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Towards A New Paradigm Of Hope For Early Childhood Education

It is a paradigm shift and hugely exciting that the recommendation has been accepted to be implemented as a policy.

The pandemic has initiated an array of queries, which involves what the world may look like while we reopen our schools for years to come. While hundreds and thousands of schools and colleges are locked down and are depended on remote learning as a crisis prompted compromise. In this confusion, the national education policy was approved recently. 

We are cognizant of the fact that the Indian Constitution Provisions Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy to bolster education. There are specific articles under the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution of India that provides a supportive framework for ECCE {art 39(f), art 42, art 45, and art 47}. Though 86th amendment came as a watershed moment in the history of Indian education when it introduced art 21(A) as a fundamental right covering children of the age group of 6 to 14. Article 21(A) has been introduced as a fundamental right covering children of the age group of 6 to 14 but it has left behind 0 to 6 years which has remained a huge disappointment till date. 

Amongst the tripod of access, equity and excellence in education, the SDG (2015) has noted that the quality deficit is of serious concern for most developing economies. Target 4.2, of Sustainable Development Goals, states that by 2030 all girls and boys must have access to quality early childhood care and development with pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education. The Sarva Sikhya Abhiyan has ensured 100% access in the primary sector, unfortunately, the quality determinant has been given short shrift. The ASER report, however, has been consistently updating us on the deficit of our children’s basic reading, writing and numeracy skills. One of the prime reasons is neglected early childhood nurture and care. Early years is defined globally as 0- 8 years and is considered to be the most significant stage for the development of the human brain where access to the congruous surrounding and suitable benefaction is required to strengthen a well-built underpinning both in school and life. However, the quality of service of early childhood education and care remains an area of concern in India. Little evidence is available as to whether young children are being supported to acquire foundational skills and abilities required to achieve ensuing success in school. Although the report has not been able to throw light on the basis for such a lamentable plight, it does not analyse the causes for poor or improved learning either. In the ASER survey, however, the evaluation process in reading is done very transparently, to ask a child to read a Grade 2 level text difficulty. In arithmetic, the process is to ask children in grade 3 to do a simple subtraction involving two- digits numerical with burrowing and in the division of three-digit number with one digit. A child entering grade 3 is expected to read a simple text fluently and solve arithmetic operations to be at grade level. Now according to ASER, the all India report of children in grade 3 who are able to read grade 2 text is 27.2% and the corresponding percentage of children who can do subtraction is 28.1%, the three-digit division can be done by only 8.5% of children. 

The Draft Education Policy 2019 presented by the Kasturi Rangan Committee had brought to light the immense significance accorded to ECCE, which is a colossal elevation from all other policies till date. For the first time, this committee has highlighted the seriousness of early childhood development and nurture. The draft is a clear, distinctive precursor to earlier policies. ECCD is a holistic and integrated concept which aligns itself with health, nutrition, cognitive, language, physical and social development and addresses all-round development of a child before primary education starts. 

Our country boasts of 260 million school-going children, and the lamentable fact is that half of the 10-year-olds among them cannot read paragraphs meant for 7-year-olds. At 15, pupils in Tamil Nadu are five years behind their friends in Shanghai, whereas the average 15-year-olds would be in the bottom 2% of an American classroom. When India participated in the global Pisa test it came second last. 

Following the millennium development framework, by the measure of the net enrolment ratio (NER), India had crossed the cut-off target of 95% for achieving the 2015 target of universal primary education. This is because of two prominent drives Sarva Shikha Abhiyan 2001 and Right to Education Act in 2009 but both the policies have given short shrift to the foundational years. 

The gaps found are that the RTE Act does not cater to children below six years of age. The focus of RTE is access oriented with little or no endeavour on quality augmentation. There is a huge disparity across states and monitoring of the act by the state commission for protection of child rights is open to question. Lack of awareness as what it has to offer. Limited availability of quality teachers and Teacher training being the biggest requirement. 

The new committee has responsively emphasized on the significance of ECCE and early years learning about alphabets, languages, numbers, counting, colours puzzles and logical thinking based on the committees empathetic perception of the fact that 85% of the cumulative brain develops prior to the age of six. The committee also has deliberated on current research that children in ECCE are not receiving developmentally appropriate education suited to their needs. 

Strengthening ECCE will overcome the learning crisis where children enrolled in primary lack of basic skills such as foundational literacy and numeracy. ECCE lays the foundation for the development of language augmentation, motor skills growth, cognitive advancement, boosting creative problem-solving in children. An environment which lays the canvas for storytelling resonating the myriad hues of imagination reflected through colours, laughter, language and inner discipline. An educational fabric is interwoven with activities towards exploration, stimulating psychosocial, intellectual curiosity to foster new interests. 

The committee has recognised the relevance of ECCE and the recommendations put forward by the committee is highly relevant and worthwhile. With the Anganwadi system to include a robust education system but simultaneously affirming to accountability, training, allocation, infrastructure, food and nutrition with a joyous environment is the way forward. 

It is a paradigm shift and hugely exciting that the recommendation has been accepted to be implemented as a policy. The welcoming change is the 5+3+3+4 division of the school, early childhood education and care has been included in the foundational years of school learning. 

The budget 2020 has allocated 39,466 Cr which is not even 1% increase to last year’s 38,317 crore, to higher education with no mention on research and development. School education has been allocated with 59,847crores which is a 5% increase to last year’s 56,536 crores. The dismal fact is age 3 to 6 years has been left behind once again with no separate allocation mentioned. In the economic survey, the government wants to promote wealth creation through huge privatisation and free-market mechanism. In case of early childhood care, it will not be possible for people below the poverty line to exercise that choice. The way forward is to build early childhood care and nurture which is an imperative need of quality demographic dividend through adequate public investment. 

Technology is an enabler, not a substitute. There are various forms of e-learning, video conferencing but none of this can be a substitute for teachers' connect with students. There is a kind of physicality which is required.
 
In this backdrop, it is understood that the Anganwadi workers are required to refurbish themselves through a well scrutinized, updated, joyful curriculum buttressing socio-emotional, numeracy and literacy developmental factors. Besides ECCE must be made a fundamental right which propels the concern revolving allocation constraint till date. The budget must grant 6% against 3.5% of GDP, which the new policy strongly recommends. Education being a concurrent subject, the policy fervently advocates that all states should at least allocate 20% of their expenditure as against 10% presently in most of the states. This will ensure India's tryst with reaping the demographic dividend comes to a realisation. 

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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