children ask a lot of
questions to understand the visual world as well as invisible world around them.

Parents ,more particularly , the older generations have lots of life experience to
which they hand it down to their younger generations in form of stories and
anecdotes in oral form.

Oral tradition bear the collective memory of a given culture that is believed
and shared among the community irrespective of age, sex, time and space.
Learning is intergenerational and this is transmitted from one person to the

Oral society has the treasure of experience that they express in form of stories,
tales, legends, myths, proverbs and riddles. These are the essence of the human
experience and needless to say, the elders of the society create tales
appropriate to the children. In oral society , there are innumerable stories , myths
and legend that are created from the human mind to satisfy the need of the
children. These are called etiological tales. For instance, in Saora community
there is a tale why the crow is black and the heron is white. The story is simple
imagination oral answer to the question of the child. But the knowledge behind

such etiological tales, bear the imaginary realties. This creativity comes out of the
human mind with logic and reason that is fit to shape the mind of the child and it
leads the child from imagination and fantasy to the world of thinking and
reasoning. No matter how much fantasy is embedded in the story , it is
necessary to satisfy the children’s wisdom and curiosity. None the less
realities are incubated in the imagination and fantasy, maybe it is a folktale or a
film. World of fantasy has popularized Harry Potter, and not the world of realities
and a message in the fantasy is much more acceptable to the children than the
reality. Fantast and imagination is child centric whereas the realities; adult centric.

Genres of children’s oral literature

Oral tales are the best medium of learning. These tales are connected to the
environment. So these tales are more enriched with nature human relationship.
Oral tales are energized with the cultural context and bear rich human values
representing an integrated worldview where the mind is not detached from the

Local legends are nominated to mountain, river, forests, temple, palace and
such other places which is connected to recent past with some persons , place
and event connected to it. These legends are the best way to teach the children
about the history and geography about a given land.

Myths are believed to be true, connected to remote past. Most of the creation
myths are well connected to the world of environment and the five elements.
Modern children are detached from the lap of nature .Myths help the children to
understand the visible and invisible world around them and establish a
meaningful relation with the nature. This helps the children to make meaning
with the environment for a sustainable world.

Riddles and proverbs are two genres of children’s literature that helps them
to decipher meaning out of the text and context. Hundreds of riddles are
known to the children they learn from their peer groups or from the elders who
wishfully call them to hand over their knowledge to the children.

Lullabies and play songs are two major genre of folklore that is used for
children’s mental development. While mother and grandmother sing lullabies to

satisfy the babies, it gives them a good listening practice, with rhythm. Similarly
, play and play songs are two important genres that involve socialization of
children in diverse groups, develop leadership and group Behaviour, mutual
understanding , tolerance, overcoming the defeated situation, psychomotor
development and personality development. Play also have the role of fostering
learning of geometry and mathematics .Counting, shapes and size, additional
and deduction are inbuilt in the games. Some games are for the girls and some
for boys. Some games are indoor and some outdoor. All these games and the
songs nominated to the games bear the meaningful addition to the spirit of the
games and children associate their action with words, there by learning both
acting and speaking.

Having such a stock of knowledge in the Indian society as children’s learning

resources; our school system does not promote these games. Perhaps the
community consider their own knowledge system inferior than the school
curricular system .So they rely more on formal education in school than their
own traditional learning system. The irony is that, educationists and
psychologists, linguists and pedagogist’s bank upon children’s cultural context
as learning resource. The divide between the experience and knowledge of the
child and the learning by reading and writing without connecting the child’s
experience has made the school detached from the community. Knowledge
preexists and community creates the knowledge and these knowledge should be
the foundation to the school knowledge since school is to develop the human
resources of the village , not just reading and writing is enough without
understanding and critical thinking. It is clear to all of us how the children are
deprived of learning in schools because of these divide and learning become

Having such a rich repertoire of oral tradition in the society, no teachers

consider these linguistics resources as children’s social and mental necessity.
When the parents, singers, musicians, painters, carpenters, potters and many
more artisans crate the knowledge domain as entrepreneurs of social
knowledge , without depending on reading and writing, it is necessary to
understand that the knowledge are important to connect the experience and
knowledge of the children’s world with curricular world.

