Since we convened the first National Conference on Early Childhood Education in 2010, EducationWorld (estb.1999) has been in the vanguard of a lethargic national movement to accord high importance to early childhood care and education (ECCE) for children in the age group 0-5. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, in a society in which the establishment has accorded low priority to public education and human capital development, the vital importance of professionally administered ECCE hardly registered on the radar of academia or the establishment.
It’s a small mercy that in 1975 the Central government decreed the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme which mandated the establishment of anganwadis to provide nutritional care to lactating mothers and new-borns and also provide early childhood education to the 0-5 age group. The latest ASER 2019 beams a searching spotlight on ECCE by testing the early learning of 36,930 children in pre-primary education in 26 districts of 24 states of the Indian Union.
According to ASER 2019, only 54 percent of children aged five who receive at least one year of preparedness before entering class I, are enrolled in government schools including anganwadis with a sizeable 37 percent enrolled in privately promoted preschools and 8 percent deprived of any professionally administered ECCE.
Under the ASER methodology, children were tested for cognitive development; early language; early numeracy and for social and emotional development. In all tests the learning outcomes are poor with only 51 percent in the 4-5 age group able to pass the cognitive development test. Inevitably, private preschoolers performed better (56 cf. 45 percent). Similarly only 43.6 percent of government preschool and 58.3 percent of 4-5 year-olds in private school passed Pratham’s early language capability test. In early numeracy, a mere 30.2 percent of government school children passed the ASER test cf. 45.7 percent of private preschools.
ASER 2019 indicates that while children in private preschools are better prepared for formal education, the overall picture of ECCE learning is dismal. Belatedly, the draft National Education Policy 2019 of the Kasturirangan Committee, awaiting finalisation by the Central government, stresses that brain development of children is 85 percent complete by age six and recommends that ECCE should be transformed into foundational education for all children until age eight (class III) to provide them a strong foundation for future learning.
“It is now important to stress that early childhood education is not only good for the child but it is good for the mother, the family, society, and the economy of the country. It is for these multiple reasons that we need to strengthen and expand early childhood care and education based on what we know about the growth of the child,” writes Madhav Chavan, president of the Pratham Education Foundation in the preface of ASER 2019. That’s sound advice on which is dependent the future of generation next.