The youngest learners

The youngest learners

News Analysis   /   The youngest learners

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Published on: January 29, 2022

Source: The Indian Express


Anganwadis should provide early childhood care and education.

Sanjay Kaul, Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta writes, This is necessary for the well-being of the millions of young children in low-income households.

Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)

With the National Education Policy, 2020, the government has correctly emphasised the importance of early childhood care and education (ECCE), which is critical for the development of a young child's early cognitive, social, and emotional skills. The National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5), on the other hand, reveals that just 13.6 percent of children are enrolled in pre-primary education. In order to meet the needs of the millions of young children living in low-income families, the roughly 1.4 million anganwadis of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) across India must provide early childhood care and education (ECCE)

True, with its primary focus on health and nutrition, ECCE has traditionally been the weakest link in the Anganwadi system. However, this is changing. Anganwadi personnel has little time left over for ECCE because of their numerous administrative responsibilities.

Existing System

Infants and toddlers are mostly ignored by the current system, which is best suited to the age group of 3-6 years. Nonetheless, a kid's early learning begins from birth, initially through stimulation, play, relationships, non-verbal and vocal communication, and eventually by observation and signals from the local surroundings, as well as increasingly organised activities, as the child grows older. Unfortunately, because of a lack of parental understanding, which is exacerbated by the everyday challenges of poverty, impoverished families are unable to establish an early learning environment for their children to thrive in.

Many low-income families have begun to enroll their children in low-cost pre-schools to help them get back on their feet. However, the majority of these use a teaching technique that is not developmentally appropriate.

The tremendous workload of Anganwadi employees, according to some educationists, makes ECCE in Anganwadi a non-starter — and that all government primary schools should open pre-primary sections, with Anganwadi restricting their services to children between the ages of three and five.

This concept has a number of practical obstacles and is not financially feasible. It would need a tremendous investment to construct more than a million classrooms, as well as a million nursery instructors and assistants – even a reasonable estimate puts the additional yearly investment at more than Rs 30,000 crore. Would children enrolling in pre-schools not require supplemental nutrition and health monitoring, given the high prevalence of stunting among children in India (35 percent)? Is it possible that the nursery instructor might get overworked as a result of this? More importantly, experience has shown that existing government pre-schools are primarily a downward extension of primary school and do not provide age-appropriate early childhood education and care.

Changes that should be initiated:

Not only is a meaningful ECCE programme in anganwadis a more logical and cost-effective method, but it is also feasible to implement through seven coordinated steps.

First and foremost, it is necessary to develop and implement a relevant activity-based early childhood education framework that takes into account local realities while being autonomous enough to represent the local environment and setting.

Second, routine duties performed by Anganwadi staff can be decreased, and non-ICDS activity, including newborn surveys, can be eliminated entirely if appropriate. Many Anganwadi workers have completed their secondary education. Assistance can be reclassified as childcare workers with training and an additional incentive, allowing them to take on more regular tasks.

To round out the picture, by increasing the current compensation of Anganwadi workers and allocating the additional time to ECCE, the hours of operation of Anganwadi centres may be increased by at least three hours. Karnataka has already taken the lead, with anganwadis open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Monday to Friday. Additionally, this will serve as a partial childcare facility, allowing disadvantaged women to earn a living while their children are in daycare.

ICDS requires a shift in policy mentality at the national and state levels, as well as the prioritization and monitoring of early childhood development (ECD). This would also necessitate the training of all ICDS functionaries in early childhood development, including evaluation through group activities and child observation.

Fifth, Anganwadi personnel must be re-trained to work in close collaboration with parents, who play a critical role in the cognitive development of children in the preschool years. In order to practice responsive parenting, both parents must participate actively in ECCE activities at home; consequently, Anganwadi workers should be encouraged to engage in intentional conversations with dads as well. It is possible to create and make available to parents appropriate messages and low-cost, cheap educational tools.

Sixth, ICDS must provide age-appropriate activity-based play material in sufficient numbers on a regular basis, with Anganwadi staff encouraged to make extensive use of the materials they provide.

State governments should engage in research and training to assist early childhood education and guarantee that the ECCE programme does not serve to further degrade the quality of school education in the long run.

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