Encourage independent ECCE affiliation/accreditation boards – Swati Popat Vats

EducationWorld February 18 | EducationWorld

All class I-XII schools in India boast state, national and/or international exam/education board affiliation. However, preschools countrywide are not required to affiliate themselves with any board or accreditation authority which can certify their curriculums, child safety and other standards. This lacuna in early childhood care and education (ECCE) needs to be filled through creation of preschool affiliation boards.
The Early Childhood Association of India (ECA), which has a membership of over 3,000 preschools countrywide, recently conducted an intensive quality audit of preschools in association with the Podar Institute of Education. The survey, which covered 1,920 preschool heads and 1,921 parents in Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi and Pune, found that not only are parents unaware of what should be taught at every stage to youngest children in the 0-6 age group, even principals trusted by parents and trained in education are clueless about ECCE laws, policies and curriculums. The great majority of them are shackled by redundant practices and unwilling to change.

Whats worse is that state governments are jumping in to enact policies to ‘regulate preschools without first defining the benchmarks and curriculum of a quality ECCE programme. In 2013, the previous government at the Centre prepared a National Early Childhood Care and Education (NECCE) policy which is an excellent document. But instead of adopting this policy in toto, state governments want to reinvent the wheel and waste public money on customising and adopting it to suit undefined local cultural conditions. Moreover, since ECCE falls within the jurisdictional ambit of the Union ministry of women and child development, there is confusion about state-level implementation of the NECCE policy.

This leaves no choice but for private preschools to prepare their own curriculums. While some have prepared excellent child-friendly curriculums, the large majority follow age-inappropriate curriculums focusing on drilling children for primary school. Toddlers as young as two years are made to hold pencils and write over dotted lines in worksheets. Three-year-olds are made to recite nursery rhymes and then graded and marked on their ‘performance. This is the confused state of preschool education in the country today.

The solution to the chaos in the countrys ECCE sector is creation of affiliation boards which will benefit all stakeholders — children, parents and preschool teachers. State governments could licence preschools (as some of them are clamouring to do — mainly to earn licensing fees) but the philosophy, curriculum, teacher training and other important aspects of ECCE should be prescribed and monitored by one or more affiliation/accreditation boards comprising ECCE professionals.

The worlds largest ECCE association which affiliates most preschools in the US is an NGO — the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). When I founded Podar Jumbo Kids 17 years ago, I was (and continue to remain) a member of NAEYC and have ensured that our preschools followed its ten standards prescribed for member preschools. The NAEYC process of affiliation/accreditation comprises a self-study, an application (with a fee), a validation visit to verify information, and yearly certification following written documentation. Likewise our ECA requires member preschools to fulfill all 10 NAYEC standards to qualify for our quality audit certificate.

As demonstrated by ECA, accreditation or affiliation of pre-primaries on the NAEYC model is feasible in India. We can begin with the countrys estimated 300,000 private preschools. With the recent spate of accidents and other safety aberrations being reported from preschools, the need of the hour is a national ECCE affiliation board (or several across the country for ease of administration and audit) which will define benchmarks for age-appropriate learning, safety and nurturance of youngest children in happy, stress-free environments. Currently, parents rely on amateur websites to choose preschools for their children. We need to provide parents the option to choose preschools evaluated by affiliation and/or accreditation boards comprising respected ECCE experts and professionals.

Apart from ECA, other organisations such as the Aga Khan Foundation, Early Childhood Department of SNDT University, Mumbai and Dr. Ambedkar University, Delhi, are also qualified to establish affiliation boards for pre-primary schools.

Preschool affiliation and/or accreditation boards are urgently required and the ECA would like to thank EducationWorld for drawing attention to this vital issue for discussion at this conference. Clearly, its in the national interest that all preschools — private and government — induct youngest children into education in conducive environments which promote joyous and voluntary learning.

The solution to ensuring quality learning is not only government regulation, but affiliation boards established by independent associations, universities and/or boards comprising ECCE experts and professionals who will ensure that affiliated preschools provide our youngest children safe, nurturing and excellent age-appropriate early childhood learning which is the foundation block of all learning.

(Dr. Swati Popat Vats is founder-president of the Early Childhood Association and president of the Podar Education Network)

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