Somewhat belatedly, the draft National Education Policy 2019 of the nine-member Kasturirangan committee, which is still receiving “final touches” on the last day of 2019, devoted five pages to early childhood care and education (ECCE) and recommended extension of professionally administered ECCE to “foundational stage” education to all children up to age eight (class II).
However, while the awareness of the critical importance of professionally administered ECCE (championed by EducationWorld since 2010) has dawned upon the KR committee and the academic community, there’s evidently no such awareness within the education ministry of the Karnataka government. According to data tabled in the Lok Sabha by Union women and child development (WCD) minister Smriti Irani, 40 percent of Karnataka’s anganwadi centres (AWCs) — nutrition centres for lactating mothers and children in the 0-6 age group from the poorest households which are also mandated to provide early childhood education — don’t have drinking water facilities. Irani said that out of Karnataka’s 65,911 AWCs, 26,701 don’t provide drinking water and 12,051 are without toilets.
Moreover, despite being regarded as a socio-economically developed state of India (annual per capita income Rs.1.78 lakh cf. national average Rs.1.26 lakh), Karnataka’s 125,000 anganwadi workers, are paid a monthly ‘honorarium’ (AWC workers are officially designated as social volunteers) of a mere Rs.8,000 per month with supportive ‘helpers’ receiving only Rs.4,000. For this meagre remuneration, they are obliged to provide nutrition to lactating mothers and newborns and ECCE to children in the 3-6 age group. It’s pertinent to note that the government-mandated official minimum wage for workers is Rs.18,000 per month. It’s also noteworthy that a fresh B.Ed graduate teacher in a state government primary in a less demanding job receives a starting monthly salary of Rs.27,000.
Despite AWC workers having repeatedly staged massive public protests during the past three years demanding pay equivalence, they haven’t been given wage parity with AWC counterparts in the neighbouring states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh whose honorariums are Rs.10,000 (and Rs.5,000 for helpers).
Two years ago in March 2017, over 10,000 AWC workers — all women — held a sit-in protest before the home of Congress party chief minister K. Siddaramaiah demanding wage parity with their counterparts in neighbouring states. At that time, the Congress government promised to raise their remuneration from Rs.8,000 to Rs.10,000 per month. But this promised wage increase (14 percent less than the Rs.11,400 paid to AWC workers in Haryana) has not been fulfilled.
In May 2018, the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government was defeated in the legislative assembly election and now the chances of that particular promise being honoured within the foreseeable future are not bright. Following a massive protest in Delhi led by farmers in which AWC workers and ASHA (accredited social health activists) participated, prime minister Narendra Modi raised the Centre’s share of the minimum honorarium for AWC workers nationally from Rs.4,000 per month to Rs.4,500. The Centre is obliged to pay 60 percent of an anganwadi worker’s salary with the remainder paid by state governments under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme (estb.1975) of the Union government.
“The adamant refusal of successive state governments of Karnataka to accord wage parity with neighbouring states to AWC workers and helpers is symptomatic of the ill-treatment of women — all AWC workers and helpers are women — and their disinterest in child development. Politicians and bureaucrats are ignorant about the critical importance of professionally provided ECCE to children of the poor. That’s why they don’t bother about water and toilets for anganwadis either,” says Dr. A.S. Seetharamu, former professor of education at Institute of Social & Economic Change (ISEC), Bangalore.
Even though awareness of how vital professionally administered public education is for the underprivileged, has belatedly dawned on the Delhi establishment, this enlightenment will take a while to travel to the Vidhana Soudha, Bangalore which houses the state government’s education ministry.
Shraddha Goled (Bangalore)