Shubhra Johri Sinha, Head of School, Ekya Byrathi
Early childhood education (ECE) environments enormously impact youngsters’ growth opportunities as well as their wellbeing and advancement. As per The World Bank Group, the world is facing a learning crisis: an estimated 53 percent of 10-year-old children living in low- and middle-income countries are unable to read and understand a short text. The right learning environment permits kids to collaborate with their educators, companions and environments in a way that helps them to learn and better understand the world. ECE spaces that advance early learning permit kids to circle, investigate and control their environmental elements. Beyond physical infrastructure, other aspects of program structure, such as duration and intensity, ratio and group sizes, influence ECE quality and impact young children’s learning.
Five key principles for quality learning environments
Overall safety: Children and teacher’s safety must come first – without which there can be no learning. Safe physical learning environments not only protect children, teachers and communities, but they can help create a sense of care and safety-awareness. Water, sanitation and hygiene practices (such as appropriate handwashing and waste disposal) are vital components of safety to ensure children’s health. Low air quality and high noise levels have a direct negative impact on learning and spaces with no ventilation which further impact children’s learning.
Pedagogical organization: Investing in Quality Early Childhood Education is Key to Tackling Learning Poverty. Early Childhood Education environments should motivate teaching and learning. Pedagogical organization, while using low-cost, basic infrastructure, defines the way spaces can promote exploration, interaction and collaboration. Collaborative experiences like group discussions, extempore, group games, etc that emerge within the learning centres are consistently associated with positive learning.
Spatial flexibility: Flexibility means being able to use space in many ways for diverse and stimulating activities. Flexible spaces can encourage more effective teaching, teamwork and planning among educators, and also develop more self-reliance among children to show initiative and collaboration. Spatial flexibility requires specific planning around activities, behaviour, transitions and sound control. Teachers are more likely to adapt and rearrange rooms differently if they have been encouraged by training and policies to plan for spatial flexibility, take risks and experiment with versatile use of spaces to develop new pedagogical strategies.
Empowerment: Empowering environments are not finished spaces. Giving children, teachers and families opportunities to organize and personalize space, furniture and materials to support their learning projects, allows them to find their voice and shared meaning as well as a sense of belonging and ownership.
Child-centered design: Early Children Education learning environments should be child-centered in design, reflecting children’s developmental characteristics, social and cultural practices and interests. Learning environments require appropriate child scaling, so they are easy and comfortable to navigate. In other words, they should be catchable, climbable and conquerable. This includes placing objects at eye level and in easy reach or finding appropriately sized chairs and tables. Adult-child ratios and class sizes should allow personalized and playful interactions to promote early learning. When groups are smaller, and staff-child ratios are low, high-quality pedagogical practices may significantly impact children by providing more frequent interactions and sustained shared thinking.
In conclusion, development of access to Early Childhood Education must be balanced with efforts to ensure improve quality. Systems that deliver quality early learning at scale are built intentionally and progressively over time through careful planning and multiple investments, including in the home environment and in other factors that influence early learning outside of school, especially for young kids.