Children literature generally found in two domains. One is in classroom domain

with its objective to teach reading and writing other than exploring the
experience and knowledge of the children. Another objective of providing the
children with literature is to read, enjoy and understand the meaning of the
materials. The objective of first type literature that is used in the classroom
has its cognitive language proficiency skill with accuracy and correctness of
reading, writing and fluency. But all these indicators are teacher centric since
the teachers main objective is to teach reading and writing rather than
providing knowledge associating the experience of the children with the text .
Unknowingly teachers become more dominant upon the students while
teaching reading and writing and sometime become authoritarian for imposing the
grammatical rules.

In primary stage children are more close to concrete world and they need to
get literature suitable to their choice. What do the children like? The answer
from the adult teachers are that they like stories, songs, play , picture and
speaking a lot. Do all these activities take place when we teach in the classroom?
In what way the text s that is written by the adult centric curriculum designers
and pedo-centric professional help the children to associate their experience
and reasoning, imagination and curiosity to learn? The curricular goal of
teachers turn in to course completion goal and they finally arrive at the
reading and writing of texts through a rote memory method that has been
perpetuated across the century and have nothing to do with the creativity and
thinking of the children. Experience and knowledge of the children are ignored
and cognition I blocked in classroom for the adult centric teaching learning

NCF 2005 has emphasized to use local knowledge of the environment from
where the children belong to. Both the teachers and the parents have the make
belief that school knowledge has such thing that is superior to the oral
knowledge and experience that the children have. This is the politics of writing
over the orality.

Teachers and parents don’t live with the theories and practices that the people
in pedagogy often live with. The latter follow the great educationist that the
system has given to them, no matter how much they are exposed to the global
theory of education or have organic experience and knowledge on their
epistemic world. Children’s literature in school is guided by the political ideologies
that are followed by the state education system to make suitable to sustain their
power and accordingly they prefer that knowledge for the curriculum. In that
cases the children are the worst sufferer and the curriculum designers and
teachers are instruments to the political ideologies of the state. Children are not
allowed to use their funds of knowledge they have achieved from their socio –
cultural environment. Being guided by political ideologies the spontaneous
learning of the children are interrupted and they also become an apparatus of state
ideologies. Cultural democracy has given this globe to provide equitable
quality education, but the curriculum become instrumental to the political ideology
and the natural learning is disrupted. For instance, children in schools of
Thailand learn from the Lamakien( the Thai version Ramayana as a part of
political ideologies and children in Pakistan are ignorant of the cultural
heritage of South Asia, and somehow the realities are covered with the state
ideologies. Nothing is dangerous for a child than teaching those ethics and
morality which is guided by such ideologies. This leads the children to see the
truth from angle that is always sectarian.

Now the best children’s literature could be that which comes from the
environment of the children in which they learn a lot and construct their
knowledge. They associate their mind with the environment and attach meaning
to it asa part of inherited knowledge.

But most of the children’s literature is written individually imagining the children
as protagonists. How much the child dream about her childhood from this
literature? An adult centric writer on children’s literature fined it difficult to
situate the child centric elements in his story and texts.

It is necessary to enrich the children’s literature through their local knowledge.

Globally such innovations have initiated to provide the linguistic and
cultural rights to the children. The children of diverse geography, culture and
language have their own knowledge system in which they adapt and at least

in primary stage they should learn from their environment and in no case the
school and the teachers have the authority to block the experience of the
children in the name of ideologies. In Indian school situation, learning is based on
reading and writing than exploring the experience and knowledge of the children.
Unless the experience and the knowledge is imparted to the children become an
‘ inside out ‘- and not ‘outside in’- the learning may not be meaningful and
children’s cognitive abilities are unlikely to improve.

It is true that there is many good children’s literature written by many

famous writers. There are many good libraries in schools. But can we assure that
the teachers in Indian situation do read the library? It is necessary to enquire why
at all the Indian primary teachers don’t go through good children’s literature. It
is also a matter of enquiry why the teachers don’t come up as a creator of
children’s literature. More often than not when a piece of story is well accepted
by the children when given in informal situation and when it becomes a part of
text book it loses its beauty. Why?

