When it comes to preschools or preschool education in our country there are many divides: the ‘what to call it divide’, the rich and poor divide, the rural and urban divide, the parent and school divide, the central government and state government divide and the teacher training course divide! The future of preschools in our country can be great only once we bridge all these divides.
The first divide: what to call it divide- different names in different states?
Early childhood is divided into two areas, ECC- Early Childhood Care and ECE- Early Childhood Education. ECC is from inception to 3 years and ECE is from 3 to 6 years. First there is the divide about what to call it, preschool? Playschool? Early childhood education? Kindergarten? Early childhood development? Nursery school? Montessori school?
Preschool and playschool both have the word school, which in Latin may mean leisure but in India school is about academics, so it is better not to call it that as the pressure of learning to read, write and count will be forced down on these young babies. Fredrick Froebel, the father of Kindergarten, invented kindergarten but many don’t want it to be Froebelian! Montessori was the true mother of early childhood education but many don’t want it to be Montessorian! So we are left with early childhood education or early childhood development. Education would again bring the focus only on rote learning whereas development would bring the focus on developmentally appropriate Practice (DAP) Brain research and neuro science has proven that 98% of the brain develops in the first six years. So it is imperative that parents and teachers use this crucial period to teach the young brain ‘how to learn’ and not ‘what to learn’. When we teach children how to learn they learn to be independent thinkers, problem solvers and logic seekers. When we train their brains what to learn then we have only one result- rote learning, a brain that cannot think, understand or relate or conduct executive brain functions, it can only remember.
The second divide: central policy or state policy
Education is a concurrent subject in our country so the central ministry makes the policies and then the states have the right to draft their policies based on the same with changes etc.
But here comes the most important question early childhood comes under the Women and Child Development Ministry not HRD and at the state it does not come under the education department then why is it a concurrent subject? Why is each state redefining the policy and minimum non negotiable like minimum area required per child, teacher child ratio, safety and curriculum? Are we saying that the children in different states need different amount of space to sit? Culture and language can change but developmentally a child between the age of 2 to 6 years is on the same continuum whether in Delhi, Kerala, Tamilnadu or Maharashtra. Then why waste precious public money and reinvent the wheel in each state.
We have a well-defined policy for early childhood by the Women and Child Development Ministry and a well-drafted curriculum: National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Curriculum Framework. Not many preschools are aware about the same; it should be used as a textbook in early childhood teacher training courses. Which brings us to the next divide…
The third divide: the teacher-training course divide.
Unlike B.Ed. that is a common qualification across the country, to become an ECCE teacher there is no one common course. Different states have different courses, some are 2 years, some are 1 year, and some are ridiculously for 3 and 6 months! Some are after 10th standard, some after 12 standard and some are postgraduate. Its time to have a common course across the nation as these teachers would be laying the foundation of life skills and learning skills in young children. Presently anganwadi teachers, private preschool teachers, balwadi teachers are all trained differently! There is also a need to define a common core teacher-training curriculum that should be implemented by all early childhood teacher-training courses in the country.
The fourth divide: the rich and poor and urban and rural divide.
At Early Childhood Association we are very worried about a ‘brain-drain’ that is draining the human resource of this country. The early years are most crucial as they are the brain development years, the foundation of all important life skills are during the early years, but because of lack of good early childhood centers, our ‘poor’ children are bereft of good early childhood care. So there is a marked difference in the quality care that a ‘rich child’ receives from a ‘poor child’, and it can be as simple as the number of words that these children are exposed to or the sensory stimulation that these children receive in the first 3 years, because that defines their future personalities and success. 80% of our population is growing up with inadequate early care and development whereas 20% are growing up with superb early care and development, how will our country progress when 80% of its population is already behind in their growth and development? Early Childhood Development – early education and care – makes a difference that persists well into adulthood. It shapes who you become. At that age, your brain is making new connections that will one day become the blueprint for your life. And at that age, if you don’t receive the right kind of care or learning, you will grow up with... a few crayons missing from your life’s pencil box. And why should that happen to anybody?
