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Quality Of Preschool Education In India Not Developmentally Appropriate For Children

Government-run Anganwadis and privately managed preschools, two major models of early childhood education available in India, neither offers children the environment and inputs they need at this age. In particular, opportunities for planned play, a critical component of successful early childhood education programs, are almost entirely absent from both models.

A report `India early Childhood Education Impact study (2011-2016), released by UNICEF, has said on average, children’s school readiness levels at age 5 were far below expected levels. Most children participate in institutions that are of low quality and fail to use age appropriate methods, materials, and activities, and children thus enter school unequipped with the skills necessary to meet the demands of the  primary school curriculum.

While, regular preschool participation from age 4 to 5 years has a significant impact on children’s school readiness levels at age 5+, with quality of the preschool emerging as a key factor in enhancing impact, the report said almost every one of the villages sampled for IECEI had at least one government preschool facility,usually an Anganwadi. The majority also had one or more privately managed preschools. Most families were sending their children to these facilities, even at age 4. This is a major achievement.

The India Early Childhood Education Impact study (IECEI) is a longitudinal study that followed a cohort of 14,000 four year olds from age 4 to age 8 in rural areas of three states of India: Assam, Rajasthan and Telangana. The first of its kind in India for its scale, its longitudinal design and mixed methods it employed, the study documented children’s institutional participation; assessed their school readiness levels and subsequent early grade learning outcomes; and assessed the quality of preschool programmes, identifying specific programme characteristics that are associated with positive developmental outcomes for children.

The study was conceptualized in consultation with and with the support of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Human Resource Development, UNICEF and other partners, including the World Bank, CIFF, Bernard van Leer Foundation, CARE, UNESCO and SERP.  It was conducted by the Centre for Early Childhood Education and Development (CECED), Ambedkar University and ASER Centre.

However, children’s participation in preschool and early primary grades does not necessarily follow the linear age-based trajectory prescribed by policy (RTE, 2009 and National ECCE Policy, 2013). In some states, large numbers of 4 year olds are already in school. As a consequence, these children are expected to master curriculum content that is developmentally inappropriate. In other cases, significant proportions of 6 and 7 year olds are still in preschool. In all states, children attend irregularly.

Recommending inclusion of pre-school education as an integral part of Right to Education, 2009, the report says that experiences at the preschool stage influence children’s outcomes at the primary stage of education. Currently, the RTE covers only children in the age group 6-14, thus excluding children during the most important phase of brain development in violation of their right to a sound foundation for education.

Currently, many state governments allow children to enter school before the age of 6. The RTE stipulation requiring the entry age for grade 1 to be 6+ years should be made mandatory across the country, so that children entering primary education are better able to handle curriculum demands, the report calls for ensuring that children begin primary school only when they are developmentally ready.

Calling for planning for young children up to the age of 8 as an early learning continuum which requires early childhood care and education – as is now globally accepted – the report said such a curriculum would cover preschool to primary grades, thus building upward from what three year olds need, meeting the specific content and pedagogical requirements of this foundational stage with play-based opportunities and experiences for emergent and early literacy and numeracy.  It also calls for developing a customized Teacher Education curriculum and a cadre of trained teachers at par in status with primary school teachers.

Institute an effective quality regulation or accreditation system for early childhood care and education, which covers preschool education across private, public and voluntary sectors to ensure compliance with quality standards and prerequisites for developmentally appropriate practices in these critical years, the report said.

All stakeholders – policy makers, teachers, parents and others – need to understand why and how young children’s learning needs are different from what formal education provides, and why meeting these needs is critical to establishing a solid foundation for lifelong learning and development, the report said.

“Activities that should be prioritized and proactively supported include large-scale advocacy via public interest advertisements and media campaigns; mechanisms that facilitate direct communication between pre-primary education centres and parents; and the design and large-scale dissemination of simple methods and materials that enable parents to actively support their children’s learning,’’ it said.

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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