The country and society that invests wisely in its children and their families harvests the fruits of development. But the catch word here is “wise investment”. Out of many other things that this wise investment would comprise of, the one very basic and foundational thing is ‘that investment needs to begin at a very right age and stage’ – which is the early childhood years.
This is also supported by many researches in brain development and neurosciences, which now (strong evidence-based) claims that the brain development is literally exploding in the early childhood years. Actually, the educationists and developmental psychologists claim that all aspects of adult human capital, from work force skills to cooperative and lawful behaviour, build on capacities that are developed during childhood, beginning at birth.
When the release of the long pending and much awaited National Education Policy (NEP) indicated an increased focus on the universalisation of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), it immediately became one of the most appreciated steps acknowledged unequivocally by both those critiquing the policy and those praising it.
It, therefore, becomes very important to understand what it really means when the policy takes into account the fact that despite 85% of the brain development is happening in the early years, crores of children especially from the socio -economically deprived communities are still not able to access the same in India. The NEP underscores that by 2030 the universal provisioning of quality early childhood development, care and education must be achieved. First reaction is that it is indeed a very welcome step because we do understand that there is a strong relationship between the quality ECCE program and improved retention rates, attendance rates and achievement of learning outcomes in primary schools and beyond was also established in a study done by NCERT.
It is also good to read the discussion in the policy document about the importance the policy has given to focussing on play based, activity based and inquiry based curriculum. It also advocates for the overall aim of ‘ECCE to focus on attaining optimal outcomes in the domains of: physical and motor development, cognitive development, socio-emotional-ethical development, cultural/artistic development, and the development of communication and early language, literacy, and numeracy’. This emphasis on developmentally appropriate requirements of this age group is something that builds on ECCE policy 2013 and is definitely the way to go if we really care for our children and want them to develop into critical thinking, sensitive and effectively functioning human beings. However, the policy’s silence over how the private pre-schools that have mushroomed all over the country will be regulated to follow the same is a bit concerning as we see many of the private schools following a lot of rote learning approaches and putting pressure on the children in this tender age to rote learn a lot of content is not developmentally appropriate for them.
Further, the discussion on the creation of a “National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education (NCPFECCE) for children up to the age of 8 (1.3)” and tasking NCERT for the creation of it in the policy is worth applauding. Because, firstly, it has included age group 0 -3 years and talks about a sub framework for this age group too. Secondly, while discussing the framework, the policy does mention about parents along with the ECCE institutions. But the concern area that emerges here is that this is the only place where parents find a mention in this policy with respect to the ECCE, whereas what the country also needs is a robust parent education and support program especially in these early years where children spend a huge amount of time with their parents and families and they have a major role to play.
Next, as the policy dwells on the access and types of ECCE centres available for the children (1.4,1.5,1.6 and 1.8), it is good to learn that the structure of Anganwadi is continued as young children need to be close to their homes while attending the centres to become ready for the school. The move of integrating the Anganwadi centres with frequent activity filled visits to the school premises, Balvatika for 5-6 year age group and so on is again something which is worth appreciation as this will help the children gain familiarity with the school and help in school readiness. However, what raises a concern here is the integration of ECCE in the alternative models like Ashramshala’s for the tribal children, which are of residential nature. While the concept of having a separate Ashramshala itself has been questioned by many educationists on the ground of being non-inclusive approach; further adding the ECCE component to this can be interpreted as a residential arrangement away from the community. If we are talking about having young children stay away from their caregivers and parents from a very tender age then that is something hard to digest as children this young need to be with their parents and families, making them stay away can have lasting impact on their overall development, definitely on the socio-emotional development in specific.
Now with respect to preparing the personnel for delivering the ECCE component, the policy does talk about providing certification training to those who have qualifications of more than 10+2 and a one-year diploma for those who are less qualified than that. But it appears that the mode of providing this training is primarily digital only, that raises the question of digital divide also, the policy seems to be silent on the requirement of one addition ECCE teacher at the AWW.
Though it talks about implementation through various relevant Ministries like WCD, HFW and Tribal affairs and states that would be formed, it is mostly silent on how it will manifest and how the effective coordination would be achieved.
Overall, though it is indeed a point of rejoice that the policy has laid focus on universalisation of ECCE and has really addressed some of the developmental needs of this age group, but lack of clear plan or roadmap for implementation, silence about the budget allotments and also not mentioning about including the same as part of Right to Education, are a few areas that mainly make one concerned while thinking about the implementation of this policy.
(Author Aekta Chanda is Education Specialist at ChildFund India. Views expressed are personal)
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