The urban and rural divide is amazing! I have seen many great early childhood rural programs and some horrible urban programs but yet the urban programs are a ‘benchmark’ whereas the rural program are looked down just because they are not in English?! Many of our best practices are in our rural centers but don’t make the mark because of the rural tag. And many of our urban centers are interviewing children, making their lives stressful and miserable with exams, tests, overburdening with ‘class hopping’ and are yet called centers of excellence!
The fifth divide: the parent and school divide.
Today in every state parents and schools are at loggerheads for various issues, the most important being fees. Parents also face a huge challenge in understanding what kind of ‘preschool’ to choose for their children, which philosophy, what should it should teach their child, what should be the safety measures, what is the school’s and parent’s responsibility etc. there is an urgent need for the government especially the women and child development ministry to come out with some parent education guidelines, these guidelines should define what parents can and should not do in parenting, a simple example is spanking children, parents are unaware of the harmful effects of the same.
Why is it left to the parent to decide whether to give early childhood care and education to their children? Who is the school to decide whether to admit a child for early childhood care and education? Every child is entitled to early childhood care and education, this is explicitly given in the preamble of our National Early Childhood Care and Education Policy it states: It clearly states that – the government of India recognized the significance of ECCE through the amended Article 45 of the Indian constitution that directs that “The state shall endeavor to provide ECCE for all children until they complete the age of six years.” The RTE act also states, “with a view to prepare children above the age of 3 years for elementary education and to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years, the appropriate government may make the necessary arrangement for providing free preschool education for such children.”
The sixth divide: the quality divide.
What should be the quality of any early childhood center, whether government run, privately run or run by an NGO? Who is monitoring this? Presently it is a chaotic state of affairs. So why can’t we learn from the world? Most developed and developing countries have the following, which is the need of the hour as of yesterday for India.
1. A National Quality Framework includes: a national legislative framework that consists of: the Education and Care Services National Law (‘National Law’) the Education and Care Services National Regulations (‘National Regulations’)
2. A National Quality Standard consisting of seven Quality Areas: Educational program and practice
· Children’s health and safety
· Physical environment
· Staffing arrangements
· Relationships with children
· Collaborative partnerships with families and communities
· Leadership and service management.
3. A national quality rating and assessment process through which services are assessed against the National Quality Standard by Regulatory Authorities and provided with a rating from one of the five rating levels.
4. A Regulatory Authority in each state and territory who have primary responsibility for the approval, monitoring and quality assessment of services in their jurisdiction in accordance with the national legislative framework and in relation to the National Quality Standard
5. A national body—to oversee the system and guide its implementation in a nationally consistent way.
Keeping the above need in mind we at the Early Childhood Association strongly believe that having an affiliation board for preschools in our country would be a logical solution that would benefit all three stakeholders- children, parents and preschools. The government can still license the schools or take care of the NOC requirements but the curriculum, philosophy and other important aspects can be done by the affiliation/accreditation board of ECE. Early Childhood Association has now launched its ECE accreditation board and it will be rolled out with schools from August 2018
The process of affiliation/ accreditation is as follows:
¡ A self-study,
¡ An application (and fees),
¡ A validation visit to verify information,
¡ And yearly certification through written documentation.
¡ Upon receiving official accreditation, the provider receives a certificate that verifies status.
With the recent spate of accidents, incidents and other safety related issues that have happened in preschools, it becomes the need of the hour to have an affiliation body that can accreditate the parameters affecting learning, safety and development of the child. Many parents are presently using preschool guide websites to find out the ‘review’ of the preschool but that is not a fool proof nor a realistic guide to the exact quality of learning and safety standard of a preschool.
For the future of early childhood development in our country, ECA strongly urges the Prime Minister to look into these points .
Over 40 percent of India’s children in the 0-6 age group are deprived of any early childhood care despite the Constitution and Parliament having recognized the importance of ECCE. Article 45 of the Constitution directs that “the State shall Endeavour to provide ECCE for all children until they complete the age of six years”. The plain truth is that after more than 65 years since independence early childhood care, development and education in this country is still neglected. It’s time the country invested in taking care of its youngest citizens.
