Early childhood education

[ Dr Modang Rita ]
Early childhood education (ECE) is a branch of education which relates to the teaching of young children (formally or informally) until the age of about eight.
ECE has a global scope, and caring for and educating young children has always been an integral part of human societies.
Arrangements for fulfilling these societal roles have evolved over time, and remain varied across cultures, often reflecting family and community structures as well as the social and economic roles of women and men.
Historically, such arrangements have been informal, involving family, households and community members. The formalization of these arrangements emerged in the 19th century with the establishment of kindergartens for educational purposes, and day nurseries for care.
ECE initiatives in India were documented formally in the latter half of the 19th century. The early pioneers of the movement were Gijubhai Badheka, Tarabai Modak, Maria Montessori, and several others. The writings of great Indian educational thinkers such as Mahatma Gandhi and Ravindranath Tagore have also drawn attention to this important aspect of education in the formative years of a child.
Research has shown that only quality ECE has a strong and lasting impact on the child. Quality early childhood education can make a significant contribution to the physical, psychomotor, cognitive, social and emotional development of the child, including acquisition of languages and early literacy.
The first eight years of a child’s life is a period of tremendous growth and development. Brain connections multiply exponentially in the first three years, and the potential for ensuring optimal development is very high up to age eight. It is imperative that this window of opportunity is fully used and strengthened to ensure long-term benefits, not only for each individual child’s development but also for the larger community.
A large proportion of human brain development takes place after birth as a result of interactions with the environment. The impact of early experience has a greater influence on development than heredity.
ECE has an important role in securing a good childhood for all children. Childhood years are important in themselves, and ECE can contribute to many positive and valuable experiences which form a solid basis for future life and learning. The main purpose of ECE is to facilitate the all-round development of the child’s personality, ie, physical, motor, cognitive, language, social and emotional, and not to follow the so-called rigid syllabus. In short, no child should be denied the many good qualities early childhood education.
The National Policy on Education (NPE) 1986 has given a great deal of importance to ECE. It views ECE as an important input in the strategy of human resource development, as a feeder and support programme for primary education, and as a support service for working women from the disadvantaged sections of the society. The policy specifically focuses on the need for early care and stimulation of children belonging to the poverty groups and from sections of the population in which first generation learners predominate.
The ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1992 by India has further affirmed the country’s commitment to children, and has resulted in the formulation of policy framework to prepare a national charter for children that ensures that no child remains illiterate, hungry or lacks medical care. The 11th Five Year Plan also acknowledged the importance of ECE as the stage that lays the foundation for lifelong development and the realization of a child’s full potential.
The National Curriculum Framework 2005, developed by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), has also considered ECE to be the first step in the education ladder. It further emphasizes that the early childhood stage, until the age of eight years, is the most crucial period when the foundations are laid for lifelong development and the realization of full potential.
Neuroscientists, economists, ECE educators and social scientists also strongly argue that the ECE programme which promotes growth and development of children of 0-8 years is the best investment for developing the humane capital necessary for economic growth, and that a poor ECE programme may have no impact, resulting in waste of resources. Further, poor ECE programme can even have negative consequences for a child.
Every young child has a right to quality ECE in a pressure-free environment, and it is the responsibility of practitioners, caregivers and ECE educators to improve their own knowledge of child development in order to understand the children better and contribute in bringing quality in the area of early childhood education. Quality ECE is the right of every child, and this will also impact, in the long term, on the quality of human capital available to the country.
Therefore, the right kind of intervention at the right time, with active stimulation in an emotionally supportive stress-free environment fosters the pace of learning by young children. Setting up norms and standards, regulations, advocacy, training of the workforce and professionals, resources, and, obviously, research, are the essentials to ensure quality ECE.
There should not be any compromise in matters of the care and education of young children. Continuous monitoring of ECE centres, and on-the-spot guidance and demonstration are needed to ensure quality of ECE programme on a regular basis. Government, educationists and professionals need to pay sincere attention and display a sense of commitment to see the area of early childhood prosperity. (The contributor is Principal In-charge, DIET, Yachuli. She can be reached at modang.rita@gmail.com)