Autar Nehru (Delhi)
The national curriculum Framework (NCF) 2022 was formally launched on October 20 with the presentation of the National Curriculum Framework for Foundational Stage (NCFFS) for children in the three-eight age group. NCFFS is the first of four frameworks scheduled to be launched under NCF 2022. The other three, expected to be announced soon, are the National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE), National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE) and National Curriculum Framework for Adult Education (NCFAE).
“Developing the foundational framework was one of the most important and challenging aspects under NEP 2020, as it has a huge bearing on shaping the future of our country,” said Dharmendra Pradhan, Union minister of education, skill development and entrepreneurship, speaking at the launch ceremony of NCFFS.
NCF 2022 has been launched after a gap of 17 years with the previous NCF presented to the nation in 2005. Formal presentation of the entire NCF 2022 is expected to be completed by end year.
The high importance being accorded to early childhood care and education (ECCE) by NEP 2020 is a welcome development. Numerous studies conducted decades ago by pioneer educationists such as Dr. Maria Montessori and Jean Piaget indicated that education of children by way of play pedagogies is critically important for orderly cognitive development. This was reiterated in the latter years of the 20th century by several research studies which highlighted that the human brain is 80 percent developed by the time a child attains eight years of age.
Moreover in the new millennium, James Heckman, a Nobel Prize winning economist, posited that a dollar spent on professionally provided ECCE saves $16 in higher education. Yet despite this body of evidence, ECCE remained an area of darkness in Indian education.
Early childhood care and education received a big boost in 2010 when EducationWorld convened the country’s first ever international ECCE conference and initiated the annual EW India Preschool Rankings (EWIPR), which rates and ranks the best pre-primaries in major cities on several parameters of ECCE excellence. Since then, the annual EWIPR and subsequent awards-cum-conference events have continued without interruption (except during the Covid pandemic year) forcing ECCE on to the national development agenda.
With the critical importance of ECCE having been impacted on the national consciousness, the Dr. K. Kasturirangan Committee, which was constituted to make recommendations for the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, not only acknowledged the vital importance of foundational professionally administered ECCE for India’s youngest children, but recommended reconfiguration of the 10+2 primary-secondary schooling system into a new 5+3+3+4 continuum formally integrating ECCE into elementary education. Consequently whereas under the Right of Children to Free & Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, the State was obliged to provide education to all children in classes I-VIII (age 6-14), now this obligation is extended downwards to children aged three years.
Child development professionals and educationists have welcomed the provisions of NCFFS 2022 because it unambiguously prescribes learning through play — conversation, stories, toys, music, art and crafts and prohibits textbooks for children below age six. This unambiguous pedagogy prescription for the foundational stage clears widely prevalent confusion among ECCE providers, many of whom prematurely impose textbooks and exams on youngest children.
Dr. Swati Popat Vats, founder-chairperson of the Early Childhood Association of India (estb.2010) which has a membership of 40,000 private preschools in India, and president of the Podar Education Network of 498 owned and franchised preschools countrywide, is perfectly satisfied with NCFFS 2022 even though it is “75 years late”. “The document is not just a vision but shows the pathway, the tools and the training required to achieve the goals set by NEP 2020,” enthuses Dr. Popat Vats, an alumna of Bombay University with over 30 years’ experience in ECCE teaching and administration.
Popat Vats is impressed by the intellectual depth and attention to detail of NCFFS 2022, particularly because it draws on the pioneer studies of Indian early childhood education champions Gijubhai Bhadeka, Tarabai Modak, Anutai Wagh and Mahatma Gandhi as also of global ECCE pioneers Rousseau, Froebel, Dewey and Dr. Maria Montessori among others. “Overall, I give 10 out of 10 to the 360-page NCFFS as it scores heavily on research, vastness of areas covered and great combination of curriculum assessment and teacher training,” she says.
But while the well-designed NCFFS is likely to be enthusiastically adopted by the country’s estimated 55,000 private preschools, the real challenge is for the Central and state governments to operationalise it in government schools, particularly the country’s 1.4 million Central government AWCs (anganwadi centres) — essentially nutrition centres for newborns and lactating mothers which also provide a modicum of ECCE to youngest children.
In Budget 2022-23, the Central government allocated Rs.20,263 crore for the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme which funds AWCs. And even though state governments chip in with paying the salary of the usually sole AWC helper, the amount available to every AWC — averaging Rs.1.4 lakh per year — is too small to meaningfully implement NCFFS.
As in the case with numerous official initiatives in education, NCFFS is likely to founder on the rock of funding.