1. Strong need for a separate ministry that focuses on early childhood care and education. (Our country is battling with crimes against women and children. If we want our national human resource, our young children to grow up as strong, healthy, and competent youth then it is time to invest in early childhood. Because there is too much work to be done regarding laws, policies, frameworks, trainings, support systems, health, nutrition etc. it’s time to dedicate a separate ministry to early childhood development, care and education. The ministry can look after pregnancy, birth, mothering, parenting, child and mother health, child health and nutrition, care and education of young children. The ministry can look into child rights, child laws and thus strengthen the generations that will grow up and take this country to become a super power Examples around the world- Australia has ministry for families and children, Singapore, has the Early Childhood Development Agency which is an independent agency charged with overseeing child care and kindergarten education. In Scotland, governance is handled by the Ministry of Children and Young People.)
2. The early childhood policy and curriculum framed by Women and Child Development Ministry at the center should be made non negotiable for all states to implement as the basic policy and curriculum, they can add points as per their state. This saves time in reinventing the wheel, as child development is not region, culture, or language specific. The language in which it is implemented can differ (example New Zeeland has a policy and curriculum in English and Maori the local language)
3. Model early childhood development centers to replace present anganwadis to be set up in each state by the government. These centers must take care of parent education, pregnancy related health and nutrition, parent education classes, childcare, child nutrition and health and early childhood education.
4. Be it Anganawadis, Balwadis, or private preschools the common core guidelines for Quality, safety, and curriculum should be the same. Example Head start program of USA. (Head Start was founded on the idea that every child -- no matter whom they are, what they look like, or where they grow up -- deserves the chance to reach their full potential. Since 1965, it has given meaning to the simple truth that in America, where you start should not determine how far you can go.)
5. Once early childhood centers mandatorily follow the curriculum guidelines in the national ECE policy then all educational boards to be advised by HRD ministry to sync their standard one curriculum to that of the ECE curriculum. Thus every child will begin with a strong foundation.
6. The age to begin nursery and the age to begin standard one should be same across all states in India, presently it differs in many states. It should be 3 years by 30th September for nursery and 6 years by 30th September for standard one.
7. There should be a common teacher-training course mandated for early childhood teachers across the country. Like B.Ed. is the common program for primary and secondary teachers, presently each state has a different course, course matter, and duration for the early childhood teacher-training program.
8. Inclusive education and counseling to be important subjects in the teacher-training program.
9. Assessment guidelines to be made clear and defined for preschools.
Young children are the other minority in our country, because they are presently just 20% of our population, have no voice, cannot vote so are being ignored when it comes to policy, laws, investments. But every business house, entertainment house, corporate company, uses young children for their benefit; crimes against young children are on the rise. Young children in our country are still battling with diseases, malnutrition, and lack of proper health facilities, childcare. Our country needs to set up child protective services to take care of them. We need to invest in our young children because they are going to grow up and become the youth of this country. It will be too late to take care of them then, because research has proven that the early years are when the foundation of all future growth is gained.
The author Dr. Swati Popat Vats is the founder President of Early Childhood Association India. As President of Podar Education Network she leads over 290 preschools and Daycares as founder Director of Podar Jumbo Kids. She is also National representative for the World Forum Foundation. She is Nursery Director of Little Wonders Nursery (UAE) that has branches in Jumeirah and Sharjah. She has received many accolades and awards for her contribution to Early Childhood Education and has been conferred the Fellowship of Honor from the New Zealand Tertiary College. She was the founder consultant for the Euro Kids preschool project in India and helped set up TATASKY’s children’s television activity channel- ACTVE WHIZKIDS. She is the founder expert on the world’s first video based parenting website www.born-smart.com that helps parents understand and nurture brain development in the first 1000 days.
Swati has authored many books for parents and children and is a strong advocate of nature based learning in the early years and promotes brain research based teaching and parenting in her workshops across the globe. Swati tweets and blogs on education and parenting and can be followed on @swatipopat or www.kiducationswatipvats.blogspot.in
Dr. Swati Popat Vats