“Every dollar invested in quality early childhood care and education produces a 7-10% return in better education, health, social and economic outcomes.”
– Prof. James Heckman (Nobel Laureate in Economics)
The first six years of life are critical years since the rate of development in these years is more rapid than at any other stage of development. In the early years development is influenced not only by health, nutrition and quality of care but also by the quality of stimulation and early learning experiences provided to the child. These initial experiences of a child’s life set the pattern for years to come. The first three years of life are a crucial time for acquiring language and building vocabulary. High-quality Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programs that expose infants and toddlers to language-rich activities have been linked to higher academic achievement in later years.
Despite the benefits of early education, our country has lagged in making sure high-quality programs are available for tiny-tots. In India only 1.1% kids are enrolled in Preschools, whereas the enrolment rate is almost 100% in countries like France and Scotland. Moreover, the present scenario in India in the delivery of ECCE is marked by diversity of programmatic approach, content and standards. There are no standard practices followed. All of this has a direct bearing on the quality of services being provided.
Though quality matters in the delivery of ECCE services, there are no norms, guidelines or framework binding on implementers. Minimum Specifications for Preschools, is a suggestive guide published by NCERT in 1996. This document serves as a guideline for policy makers and implementers for laying down basic norms and specifications for Early Childhood Education(ECE). In its attempt at setting some standards and norms, the document covers the following aspects:
|Broad Aspects Covered||Specific Aspect for which Guidelines Provided|
|Physical structure and facilities||Location; play areas; facility for drinking water; sanitary facilities; sleeping facilities; storage space|
|Equipment and material||Outdoor equipment/material for large muscle development; Indoor equipment/material; First aid kit|
|Safety precautions||Safety of play space; not to use self locking doors; materials that could harm children should be stored in areas inaccessible to children; no toxic colour/paint should be used for play equipment; regular maintenance of outdoor equipment; avoid sharp edges in equipment, etc.|
|Pre school staff||Staff structure and adult child ratio; qualifications of the teacher; qualifications of the helper; salary structure|
|Age for admission||Explains the age specific development of the child vis-à-vis appropriate age for pre-school|
|Admission procedure||Alternative strategies suggested as a departure from the practised admission procedure|
|The pre-school programme||Timings; Content and methodology|
|Record and registers||Admission records; progress records; teachers’ diary; registers – attendance of staff and children, accounts, stock and staff profile|
At present there is no uniformity in the curriculum followed in the ECCE Centres. Service providers have developed their curriculum on the basis of the material available. The understanding among programme implementers is not always in line with the desired. However, the National Curriculum Framework includes a section on the curricular content of pre –school education. It states the following:
“During the pre-primary stage, enormous changes take place in the children’s physical growth and mental development. From a state of dependence and helplessness the children gradually attain independence and become curious learners. As their bodies grow and respond to the social and cultural cues, their nervous systems mature and their cognitive experiences are enhanced. They quickly adapt to the world and slowly begin to imagine and discover methods for storing away the memories of the past and present events. Play fosters the overall development of the learners who may engage in functional play, i.e., simple and repetitive movements with or without an object, and constructive activity – physically manipulating objects in order to construct or create something. This period is marked by the development of language, the use of symbols and egocentric thinking, i.e., failure to distinguish between one’s own point of view and that of another individual. Children at this stage also engage in fantasy play. For the development of beliefs, habits and attitude associated with physical well-being, emotional maturity and proper social orientation, the years of pre-primary and primary education are the most impressionable and formative period of the child’s life. This fact has to be realized in all seriousness by the curriculum designers and practitioners so as to provide appropriate and adequate learning experiences to the learners.”
After a long and painful period of neglect, Government of India promises to devote attention to the issue of preparing all children for primary schooling. The National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) policy recently approved by the Union Cabinet aims to end the current situation that has led to the mushrooming of crèches, play schools, nursery schools and so on that adhere to no particular standard.
Objectives of the draft policy:
- Ensuring adaptive strategies for inclusion of all children
- Set out the quality,standards and curriculum framework
- To promote strong partnerships with communities and families in order to improve the quality of development.
- To promote professionalism in the field
- To promote, reinforce and safeguard quality services for all young children for systematic development.
We expect that very soon we will have a national council to establish guidelines for standardisation of teaching and learning aids, trained manpower, sanitation and hygiene norms in play schools and day care centres. Some of the proposed guidelines are as follows:
- 3-4 hours. of learning
- At least 35 square meters classroom for a group of 30 children
- At least 30 square meters of outdoor space
- Structurally safe building
- Easy approach, cleanliness and green areas
- Clean Water arrangements
- First aid/medical kit availability
- Learning material and teaching aids
- Quality check on meals and nap time
- Teachers student ratio is 1:20 for three to six years and 1:10 under the age of three years.
Gyankriti has initiated “preschool chale hum” campaign to create awareness for high-quality early education. We will promote it through various events in Indore.
Note: The author is Founder-Director of Gyankriti. The views expressed here are personal.
हिंदी अनुवाद: http://www.gyankriti.com/blog/2/