My assumption may be false, but I think that since the Indian society was
oral in nature, the teachers, or the educated persons also don’t keep the habit
of building a library in their home or keep the habit of reading. What is not
socially validates is not likely to take place in the school. Providing good
literature to children in elite society is also not much encouraging. After
the classical curriculum , and the behavioristic school of curriculum , it is the
experiential learning in curriculum that has taken place, ostensibly some of our
teachers mind still are in those classic age and 19th century curriculum
teaching the children. This is evident from the rural primary schools where
physical features may be alluring , but the intellectual side is still lag behind
and teachers in those schools are confused with their half-digested knowledge
of teaching and learning.

The community as the source of knowledge as well as the consumer of

education, have every right to rebuild their own knowledge in their own locality
and they should consider their knowledge is the center of their world .

Instead of it the teachers and professionals are also fall a prey to the global
language politics and advocate for an alien language that is not the mother

tongue of the child. Any conscious person of Finland or Russia will never aspire
to learn in a language that is not known to the child. It is a violation of children’s
human rights.

Children’s literature should be local at first. Teacher’s parents and children should
construct story books in local language and then it should be written in as
many as languages.

Stories from the community , experience of the children, listening stories ,

number stories and stories about birds and animals could be the best resources
for children’s literature at the early stage in which the community members can
help in preparing the book.

IN Chhattishgarh , storytelling festival were conducted in 100 school where

9000 students and 200 story tellers took part in their respective schools and
the result was to explore the rich stories from their cultural context. These are
the resources of verities of stories told by men and women story tellers have
unraveled the verities of social and cultural realities. Unfortunately, in Indian
school system we come across some popular stories whose number is not more
than twenty. The first one is the crow and the pitcher. Next may be the monkey
and the crocodile, the tortoise and the rabbit. The lion and the mouse and so on.

In one hand some handful written stories known to the teachers and the
students in schools and hundreds of interesting stories known to the
unlettered old men and women in the society !.How to assess, whether the crow
and the pitcher is the standard to measure the wit and intelligence of the child or
wishfully teachers want the children to be witty and intelligent! Or the manifold
stories that represent verities and multiple intelligences in diverse situations told
by many people, in many languages and with many cultural representation of the
village. This world is still unexplored in Indian village schools due to our over
emphasis on writing. Many etiological tales, who are supposed to satisfy the
queries of children are stored in the mental text of the elders, are unused. Why the
crow is black or why the cock crows in the morning, why there is only one sun
in the sky, why the bear hug the banana tree, why the squirrel has three lines on
her back etc.are some of the instances. There are thousands of such tales that have
power to answer to the questions of the children. After all , these are the tales

that has the strength of cultural bio diversities in which the children use to get a
life world and understand the meaning and values of life around her.

Decontextualizing reading and writing is the major mistake that the current
educational system has patronized and the children suffer from the maladies of
writing and reading without purpose, context and meaning. Teacher centric
teaching practice is unable to understand the child-centric learning resulting
deprivation of learning among the children creating inequalities and human loss.

One could be overwhelmed when she explore the richness of oral tales told by
the storytellers of the villages. They have not been asked by anybody to tell the
stories and when they were invited they were surprised that they have not been
invited to the school in their life time. But they are respectfully invited to tell their
oral tales to their children! This was an emotional moments for those old men of
the villages who were invited to tell the folktales. This was the exploration of the
Indian knowledge system that is abundantly available among the old men and
women representing the life world, but untouchable in schools.

Some examples from Odisha and Chhattishgarh can be helpful to validate the
child centric learning through local folk tales. When Odisha government adopted
Multilingual Education in tribal languages, the focus was to involve the
communities and gather funds of knowledge. Folktales and narratives were
collected from the communities in villages and schools and village story tellers
narrated the story in story telling festivals. These stories were written down and
any big books and listening stories were prepared. These stories were used in the
classrooms and children got back their cultural stories in their own language
and in subsequent situation the same stories were presented to the children in
state language which was the medium of instruction. Oral learning in mother
tongue led to reading and writing provided bicultural context with purpose and
meaning. This led the children and the parents to consider that how their oral
stories are accepted as a part of written text in the schools. This is a major focus
where the children were provided with a culturally responsive classroom.
Children found their experience and knowledge in these stories and they actively
participated. The teachers also explored the inherent experience of the children.

