Children’s Literature in the Context of Orality and Literacy

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 the first stage of children’s learning. This is the gateway of concretising the imagination of children’s mind. It is during the childhood that the children ask many questions to understand the visual world as well as the 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 the form of stories and anecdotes in.

Oral tradition 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 other. 


 Oral society has the treasure of experience that they express in the 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 appropriate to the children.  In an oral society, there are innumerable stories, myths and legend that are mind to satisfy the need of the children. These are called etiological tales. For instance, in the Saora community, there is a tale why the crow is black, and the heron is white. The story is pure imagination or an answer to the question of the child. However, the knowledge behind such etiological tales, bear the imaginary realities. 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 is embedded in the story, it to satisfy the children’s wisdom and curiosity. None the fewer realities are incubated in the imagination and fantasy may be it is a folktale or a film. World of fantasy has popularised Harry Potter and not the world of realities, and a message in the fantasy is much more acceptable to the children than the reality. Fantasy and imagination are 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 a natural human relationship. Oral tales are energised with the cultural context and bear rich human values representing an integrated worldview where the mind is not detached from the matter.

Local legends are nominated to mountain,  river, forests, temple, palace, and such other 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 the 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 relationship with nature. This helps the children to make meaning with the environment for a sustainable world.

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

Lullabies and play song are two dominant genres 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 socialisation of children in diverse groups, develop leadership and group Behaviour, mutual understanding, tolerance, overcoming the defeated situation, psychomotor development and personality development. The play also has the role of fostering learning of 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 associate their action with words, thereby learning both acting and speaking.

Having such a stock of knowledge in Indian society as children’s learning resources;   our school system does not promote these games. Perhaps the community consider their knowledge system inferior to the school curricular system.rely on more school than their system. The irony is that, educationists and psychologists, linguists and pedagogist’s bank upon children’s cultural context as a 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 this knowledge should be the foundation to the school knowledge since school develop the human resources 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 this divide and learning become meaningless

Having such a rich repertoire of oral tradition in 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 create domain as entrepreneurs knowledge, without depending on reading and writing, it is necessary to understand that is important to connect the experience and knowledge of the world with the 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 the first type of literature that is used in the classroom has its cognitive language proficiency skill with accuracy and correctness of reading, writing and fluency. However, all these indicators are teacher centric since the principal teachers objective is 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 sometimes become authoritarian for imposing the grammatical rules.


 In the primary stage, children are more close to the real world, and they need to get literature suitable to their choice.  What do the children like? The answer from the adult teachers 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 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 they finally arrive at the reading and writing of texts through a method that has been perpetuated across the century and has nothing to do with the creativity and thinking of the children. Experience and knowledge of the children are ignored and cognition I blocked in the classroom for the adult-centric teaching-learning process.

 NCF   2005   has emphasised to use local knowledge of the environment from where the children belong to. Both the teachers and the parents have the make-believe 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 do not live with the theories and practices that the pedagogists often live with. The latter follows 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 of their epistemic world. Children’s literature in school is guided by the political ideologies that are followed by the state education system to make it 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 natural learning is disrupted. For instance,   children in Thailand learn from the lamakien( the Ramayana as a part of political ideologies and children in ignorant of the cultural heritage of South Asia, and somehow the realities are undermined 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 an 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 as a part of inherited knowledge.

 However, 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.


 Enriching the children’s literature through their local knowledge is necessary.  Globally such innovations have initiated to provide linguistic and cultural rights to the children. The children of diverse geography,  culture and language have their narratives in which they adapt and at least in the primary stage learn from their environment, and in no case, the school and the teachers have to block the experience of the children in the name of ideologies. In an 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 are 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. However, can we assure that the teachers in Indian situation do read the library?   It is necessary to inquire why at all the Indian primary teachers do not go through good children’s literature. It is also a matter of enquiry why the teachers do not come up as a creator of children’s literature. More often than not when the children will accept a piece of the story in an informal situation and when it becomes a part of a textbook 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 much encouraging.   After the classical curriculum, and the behavioristic school of curriculum, it is learning in a curriculum that has taken place, ostensibly some of our teacher’s are in those classic age and 19th-century curriculum teaching the children.  This is the rural primary physical features may be alluring, but the intellectual side is still lag, 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 locality and they should consider their knowledge is the centre of their world.

 Instead of it the teachers and professionals also fall prey to the global language politics and advocate 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 storybooks in the local language and then it should be written in as many as languages.

Stories from the community, the experience of the children,  listening stories, number stories and stories 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 was conducted in  100 schools where 9000 students and 200 storytellers 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 storytellers have unravelled the verities of social and cultural realities. Unfortunately, in the Indian school system, we come across some favourite 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 the one hand handful written stories known to the teachers and the students in schools, whereas hundreds of exciting 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! Alternatively, the manifold stories that represent verities and multiple intelligences in diverse situations told by many people, in many languages and with many cultural representations of the village. This world is still unexplored in Indian village schools due to our overemphasis 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 the power to answer the questions of the children. After all, these are the tales that have the strength of cultural biodiversities in which the children use to get a lifeworld and understand the meaning and values of life around her.

Decontextualising writing is the major mistake that the current educational system has patronised, 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 explores 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 had not been invited to the school in their lifetime. However, they are respectfully invited to tell their oral tales to their children! This was an emotional moment 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 lifeworld, but untouchable in schools.


 Some examples from Odisha and Chhattisgarh can be helpful to validate the child-centric learning through local folk tales. When the 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 storytellers narrated the story in storytelling 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 there in the following situation the same stories were presented to the children language which was the medium of instruction. Oral learning in mother tongue led to reading and writing provided by cultural 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 the written text in the schools.  This is a significant 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 the 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 Chhattisgarh, Surgujia and Halvi first of all. Children perceived the stories in their mother tongue. Two, the same stories of the big 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 keywords of the Big Book were mad with the children. The expressed their personal experiences, and the teacher had the patience to listen to each child.

 In the third day, teachers showing the  Big each a and every child to read out the children one by one started their guess reading associating the picture in a left page with the sentences in the right page.  Children got 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 the fourth day, the 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 keywords. 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 chalkboard, and they could write the word.

 Here I must admit that the stories that were collected from the community turned in to a textbook 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 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 environment they live on. They speak the stories to the teachers and peer group in both mother tongue and Hindi. They also read the picture and associated the picture with the sentences written in the 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 readily acceptable to the teachers who are the believers of reading writing stereotypes.  I wrote the Hindi story on the chalkboard. 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 the Hindi language written in Odia script. I asked 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 of children’s literature are based on community knowledge put I to the classroom. The result is evidence-based, the maximum participation of the children since they listened, spoke, understood and read the story and finally wrote some keywords from the Big Book.

Children’s world of knowledge is the foundation of any children’s literature. Unless the children see their interest and experience in the item of culture, they may not like it when we lost our childhood and adapted to the practice of teachership we fail to recollect our childhood and dominate the children in the name of reading and writing. Perhaps, therefore, is more potent than the orality, but without orality only not prevail alone, and the majority of the social order will be unspoken in the written word.  Children in the culture of silence and teacher as the director of the society, as the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire said, will prevail in the schools. Teachers as the authority of the 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 buzzword that is not found in the practice of the teachers. Speaking the theory training and not practising in 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 was necessary to provide space to the child in the classroom to be more oral to break the silence and open up, teachers having the patience to listen and explore the children and then the question of essential 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 the 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 do not know!


Mahendra Kumar Mishra 



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