Via Searchlight South Asia
Children from poor families are the unfortunate inheritors of poverty – in India, every eighth urban child in the 0-6 years age group stays in slums, as per a report published by the Indian government in 2011. Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) is critical to help these children begin their climb out of poverty, and yet it receives scant attention in national policies such as the Right to Education Act.
India has the world’s largest integrated program – the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) – that focuses on nutrition, health and education for children. The program covers 48% or 75.7 million children of the total 158.7 million children in the 0-6 age group in India. It is largely implemented through centres called Balwadis and Anganwadis that operate in rural areas as well as urban slums. These centres provide a range of ECCE services such as immunization, health check-ups and monitoring as well as referral services in addition to pre-school education. Given the implementation focus on health and nutrition due to high incidence of malnutrition and its impact on child development, the education component of the program has been found wanting.
The proposed National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy is expected to set some standards for a comprehensive approach towards pre-school interventions. Reports indicate that a thematic ECCE Committee will be initially constituted under the ICDS Mission Steering Group. It will eventually form a National council for ECCE with corresponding State and district level councils to ensure better co-ordination and implementation. In the meanwhile, private sector stakeholders are working to improve the pre-school education experience for children at the BoP. While most initiatives aim to strengthen the Anganwadis though capacity building and curriculum development, a few aim to provide affordable pre-schools for the poor.
Others like Sesame Workshop, Akshara Foundation and the Centre for Learning Resources work in the area of capacity building and training the Anganwadi workers so that they are better empowered to deliver education. Akshara Foundation initially set up their own Balwadis in slums where children could not access the government-run Anganwadis. Over time, they felt it made little sense to work parallel to the system, and they invited the Director of Women and Child Health Department in Bangalore to visit their centres. Says B S Latha Devi, Head – Pre School Programme, “The IAS officer saw the difference in the enthusiasm and interest at our Akshara centres and invited us to work with the State.” Today Akshara Foundation supports Anganwadi workers in over 1700 centres across Bangalore by providing teaching learning material, training and community engagement. It has also developed assessment tools to measure learning outcomes.
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