Where Does Quality Education Begin?

Early Childhood Education and development shouldn’t be misunderstood as a preliminary educative strategy that is given to children. It tackles issues that are much deeper and highly critical in nature.

The barriers to education need to be taken down one single brick at a time and holistic education is achieved by gaining one step at a time. Every instance in a child’s life plays a critical role in building the individual they turn out to be. Interventions at the beginning of a child’s learning curve have more than a preliminary effect on their future development. The earliest years of a child’s life, where they pick up skills and emotional responses, has been understood to determine a child’s survival and thriving in life. These particularly lay the foundation for their learning and holistic development. Various facets of a child’s life are built in this period, ranging from cognitive, physical, social and emotional skills – each of which plays a critical role in their determining the path that a child takes to achieve success in life and also gives children a future that they are able to achieve. Looking at education in this holistic manner is necessary if one were to even attempt to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Each of which, from challenging poverty to making a more equitable society, from building an effective healthcare system to making institutions stronger and more accountable, from making people more aware about their environment to gaining access to essentialities in life. An intervention at the beginning of a child’s life will be critical to realizing these goals. 

What one attempts to go through this concept is to confront issues of nutrition, health, and education in the early years of a child’s life – which is from pre-natal to 6 to 8 years of a child’s life. It attempts to look at a child through a lifecycle approach which touches upon every instance that leads to one having a healthy and fulfilling life. To understand this one has to approach the early interactions that a child has, which are to a large extent determined by supportive family and community care practices, proper nutrition and healthcare, learning opportunities which eventually lead to policies that care for children and enable families to invest in their child. One also has to note that ECE positively impacts attendance, retention and the learning of children in their elementary and higher education. This has a much higher impact on children who are bound to underperform due to their social and economic position in the society. It is critical to not just the progress of a child, but it is vital to the nation’s education, civic and economic prosperity. In the process of reducing the gaps in social and economic factors, working with the future of these very communities have been dependent on these efforts to bridge the learning curve from childhood to elementary education.

This isn’t a novel concept; India had included ECD as a part of its educational systems from almost 5000 years prior. A gamut of traditional practices was employed in early childhood care and education. There was a slow fading of these as colonial educational practices slowly corroded the earlier practices, it was only through preschool education primarily undertaken by voluntary agencies and private institutions that early childhood development was undertaken. Through rigorous documentation in the latter half of the 19th century, we understood the nature of education that was there earlier. 

Data derived from Census 2011 determines that there are about 158.7 million children between the ages of 0-6, it is then critical that we recognize the need to provide quality pre-primary education programmes. In an effort to do so a number of constitutional and policy provisions have been made, NPE (1986) paved the way for the 86th Constitutional Amendment which introduced Article 21A on the right to education for free and compulsory education for 6-14 years of age, and Article 45 urges each of the states to provide ECCE for all children till the time they complete the age of six years. These efforts resulted in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2010, which guaranteed children’s right to quality elementary education. Though ECCE has not been recognized as a compulsory provision by the RTE it urges states to provide free pre-school education for children above the age of three years. It incorporated holistic care and education into the system and provided it to children from 0-6 years, especially from disadvantaged groups – groups which were in dire need of such assistance. Progress continued and led to the National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy in 2013 that the Government of India approved, this policy also included the National Curriculum Framework and Quality Standards for ECCE. The factor that sets this apart is that the policy caters to all children under 6 years, and is a commitment by the State to provide universal access to quality early childhood education. It is the Women and Child Department that is responsible for the ICDS programme, a centrally sponsored and State administered ECCE programme. This covers, on an estimate of about 38 million children through a network of more than 1.4 million Anganwadi Centres. ICDS covers most of the aspects of ECD, it tackles issues of supplementary nutrition, immunization, health check-up, pre-school education, referral services, and nutrition and health education. ECCE effectively targets the psychosocial development of children and develops them for school readiness.

These are to be looked at just as the initial process, what we now have is that the Government of India has recognized the importance of ECD but challenges with regard to implementation still remain. As the numbers for enrolment for elementary education has shot up to 99.2, but the dropout rates become a critical element in this by the Senior Secondary level the rate drops to 56.2 and reaches an abysmal 24.5 in the case of Higher education. Learning assessments point towards another figure which ought to open our eyes to the nature of literacy that is there in the country. This portends to the urgency of assisting children, particularly in the case of first generation learners. It is essential to make the school ready through quality ECE programme and make a considerable effort in making this a smooth transition.

The nature of education has changed and progressed leaps and bounds. We know the levels of interventions that reap the highest results. ECD is a critical point in a child’s life that needs to be understood through a lens of social and economic gaps and the impact that it has on a child’s life. Continuing the process we need to work not just on the implementation of the policies but work on the policies themselves. Building on these processes and policies become a point for us to realistically determine the efficacy and the nature of the intervention. 

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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