New Delhi: The Modi government could soon make playschool a compulsory part of education to give children an early headstart in life, ThePrint has learnt.
The proposal is among the guidelines being devised by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) for early childhood education, that is, education aimed at the 0-6-year age group.
Playschool usually refers to education in the years preceding pre-school, which in India means classes below the Class 1. Both include lessons through play and games to ease students into formal education.
The government will make a push to include mandatory schooling for 3-6-year-olds in the Right to Education Act, which currently governs schooling for 6-to-14-year-olds, sources in the HRD ministry told ThePrint.
While the 0-3-year category is unlikely to be included in the Act, the sources added, the proposal aims to make their education a part of the school system across the country.
As part of the plan, the government aims to develop anganwadis into centres that can take care of a child’s health and nutrition as well as their studies, and, alternatively, open pre-schools in areas that do not have any. Under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), anganwadis are already mandated to serve the purpose, but the new plan envisages an overhaul of the system to ensure these centres are able to do justice to the brief.
“In urban centres, people have access to playschools, but in rural centres and places that don’t have such facilities, we plan to develop anganwadis,” said a senior official in the HRD Ministry.
The ministry also wants the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), which aids central and state governments on matters related to school education, to develop curriculum for the appropriate cognitive stimulation of 0-3-year-olds, besides that for 3-6-year-olds, the sources said.
A transition plan to this end is likely to be finalised within the year by the ministry in conjunction with the ministries of Women and Child Development, and Health and Family Welfare.
The ensuing framework is likely to see the institution of an effective regulation or accreditation system for preschool education (private, public and philanthropic) to ensure compliance.
Suggestion in NEP
According to Census 2011, India had 15.87 crore children in the 0-6-year age group, which constituted 13.1 per cent of India’s population at the time.
The government’s focus on improving early childhood education comes after the committee that conceptualised the New Education Policy (NEP), headed by scientist K. Kasturirangan, listed it as one of its suggestions.
Emphasising the need for a stronger framework for early education, the NEP draft cites studies that claim a child’s learning process commences at birth, and that over 85 per cent of their cumulative brain development occurs prior to the age of six.
“The evidence from cognitive science is fully borne out by numerous national and international studies on the learning outcomes of children having various levels of early childhood education,” a policy note by the ministry on the proposal states.
“Studies tracking student learning outcomes clearly demonstrate that children who start out late tend to stay behind throughout their school years,” the note adds.
Avani Kapur, a fellow at the Delhi-based thinktank Centre for Policy Research, lauded the proposal.
“Integrating playschools into the school system is an important step in the context of the recent (MHRD) endeavour under Samagra (Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan) of a holistic approach to schooling,” she said.
“However, effort should be made to ensure that the specific needs of children aged below six are taken into account while pursuing this proposal,” she added.
Ways to implement the suggestion
According to officials in the MHRD, the proposal to boost early childhood education is likely to be implemented in four ways.
The first is building a nationwide network of anganwadi workers trained in techniques of cognitive stimulation for infants and play-based and multilevel education for 3-6-year-olds, equipped with compatible education material compiled by the NCERT.
“Anganwadis will aim to become outstanding educational centres that also contain a strong health and nutrition component,” said a senior MHRD official aware of the development.
The second approach will involve “co-locating” anganwadis with existing primary schools, while a third centres on co-locating pre-schools with primary schools wherever possible.
Alternatively, primary schools will be equipped with pre-school facilities, or new ones set up that cater to both demographics. Such schools will also be supported by a package of health, nutrition, and growth-monitoring services, especially for pre-schoolers.
Meanwhile, anganwadis will continue to oversee the care and educational requirements of 0-3-year-olds in the region.
The fourth envisages the setting up of standalone pre-schools in areas where existing anganwadis and primary schools can’t cater to the educational requirements of children in the age range of 3-6 years.