From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : ICDS
Mains level : Paper 2- Early childhood care and education
The National Education Policy, 2020 has rightly highlighted the importance of early childhood care and education (ECCE), vital for the young child’s early cognitive, social, and emotional development.
Need for focus on early childhood care and education (ECCE)
- The National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) finds only 13.6 per cent of children enrolled in pre-primary schools.
- With its overriding focus on health and nutrition, ECCE has hitherto been the weakest link of the anganwadi system.
- Multiple administrative duties have left anganwadi workers with little time for ECCE.
- A child’s early learning begins at birth, initially through stimulation, play, interactions, non-verbal and verbal communication.
- Unfortunately, due to a lack of parental awareness compounded by the daily stresses of poverty, disadvantaged households are unable to provide an early learning environment.
- The existing system at best serves the age group of 3-6 years, ignoring infants and toddlers.
1] A meaningful ECCE programme in anganwadis
- A meaningful ECCE programme in anganwadis is not only a more intelligent and cost-effective strategy but is also feasible to implement through seven concerted actions.
- 1)Activity-based framework which reflect local context: To design and put in place a meaningful activity-based ECCE framework that recognises the ground realities with autonomy to reflect the local context and setting.
- 2) Remove non-ICDS work: Routine tasks of anganwadi workers can be reduced and non-ICDS work, such as surveys, removed altogether.
- 3)Extend Anganwadi time: Anganwadi hours can be extended by at least three hours by providing staff with an increase in their present remuneration, with the additional time devoted for ECCE.
- Karnataka has already taken the lead; its anganwadis work from 9.30 am to 4 pm.
- This will have the added benefit of serving as partial daycare, enabling poor mothers to earn a livelihood.
- 4) Change in policy mindset: ICDS needs a change in policy mindset, both at central and state levels, by prioritising and monitoring ECCE.
- 5) Engagement with parents: Anganwadi workers must be re-oriented to closely engage with parents, as they play a crucial role in the cognitive development of young children.
- Responsive parenting requires both parents to play an active role in ECCE activities at home; therefore, anganwadi workers should be asked to consciously engage with fathers too.
- Appropriate messaging and low-cost affordable teaching materials can be designed and made accessible to parents.
- 6) Activity-based play material: ICDS must supply age-appropriate activity-based play material in adequate quantities regularly, and anganwadi workers encouraged to utilise them in a liberal manner.
- 7) Invest in research and training: States should invest in research and training to support early childhood education, and ensure that the ECCE programme is not a downward extension of school education.
2] Pre-primary sections in government primary schools
- Some educationists have suggested that owing to the high workload of anganwadi workers, ECCE in anganwadis would remain a non-starter.
- Therefore, all government primary schools should open pre-primary sections, with anganwadis limiting themselves to the 0-3 age group.
- Challenges: It would require a massive outlay to build over a million classrooms with a million nursery teachers and helpers — even a conservative estimate would put the additional annual outlay at over Rs 30,000 crore.
- Moreover, with child stunting levels at 35 per cent in India, would children enrolled in pre-schools would require supplementary nutrition and health monitoring.
- This would overburden the nursery teacher.
Nearly 1.4 million anganwadis of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) across India must provide ECCE for the millions of young children in low-income households.