India is home to the highest number of children in the world. Over 80 million children below six have no access to early childhood development. Worldwide research confirms that access to high-quality early childhood development is the foundation for lifelong learning, eradicating poverty, ending hunger and improving nutrition and achieving gender equality. In India too, the recent ‘The India Early Childhood Education Impact Study’ confirms that quality preschool education is critical for improving the school readiness.
The study showed that participation in the age group betwen four to five years has a significant impact on children’s school readiness levels at age 5+. From ‘multi-tasked Anganwadis’ to ‘demand driven’ private preschools, the quality of education is not developmentally appropriate for children. Despite, increasing enrollment in preschools, (63 per cent of preschool aged children attend some kind of programme, be it a government-run Anganwadi centres or private preschool) school readiness remains disappointingly low.
The government has undertaken several initiatives, including the National ECCE Policy and the flagship ‘Integrated Child and Development Services’ programme. The Ministry of Women & Child Development is also focusing on improving the role of Anganwadi Centres (AWC) by shifting the emphasis to convert them to centres of preschool education.
A massive exercise is being launched to train almost 27 lakh Anganwadi workers and helpers at 14 lakh AWCs to provide education to children aged three to six years.
The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is also planning to come up with a model for preschool education in 2018. There is a lot of positive push from the government to improve the quality in these learning centres. And it much-required considering that the Anganwadis are the first learning centres that a child is exposed to and hence ensuring the holistic development of children at these centres is critical. This is a dual challenge as it involves parents on one end and the educators at the other.
There needs to be enough motivation among parents, beyond free meals, to send the child to the AWCs. Additionally, it’s equally significant to strengthen the capacity of Anganwadi educators by providing them high-quality content, followed by regular training to use the content to engage and educate children. Sesame Workshop, India has been working for over a decade on improving the quality of early childhood education in India.
Working in collaboration with TV and radio broadcasters, researchers, writers, producers, non-profit organisations and the Indian government, Galli Galli Sim Sim has reached over 100 million children. This includes work in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh in the AWCs of these regions that aimed at improving pre-literacy learning outcomes of children.
They help in building capacities of Anganwadi educators to carry out early childhood education using various multimedia and digital tools and to increase community involvement. Research conducted at the end of the projects taught us many lessons on building capacities of Anganwadi educators who are the point of contact for the kids and caregivers in the communities. The foremost step is to equip them with high-quality content delivered in the media that children access the most, be it TV, radio, mobile phones or print material. While such efforts continue, in order to improve the existing conditions, we need a buy-in from several key stakeholders.
A comprehensive approach is required to ensure that the government policies addressing early childhood care and education are implemented successfully. Thus, the children are truly benefitted and, most importantly, the Anganwadi educators are empowered with the responsibility of laying a strong foundation to equip millions of children for the 21st century to help them grow smarter and stronger.
(Managing Director, Sesame Workshop India)