"Quality of Education does have a price"
"Pre-schools and daycare centers have mushroomed like coffee shops in India"
Today, early childhood education and care is a multi crore business not only in India but globally too. Why is it a lucrative business? This is because parents are aware about the importance of early education and want to give the best possible education to their children to ensure their success in life.
Has the quality of early childhood education and care increased with the increase in quantity of centers and brands available? No it has not. Awareness and need for early childhood care has increased but the quality sadly has decreased due to focus on parameters like toys, furniture, ambience and advertising gaining more prominence and priority rather than curriculum, teacher training and development and learning material. Early childhood centers today are competing with each other aggressively but are trying to attract parents with inappropriate parameters like bill boards, automated admission procedures, too much of technological gadgets etc.
Early childhood education and care has two ‘clients’, the parent and the child, so you may attract the parent with ads, ambience etc. but ultimately it is the child who should also get a good experience and learning at the center. Incorrect selection of unqualified teachers leads to dissatisfaction both of parents and children which then results in ‘preschool-daycare hopping’ which further results in emotional and social problems in young children. At this age attachment is an important emotional bond and thus too many changes in teachers and environment lead to many childhood education stress in young children and their families. Many schools also prey on the traditional educational perceptions of parents- ‘more is better’ and end up increasing the burden and stress of learning on young brains. So instead of educating parents about the development of the essential five skills (physical, social, emotional, language, cognitive) in the early childhood years, these centers end up propagating and promoting rote learning and give a weak foundation to kids for future learning in math and reading.
Quality does have a price but it should be understood that quality needs to be delivered when there is a price. There is nothing wrong in charging fees as long as the fees are utilized for quality curriculum, teacher development and parent education which in turn lead to quality learning and quality experiences for young children. But sadly a lot of money is pumped in every other aspect of early childhood centers except what matters, i.e. – curriculum, teacher training and parent education.
Teacher salaries are pathetic, there is no benchmark set for minimum wages for early childhood teachers in India, so each school ends up paying what they want and in turn ending up with teachers who do not understand children and are unable to handle them thus resulting in negative practices like shouting, threatening and abusing children.
Curriculum for early childhood education centres is another point of concern as each state and area defines its own curriculum framework and give importance to what they perceive will be required by a a child to learn. This results in incorrect topics, incorrect methods of teaching, weak foundation of learning the 3 R’s, lack of readiness activities and learning stress in children.
Quality is a cup of coffee?
Just like preschools and daycares have mushroomed in India in the last decade so has the culture of coffee shops. These shops or cafes have suddenly changed the beverage drinking habits of the average Indian from tea to coffee. These cafes are also quite pricey as the price of a cup of coffee is almost 5 times that in a common restaurant. It has become a lucrative business because of 3 things- availability, quality and experience.
An owner of a coffee shop is absolutely clear about where to cut costs and which aspects to always improve and enhance as he knows what will result in driving away his customer and what will attract his customer. A common cup of coffee can teach us in the early childhood education 'business' a lot about our business- the business of education. The question I want to focus on is not whether early childhood education should be a business; it will be a business till the stake takes complete ownership of the same. The question is whether we are being honest with the ‘business of early childhood education’. Because it is a business, we have more people to invest, more people ready to get the quality, so the problem is not that people are treating it as a business but that the wrong aspects are being focused on and money is pumped into the wrong aspects thus destroying the reputation preschools, damaging socio-emotional development in children and creating a breed of competitive parents that do not understand early childhood development or education.
Early childhood education and care should not only be a business but a business that is based on research, which fulfills and invests in the basic quality ingredients and never compromises on that.
This will only be possible if we educate the stake holders- the brand owners, the franchises, the owners of preschools, the center heads who run these centers and most importantly the parents who choose to enroll their kids at these centers. So how do we achieve this mammoth task when presently both the center/brand owners and parents are blissfully unaware and happy with lack of quality curriculum and teachers and its long term impact on children? This is where the 100th monkey syndrome will come to our help, we need more and more people in this field to believe in quality and adhere to it.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
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