With the dream of some ‘leading school’ in their eyes, parents often start pushing their toddlers to ‘preparatory schools’ to mug up answers to the volley of questions expected to be asked in an interview for admission to Nursery or KG.
It turns out that the ‘selection process’ is rather cumbersome and parents also need to show up as the ‘perfect candidates’ many of their parameters scanned through various processes before the three or four year old is ‘accepted’ in the school. The entire journey of education starts on a wrong note.
While for decades, the educationists and administrators let the flaw sour up, the National Education Policy 2020 was expected to address this system of disparity, exclusiveness and a lop-sided foundation. Seems it would take many years for the policy to salvage the young brains and unburden their slacking shoulders. This year too, in 2021, the schools were allowed to continue with ‘their established processes’ to admit students. Some chose to admit three year olds, after scrutinizing the income certificates of parents, subjecting the child to distress in a formal interview, excluding children with special needs, and charging a capitation fee in the name of admission fee. Some raised the age to 4 years and let the rest remain unchanged. Some others made a slow start and announced changes like no interview. However, most remains unchanged for children in J&K.
Yet there are other schools where despite years of teaching, the children are not able to achieve functional literacy and the dropout rates continue to be concerning. The teachers and their training needs special focus, the schools and their infrastructure also needs to be looked into. If primary education is the basis of education, this foundation needs to be made stronger irrespective of who governs the school, a private business, a missionary or the Government.
The NEP says that the states and UTs need to prepare an implementation plan for attaining universal foundational literacy and numeracy in all primary and middle schools, identifying stage-wise targets and goals to be achieved by 2025, and closely tracking and monitoring progress of the same. It says that states and UTs will need to introduce an increased focus on foundational literacy and numeracy - and generally, on reading, writing, speaking, counting, arithmetic, and mathematical thinking - throughout the primary school curriculum. The dedication of specific hours daily and regular events over the year, to activities involving these subjects, will be implemented to encourage and excite students to pursue these areas.
The Education Policy aims to make children ready for school at the age of six years, however, it gets a little ambiguous about earlier years. At six, and two years beyond that, that is the foundational stage, the child is to be exposed to education using play-based and activity-based methods and on the development of language skills. However, is the child school-ready at three or four years? A look at norms in various countries shows us that schooling early does not improve educational outcomes. In many countries efforts are on to delay formal schooling of children upto five or six years. Finland, educational set-up and pedagogy of which has generated a lot of interest in the developed world has no literacy or maths lessons till the age of seven. Instead, the focus is on learning life skills.
In China, India’s closest neighbor in terms of comparable population and growth goals, primary school starts at the age of six years, the child is taught in Mandarin throughout the primary period which generally lasts six years. In pre- primary period, upto the age of five to six years, academics are not included at all. A growing number of countries are debating what the right time for starting formal education, numbers, a foreign language or science facts must start. In India, the debates culminated in the National Policy but are yet to trickle down and yet to spell out guidelines and laws for various stages and requirements of education.
A mere policy will not take J&K anywhere till there are stricter guidelines and closer structuring of the phases and periods of education in the 3-18 year age group. Currently there is no monitoring of the thousands of play and preparatory schools, even primary schools that have cropped up in every locality. From what they promise to dole out to what they charge to what the methodology for taking care of the preschoolers is in these centers is no one’s domain at present. Not much can be expected as there is yet to be any logical, comprehensive and effective control on the process of admissions.
While the NEP 2020 made education free, compulsory and a right for every child, it does fall short in making education acquisition smooth.
The toddlers need to be introduced to the exciting journey of learning when their minds are ready for it. The years of toddlerhood should be meant to explore the world around them and excite their imagination and creativity. Writing numbers for a three year old and grammar for a five year old are pruning their wings even before they could sprout out fully.