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Challenges of early childhood care

Oct 3, 2013 : 21:03 IST
Despite the initiatives taken by private and public players, ECCE is faced with a lot of challenges in our country, where it is not just day care alone but a dire necessity for overall development of children, observes Sindu Aven.

The emerging socio-economic environment in India is driving the need for standardization of quality Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE). It is also propelled by the efforts of the government towards a fruitful implementation of the RTE Act, the thrust of which is free and quality education to all children. Another factor driving this need for standardisation is the growth of nuclear families across cities. Looking at the current developments, ECCE is seemingly headed for a better future. It is, however, imperative to understand the impending challenges for map effective implementation of the standardised approach for preschools in India.

Beyond assembly line

Given that our society and lifestyle is changing at a startling pace, parents want to provide a relevant foundation to their children’s education. The focus of pedagogies is shifting from dishing out inert clones off an assembly line, to producing thinking and dynamic individuals. Teachers today are recognizing the importance of early childhood development, as well as the complementing aspects of individual growth, peer interaction, self-reliance and learning through exploration rather than through evaluation and assessment. This has become central to the teaching system. Accordingly, schools and preschools across the country are implementing the nuances of these ground-breaking approaches in teaching.

Standardisation of curriculum

The focus, hence, is on catering to overall child development rather than academic readiness or cognitive development alone. However, ensuring quality benchmark parameters in preschools undoubtedly aims at upscaling standards through standardisation. Unfortunately, when it comes to local customisation and administering a curriculum tailored to suit the specific learning needs of a child, standardisation of curriculum might come as a challenge. It, however, does not mean focusing on academics alone, but paying equal attention to developing life-skills, offering fun-based exploratory learning activities to the child during his formative years.

Holistic development

How can these factors be taken care of through ECCE? A guideline for preschool standardisation and draft policy 2012 for the National Early Childhood Care and Education is a major push in this direction. The ECCE Policy brings in the role of the Indian Government to ensure comprehensive holistic development for all children till the age of six years and preparing a child for formal schooling. While the policy looks at initiating reforms and measures, the scope of early childhood program goes far beyond basic literacy programs.

Making children school-ready

In addition to overall awareness programs on health, hygiene and nutrition, making the child school-ready is equally important. ECCE looks at building social, behavioral and emotional competencies. Helping to develop a mind that is attentive to appropriate and child-centric curriculum, intuitive to perceptions through adherence to life-skills, curious to explore and learn through fun-based exploratory learning activities, and to build a body that works with the correct reflexes in children through activities that develop gross motor skills, ECCE is at the overall grooming of a child.

Quality care

In India, ECCE initiatives are offered through various public and private centres called Anganwadis, Balwadis, playschools, preschools, day care centres, crches, kindergartens, and preparatory schools. ECCE, however, has not yet seen much of consistent quality drive in our country, more so, in the absence of steadfast centralized policies and regulatory bodies. The access to ECCE is to be transformed into quality care with optimal hygiene, development, and fun. On one hand, the vast cultural, social, and contextual diversities account for customization and personal care, while on the other, freezing quality benchmarks relies on formulation of standard guidelines, which in itself is a challenge.

Given the initiatives that a few of the pioneering private and public players have taken, we have reasons to believe that ECCE is headed for a brighter and better future in our country where it is not just a day care alone but a dire necessity for overall development of children. Of course, certain issues will always remain critical, such as standard audits and compliance with optimal hygiene and infrastructural requirements. While optimal child-teacher ratio should be observed, sensitivity to a child’s need for emotional and social development is also important.

Interestingly, if we compare the Indian scenario with the global one, we are far from reaching our goal. Early Childhood Care and Education has seen effervescent trends on an international platform. Organizations such as the OMEP (Organization Mondiale pour l’Education Prscolaire), which is an international, non-governmental and non profit-making organization, is working on all aspects of early childhood education and care. It defends and promotes the rights of children to education and care worldwide and supports activities improving accessibility to high quality education and care. Today, India needs initiatives such as OMEP to focus on issues related to Early Childhood Care and Education.

(The writer is the head of an educational services company.)

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