Visual literacy takes a back seat, even teachers lack it badly

Dr. Lalit kishore

Visual literacy takes a back seat, even teachers lack it badly. Some recent studies have shown that both the reading habits and visual literacy of students have suffered tremendously. The latest report by Pratham NGO has revealed that most students of grade five cannot read properly with age-appropriate accuracy and fluency.


The study concludes that grade five students are unable to read grade two books properly. Also, my own rapid assessment of picture reading and interpretation of visuals by students to measure their visual literacy revealed the situation is much worse in this skill than their language reading levels. But, who is to be blamed for these sorry state affairs regarding basic academic skills of reading and visualization attained by students?

Perhaps, the teachers and educators who themselves are not doing their jobs properly. The use of visual language is being neglected at all levels of education since it is generally assumed to be much easier to understand visuals and deemed more universal than verbal or mathematical symbols and their use, hence neglected.

Recently, a neighborhood female science graduate student travelling with me in the bus showed me the biology diagram drawn by her teacher and copied by her and said the diagram in the textbook appears markedly different than the one drawn by her teacher. "While the teacher was drawing the diagram her full back were toward us and she kept on rubbing some portions and redrawing them. No one could see what was happening on the blackboard. Then she turned her face towards the class and asked us to copy the diagram. No one had the clue how to begin drawing the diagram. However, we copied the diagram and I found it different from its standard diagram," she said complainingly while I took the picture of her diagram in the notebook and the textbook.

It needs to be understood that the specialized nature of scientific diagram making and visualizations mean designing learning activities that help students to develop the knowledge and skills required for interpreting them. The experts inform that that diagram making should be modeled by the teacher in a stepwise manner, which is not being done presently in most classes.

Billie Eilam in her book "Teaching, Learning, and Visual Literacy: The Dual Role of Visual Representation" stresses the importance of visual literacy education for teachers and educators for improving their visual analytical abilities. But, unfortunately teaching fraternity hardly refers to books to improve their competence and professional skills.

The present case illustrates that the teacher had not even properly consulted the textbook. The fellow traveler asked me, it I were to draw this diagram, how I would do it. I said that I would do it sequentially. She handed over the pen and the notebook me. I did it for her, first drawing the outline and then adding the details unlike her teacher. She smiled and took away the notebook. I think that teachers need to be trained in the sequential type of approach with modeling along with a suitable commentary and questioning that emphasizes key aspects of the subject matter being taught through drawing of the diagram. However, it requires some hard work and practice which teachers seem to shun these days.


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