Early childhood care & education – Swati Popat Vats

EducationWorld September 2020 | Special Report

Early childhood care & education - Swati Popat VatsDr. Swati Popat Vats is president of the Early Childhood Association (ECA, estb.2011) which has a membership of 38,000 preschools countrywide, and president of the Association for Primary Education and Research.

How satisfied are you with NEP 2020’s recommendations for early childhood are and education (ECCE)?

NEP 2020 clearly acknowledges that over 85 percent of a child’s cumulative brain development happens prior to the age of six years and that ECCE is the foundation of all future learning. This is cause for celebration. To its credit, the policy has made sensible proposals to improve all ECCE programmes except in the area of teacher training.

What are your implementation/suggestions for the following: National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education (NCPFECCE)?

● NCERT has been tasked with developing NCPFECCE within two sub-frameworks — for 0-3 year-olds and 3-8 year-olds. I hope the philosophies and pedagogies of globally respected ECCE pioneers such as Friedrich Froebel and Maria Montessori and Indian educationists Gijubhai Badheka, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Tarabai Modak and Anutai Wagh will be reflected in the frameworks.

● We need to follow the lead of developed countries that have designed common core ECCE curriculum guidelines such as EYFS (UK), EYLF (Australia) and EYDL (Singapore). These are excellent documents that detail standards covering infrastructure requirements, safety processes, curriculum goals, assessment systems, etc, providing high-quality benchmarks for ECCE centres, teachers and parents. NCERT must study these countries’ ECCE policies and
adapt their best practices. There’s no point wasting time on reinventing the wheel.

● NCERT and SCERTs should invite curriculum and child development experts and organisations such as the ECA which have a wealth of experience to contribute to the design of  NCPFECCE.

● Currently, there’s too much focus on the development of cognitive rather than social skills in ECCE curriculums. NCPFECCE should strike a balance between the two to develop socially and emotionally capable and ‘happy to learn’ children.

Strengthening the country’s 1.4 million anganwadis and their integration into school complexes/clusters as recommended by NEP 2020.

For historical reasons, government promoted anganwadis lack qualified ECCE teachers, quality learning materials and infrastructure.

Against this backdrop, integrating anganwadis into school complexes/ clusters as proposed by NEP 2020 is a good idea as it will enable them to share resources and ensure learning continuity. But care needs to be taken to ensure that the development needs of youngest children are prioritised. Most important, we need to design a mechanism to develop quality teachers and improve  learning outcomes in anganwadis countrywide. ASER has developed an assessment scale for preschools which should be strengthened and deployed in all preschools countrywide.

But to do this, it’s imperative to increase the budgetary allocation for the ICDS programme. In Union Budget 2020-21, a mere Rs.20,532 crore was allocated for 1.4 million anganwadis. This needs to be tripled to implement the ECCE reforms proposed by NEP 2020.

Restructuring of ECCE to include 5 years of foundational learning (3-8 years)

For this proposed restructuring to succeed, clear planning is needed. First, continuity of curriculum needs to be ensured. Second, a massive national campaign needs to be launched to recruit and train teachers to deliver education to children in the 3-8 years age group. Third, standalone private preschools, most of whom provide education until the age of five, need to be assured that their children will be automatically enrolled in neighbourhood schools for learning continuity until they attain the age of eight years.

Developing a cadre of high-quality ECCE teachers.

This is dependent on creating a national ECCE qualification and formally training all in-service ECCE teachers. ECA has developed an excellent ECCE teachers training module for children in the 0-8 years group.

What are the major implementation roadblocks?

According to NEP 2020, four ministries are in charge of ECCE — education, women and child development,  health and family welfare, and tribal affairs. A special joint task force should be constituted to ensure smooth integration of ECCE into primary education. There’s the danger of ECCE being lost in boundary disputes between these ministries.

NEP 2020 states that regulation should be light but tight. I fear that state governments may take this as a license to come down hard on private preschools.

Is there any important area of ECCE which NEP 2020 has failed to address?

● The policy should have prescribed a common national ECCE teacher qualification. This would have enhanced societal respect for teachers and ensured better salaries.

● The policy has failed to stress the need for parent education.

● The PARAKH National Assessment Centre proposed by NEP 2020, should have been tasked with assessment of early years education. This would have ended regressive testing practices of some preschools.

Read: Implementing NEP 2020: Expert advice for central government

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