Pre-School Education in India: Facts & Changing Scenario
How many times have we heard someone, or even ourselves, say that the education system in our country needs to be transformed? So much so that it has become a cliché, and every possible discussion rests on the same conclusion & navigates through the same set of established arguments. But how do we really solve the problem? Let’s face it. Pre-School education is India is a dream not yet realized completely; it is a problem that we are trying to overcome. There are statistics that are scary in terms of the outreach required. According to the census report of 2011, there are over 160 million children in India in the age group of 0-6 years of age. Such a huge strength requires concentrated efforts at different levels to be able to achieve the target. So, what are we doing to do reach out to these children & help them?
THE ECCE POLICY
In its effort to reach out to the children between 0-6 years throughout the country, the government of India adopted the ECCE policy, i.e. the national early childhood care and education policy in the year 2013. The policy is aimed to reach out to the targeted audience mentioned above through efforts at both center and at the state level. Aanganwadis (village centers) are an integral part of this program as they are the centers entitled with carrying out the implementation of the program.
The policy of the government is not only aimed at covering huge number of children, but also focuses on the quality aspect of the education. It recognizes the fact that a child is as much affected by the surrounding in his/her growing years as by the formal structures of education & learning. This includes ensuring adequate amount of nutrition & health services are provided to these children. So, the policy covers all these aspects apart from ensuring pre-school education for these children.
Although broad in its perspective, the ECCE policy has taken a while to arrive. Even though not entirely compulsory, it is something that forms part of the right framework of children. The right to education act, 2010 made it compulsory for government to ensure education for children in the age group of 6-14 years. However, the act did not make it compulsory to ensure pre-school education for children below the age of 6, even though it did recognize the importance of early childhood education, and urged the government to provide a framework for education of children in the age group of 0-6, to prepare them well for their primary education. The ministry of women and child development thus proposed the National ECCE policy.
Trudging through difficult terrain
Even though the ECCE policy was successful in recognizing the problem at hand, and put into perspective a broad policy, its effect has not been entirely a success. The implementation of the program has not been up to the mark and highlights a lot of holes that need to be fulfilled. Problems such as increasing dropout rates for several thinkable reasons, infrastructural problems, the inability of first generation learners to grab the basic concepts of education, the lack of man force etc. have all contributed to preventing the effective implementation of the policy, on part of the government. The traditional caste equations, class equations in the society and the sheer geographical vastness of the country have posed challenges that the government has not been able to trudge through. It requires a dedicated & adequate task force both in terms of numbers & quality that the government has not been able to fulfill. Swiftness in policy implementation is not something public institutes have been recognized for and this is where the private sector has stepped in to save the day.
Tracing the contribution of private play schools in early childhood education in India
The private schools have had a huge role to play in filling the gap of early childhood education in India. Not only have they been at the forefront of recognizing the importance of pre-school education in India, they have also led the technological revolution in the field of pre-school learning. Although there is no official data available, the private schools have played a major role in bridging the deficiencies of the ECCE policy.
There are certain definite advantages that private educational institutes hold over the government institutes. Some of these advantages are as follows:
- The private institutions bring a fresh approach of working in a society riddled by such deeply rooted problems. The private institutions, with a single aim of transforming the children towards developing a set of qualitative skills, cut through the traditional caste problems and interact with families & kids that are in need of help.
- The private institutions also cut through the class problems in society by ensuring that children from each class of society come together in the classroom & learn together. The classroom environment ensures that children find themselves at equal level with each other and any bias is thrown out of the window by placing reliance entirely on developing cognitive skills among children. Also, reasonable fee structures & reservation of seats ensure that everyone is provided with equal opportunity to excel.
- The management abilities of a private institution and a dedicated, skilled taskforce ensure that the reach of a private institute is wide and comprehensive. This is well reflected by the fact some of the private institutes, like Bachpan, have over 1000 franchise spread over the length and breadth of the country. These are institutes capable of bringing a genuine change in the society.
Thus, private institutions hold certain fundamental advantages over public institutes and they have been well reflected in their ways of functioning. The private sector has effectively provided itself as an alternative to government institutes, and in the past decade or so, it has certainly led the charge of high quality pre-school education in the country. The sheer statistical vastness of the challenge faced by the country required that alternative avenues of education came up in support of government, and private educational institutes have provided that much required support. The task however, is far from fulfilled and continuing this effort in the right direction is the need of the hour.