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National Education Policy 2019: Baby Steps towards Change

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By ROLI S

The Draft of the new National Education Policy is ready and has been submitted. Based on this all Indian children could soon enter the formal education system at the age of three. The draft policy also wants Early Childhood Education to be guided and regulated by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) as part of the school system, rather than private pre-schools and anganwadis that currently cater to the 3-6 years age group. This is going to create a lot of churning and alterations in the anganwadi system as, currently, these have been overseen by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) for more than four decades! It has been declared in the Draft Policy that a roadmap for this transition will be worked out by a special task force by the end of the year! Additional costs will also have to be borne in the form of teacher recruitment and training, infrastructure and learning materials, as well as nutritional aspects. Well, anganwadis did their job and have been praised by one and many for their work over the years, but a 2017 study by the Ambedkar University showed that “a significant proportion of children in India who completed pre-primary education, public or private, did not have the needed school readiness competencies when they joined primary school”. The draft committee also observed several quality related deficiencies in the existing early childhood learning programmes such as curriculum that doesn’t meet the developmental needs of children, lack of qualified and trained teachers, and substandard pedagogy. This brings me to my point – what is Early Childhood Education and why has it been given so much importance by education experts and policy makers in the new National Education Policy? While early childhood education continues to be of high importance to parents, policymakers, and the public, many incorrectly identify this critical period as birth through preschool or kindergarten. Although the brain develops the majority of its neurons between birth and 3 years old, early childhood education is defined as the period of birth through 8 years old, correlating with the second- or third-grade level. In terms of human development, the importance of early childhood education can’t be overstated because a child’s early years are the foundation for his or her future development, providing a strong base for lifelong learning and learning abilities, including cognitive and social development. Well-established research continues to emphasise the importance of early childhood education as an essential building block of a child’s future success. Although many people have reservations about the importance of pre-kindergarten education, research has shown that children are benefitted by receiving formal education before kindergarten. Recent scientific research has proven that learning and mental development begin immediately after birth. During the first three years of a child’s life, essential brain and neural development occurs. Therefore, children greatly benefit from receiving education before kindergarten.Children taught at an early age usually benefit in the following ways: improved social skills, less or no need for special education instruction during subsequent school years, better grades, and enhanced attention spans. The conclusions drawn from most research about early childhood education are that individuals and societies greatly benefit from it, in terms of social, economic, and other benefits. Greater emphasis placed on early education is one strategy to prepare right minded human resource for the 21st century. Thus, the economic benefits for the nation can be immense when emphasis is placed on early childhood education. Moreover, “You cannot make any child learn. You can only provide the right conditions for learning to happen.” Thus first few steps taken by the policy makers are in the right directions but there is a long way to go.

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai.)