The tribal and rural children were familiar with their birds and animals, fruits
and trees, were comfortably took part in discussion with the teachers and
broke the culture of silence.

Introducing big book as a part of language and learning in primary schools of

Chhattishgarh resulted with early grade reading and writing. The focus was to
explore the inside out of the children in class I and class Ii. The children learnt
the big book written in Hindi but told in Chhattishgarh, Surgujia and Halvi first
of all. Children perceived the stories in their mother tongue. In day two , the
same stories of the big book were taught with picture and sentences and
teacher guided the children to read the picture and the sentence after he read it
out before them. Children in day two learnt speaking Hindi and discussion on
key words of the Big Book were mad with the children. The expressed their
personal experiences and teacher had the patience to listen to each child.

In third day , teachers showing the Big Book asked each a and every child to
read out the stories and children one by one started their guess reading
associating the picture in left page with the sentences in the right page. Children
got the confidence to read out a sentence or two from the very beginning of
class I and this led the teachers to feel that children learn given the
opportunity. In fourth day , teacher again read out the Big Book , started
writing a sentence of the Big Book and asked the children one after another to
read the sentence and identify the key words. Children without many
difficulties identified the words they were asked to read from the sentences. Now
the play of word identification from the sentences took place and children, without
any hesitation and confusion started identifying the words. They were also asked to
write the words on the chalk board and they could write the word.

Here I must admit that the stories that we recollected from the community turned
in to a text book and it was intended for early reading.

Reflection of Teachers in class I and II after using the big book.

The small process of using the Big Book in class I and Class II led the
teachers to know that listening and speaking on mother tongue helps the
children to understand the text . They associate the character and place and event
of the stories with their experience and construct a space to place the stories in

their own environment they live on. They speak the stories to the teachers and
peer group in both mother tongue and in Hindi. They also read the picture and
associated the picture with the sentences written in left and right page. They
guessed that the sequences of the sentence are arranged with an event they know.
They located the word from the sentences.

The exercise was also not easily acceptable to the teachers who are the believers
of reading writing stereotypes. I wrote the Hindi story on the chalk board. Then
read out the story before them spelling the story again. Then I called the teachers
one by one to read out the story from the sentences. Teachers guessed the story
from the sentences and 90 % of them were able to read the story in Hindi
language written in Odia script. I asked the how they could able to read the story
without knowing the script to which they have not exposed to. They replied that
they read out the story since they knew it, understood it, and understood the
sequences of the stories.

My findings about children’s literature are based on community knowledge put I to

the classroom. The result is evident based, optimum participation of the children
since they listened, spoke, understood and read the story and finally wrote some
key words from the Big Book.

Children’s world of knowledge is the foundation of any children’s literature.

Unless the children see their own interest and experience in the item of culture,
they may not like it. When we lose our childhood and adapted to the practice of
teacher ship we fail to recollect out own childhood and dominate the children in
the name of reading and writing. Perhaps therefore the literacy is more powerful
than the orality , but without orality only literacy will not prevail alone and the
majority of the social order will be unspoken in the written world. Children in
culture of silence and teacher as the director of society, as the Brazilian educator
Paulo Freire said, will prevail in the schools. Teachers as the authority of
power of literacy over the children of orality will restrict the experience and
knowledge and in that case no equality can be achieved. Child centric learning
is a buzz word that is not found in the practice of the teachers. Speaking the
theory of learning in teacher training and not practicing in the classroom
considering the children as equally a person will perpetuate the inequality of
teachers and students and there will be a social gap between the oral and written.
It is perhaps necessary to provide space to the child in the classroom to be more
oral to break the silence and open up , teachers having patience to listen and

explore the children and then the question of meaningful reading with purpose
will come up
Children are waiting to such teachers who would listen to them with much
interest to their diverse imagination. They have a lot of experience stories they
come up with and teachers as authority of power silence them and silence their
unspoken mental and oral texts that were supposed to open in orality!

Come, and listen to the many voices of the children and explore what they know
what we don’t know!