Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)

Policy is a blueprint for change. Policy is not any personality to be appeased for favour with exaggerated adjectives. This is a beautiful piece. This is such a brilliant document. Personification is least needed instead perusal with a scholarly pursuit enables to unfold the intricate nuances embedded in the policy documents. As governments across the countries are gearing up to explore possibilities of implementing recommendations of new education policy, brainstorming about policy analysis is an aid to improve governance. Ongoing debates and discussions highlighting key concerns is a healthy trend as critical realities attract the attention of respective authorities.

National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is much talked about in both academic and non-academic circles and draws mixed responses and reactions. There is promise as well as vision for bringing a complete transformation in the educational landscape of the country. The policy admits and endorses the substandard and low quality of public education as one of central concerns to be addressed with robust strategies and pragmatic solutions.

Education policy making is nothing new as there have been already attempts on part of the previous regimes that tried to purge off the colonial legacy of educational backwardness and ventured to steer the direction and destiny of the country towards development. The much overstated feature of investing 6% of GDP in educational sector already finds mention in the first national education policy of 1968 which was based on the recommendations of Kothari Commission of 1964-66. The commission recommended for provision of quality public education that enabled people with requisite knowledge and skills to become productive members of the society. Further, a new national policy on education was set in place in 1986 with major reforms in both school education and higher education and this NPE 1986 continued to define and direct purpose, processes and practices pertaining to educational matters across the country.

Target driven benchmarks set forth in policy provisions only get translated into realty if backed by strong political will and wealth of resources. Fetching stars from the sky is quite romantic and can lull the lovers in a state of euphoric delirium. But when it comes to fulfilling the aspirations of more than a billion populations, the challenge is itself unprecedented and needs extraordinary effort and energy to make miracles happen.

The initiative of introducing early childhood care and education (ECCE) in public institutions is a welcome and worthy idea. Harnessing the potential of early years of a child by putting in place a vibrant and child-centric learning environment can definitely lay strong foundations for successful academic journey. Yes, this provision was long awaited. Only rich and affluent groups could avail and afford the cost of pre-schooling in profit oriented private institutions. For inculcation of foundational literacy in young learners, a makeshift arrangement like the existing anganwari centers is inappropriate and insignificant. Common people have exemplified patience for years to avail public services.

With the incorporation of new pattern of 5+3+3+4 in place, pre-schooling becomes an indispensable necessity. Anganwari Centers – majority of them function in single rented rooms too small to manage the nutrition service. To embark upon the new roadways of early education, young children especially those belonging to socio-economically disadvantaged groups need and deserve a quality based experience of joyful learning. As enshrined in the policy document, educationally backward communities and regions – are to be prioritized under the purview of special education zones (SEZ). Trial and error attempts and intervention can only pile up the backlog of learners without basic proficiency about fundamental concepts, reading and writing and arithmetic ability. Institutionally well organised system, adequately staffed with trained professionals and optimum infrastructure are pre-requisites for ECCE to bloom and blossom into a successful endeavour.

At a time when a network of crèche cum preparatory schools in cities and towns lure toddlers from middle class, upper middle class and elite groups, the poor and marginalised get excluded. Availability of these privately managed early centres of learning being urban-centric offer little options and opportunities for children belonging to rural areas. Effective implementation of ECCE undertaken by public institutions will go a long way to bridge the rural urban divide in early educational attainments. Any dereliction or deficiency with respect to quality provisions in government run ECCE centres will be exploited by private operators as commercial enterprise for profit generation. For such vested interest groups malfunction is an open opportunity to sneak in to justify their existence and importance.

Differences in educational attainments in early years can only further widen the gap in upper grades. The declining steep dip in gross enrolment permeating from elementary up to higher education can only be minimised by investment in development of a strong base .at foundational stage. A stark contrast in quality of early childhood care and education offered by public and private institutions will lead to uneven scholastic development of young learners. A great deal of precision is needed to streamline the curricular content, pedagogical practices and assessment mechanisms to ensure uniformity. Evolving a people-centric mechanism over profit orientation so as to harvest the benefits of new recommendations is a big challenge. Hasty decisions breeding quick fix solutions are short-lived. Viable solutions and strategies encompassing present and future needs without compromising equity, inclusion and quality is indispensable

Anganwari centres as of now operate under the directives of social welfare department. Merger of some crucial years of ECCE within such centres ropes in administrative control and intervention from both education and social welfare departments. The constituted committee of experts assigned with the task of exploring avenues of implementation must consider these aspects and develop clarity about roles and responsibilities of the respective departments.

Institutionalization of early childhood care and education (ECCE) can script a new history to shape the educational destiny of the country into a big success. Its execution demands realistic resolve and resources to meet the aspirations and expectations of millions of people. On papers the provisions sound promising; it will be the actual practice that will decide the fate and future of ECCE. Let optimism keep the hopes of common man alive.