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Early childhood care and education

Early childhood care and education
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By: Mohammad Hanief

While it is generally recognised that the right to education is relevant to primary, secondary, tertiary and basic education levels, it is important to recognise that this human right also applies throughout ‘early childhood’, which the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) defines as the period from birth up until the age of eight.

Early childhood is understood as a critical developmental phase as it represents the most rapid period of physical, cognitive, social and emotional growth of the human lifespan. These formative early years necessarily require a mixture of care and education for children, with close support by parents, families, other caregivers and broader communities. It constitutes both a significant and meaningful stage itself, and impacts the realisation of other human rights throughout a person’s lifetime.

Consequently, the early childhood care and education (ECCE) that children experience, from earliest infancy through to the transition to formal primary schooling, has a direct effect on their well-being, how they make sense of the world, and the extent to which they are able to make the most of future opportunities. Research on ECCE demonstrates its importance in, among other things, tackling gender and other barriers to accessing primary school, increasing participation and achievement in school, and lowering school repetition and drop-out rates – thereby decreasing wastage in the education system.

It also contributes to reducing gender inequalities and broader societal benefits such as enhanced social cohesion, a lower rate of future violence and crime, higher individual incomes and stronger national economic development, a stronger cultural identity and a reduction in health costs and poverty cycles across generations.

The international human rights framework offers guidance to states and others about a rights-based approach to ECCE. As outlined by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, education in all its forms and at all levels shall exhibit the following interrelated and essential features: availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability of education.

As the CRC has explained, these elements must be adapted to the interests, concerns and changing capacities of children during early childhood. States must consider the best interests of the child throughout the early years, promote nurturing and non-violent forms of parenting and education, and – of particular significance at this time of life – ensure the right of the child to rest, leisure, play and to free participation in cultural life and the arts.

The first six of life are critical years of human life since the rate of development in these years is more rapid than at any other stage of development. Global brain research also informs us about the significance of early years for brain development.

Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) makes a positive contribution to children’s long term development and learning by facilitating an enabling and stimulating environment in these foundation stages of lifelong learning.

Parents as caregivers are critical in providing a stimulating learning environment to the child and the first two and a half to three years need not be in a formal learning environment. The National Curriculum Framework acknowledges the significance of involvement of parents, family and community.

The National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Curriculum Framework for all children below six years of age is aligned with the government’s vision of ECCE as spelt out in the National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy. The National ECCE Curriculum Framework is informed by the Position Paper on ECCE (National Curriculum Framework, NCERT, 2005) and the curriculum detailed there under.

The National Education Policy 2020 marked a turning point in India’s commitment to shaping a bright future for all children. As 85% of brain development occurs before the age of six years, the Women and Child Development ministry recognizes the pivotal role of early years in development and seeks to strengthen India’s Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) landscape. In this endeavour, the ministry is launching a National Curriculum for Early Childhood Care and Education for Children from Three to Six Years and a National Framework for Early Childhood Stimulation for Children from Birth to Three Years.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development empowers and supports mothers and their children under six years through Mission Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0, together with the Palna and Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) Schemes under Mission Shakti. It aims to ensure comprehensive childcare support throughout the day in a secure environment, with trained staff, educational resources, nutritional support, and activities for holistic child development. The Ministry runs 13.9 lakh Anganwadi Centres around the country, catering to more than 8 crore children under the age of six years.

For children from age three to six, the National Curriculum for ECCE 2024 covers all domains of development as per the National Curriculum Framework for Foundational Stage 2022 (NCF-FS), including physical/motor, cognitive, language and literacy, socio emotional, cultural/aesthetic as well as positive habits. It aims to improve the quality of ECCE transacted at the Anganwadi Centre by prioritizing competency-based lesson plans and activities, presented in a simple and user-friendly manner.

It addresses how children learn in the early years, with a focus on playful joy-based learning, in preparation for primary school. The Curriculum is structured to provide a weekly calendar comprising 36 weeks of active learning, 8 weeks of reinforcement and 4 weeks of initiation, together with 5+1 days of play-based learning in one week, and three blocks of activities in one day. It provides for a combination of activities, including in-centre and at-home, indoor and outdoor, child-led and educator-led etc.

Robust assessment tools are provided for tracking  progress, tailoring learning, and celebrating each child’s unique journey. Special focus has been given for the screening, inclusion and referrals of Divyang children in every activity. Community engagement has been facilitated through monthly ECCE days and a continuum of home learning activities for each week.

For children from birth to three years, the National Framework for Early Childhood Stimulation 2024 aims to empower caregivers and Anganwadi Workers for holistic early stimulation, through responsive caregiving and opportunities for early learning, for optimal development of children, both body and brain.

It fills conceptual and practical gaps in the understanding of care and stimulation, based on the Nurturing Care Framework. The framework is designed to provide the Anganwadi Worker with a basic understanding of how children grow and develop, the importance of brain development and the need for nurturing care. It focuses on the principles of serve and return, caregiver’s three acts: love, talk, play, and positive guidance.

36 month-wise age-based activities are provided that can be conducted both within the household as well as at the Anganwadi Centre or Creche, through all the contact points including home visits, monthly meetings, community-based events etc. Screening, inclusion and referrals for Divyang children are also provided special focus.

The documents have been prepared by the National Institute for Public Cooperation and Child Development (NIPCCD), with the support of an Internal Committee and development partners. Feedback from Anganwadi Workers has been incorporated to make the curriculum more flexible, activity-based, using more illustrations and less text.

NIPCCD will lead the training of Anganwadi functionaries on the new Curriculum and Framework. Provisions from both the Curriculum and the Framework, including weekly activity schedules, home visit guidance, assessment tools for tracking child development etc. will also be included on the Poshan Tracker. We aim to strengthen and support Anganwadi Workers for the delivery of high-quality ECCE for all children, to ensure that every Anganwadi Centre becomes a vibrant learning centre in the community.

(The author can be mailed at [email protected])

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