Why is Early Childhood Education So important?
“In early childhood you may lay the foundation of poverty or riches, industry of idleness, good or evil, by the habits to which you train your children. Teach them right habits then, and their future life is safe.”
In a world full of binary opinions, disagreements, arguments; there are very few issues left that see literally every side fall on the same side of the debate. Fortunately, early childhood education is one such issue that people and governments around the world have considered important, even though their commitment and approach towards this issue leaves a lot to be desired at times. However, through this blog, we do not intend to initiate any blame game; rather we are here to clear the concept in our minds and look at our own role in the process.
Early childhood education is a rather general term that self explains its meaning. However, sometimes generalization of the concept tends to vitiate the concept and it loses its significance. We often fail to realise how important or how complicated the task is as we confine our definition of education to sending our children to some formal institution once they attain a certain age. Early childhood education is a much more complicated concept than that and requires wider abilities on our parts. It specifically refers to the age group of 0-8 year old’s (as acknowledged by UNICEF) and defines education as including lifestyle, eating habits, mental ability, societal effects, and much more.
Several contemporary political theorists are now arguing about giving the future generations a better future as a matter of their rights. They argue that it is no longer our moral responsibility to provide our future generations with a good future but our legal responsibility. It is their legal right to have their future protected which they can assert through their representatives. Certainly, one of the ways of providing good future is by raising them with good complete education.
Scientific analysis of early childhood education
Science has played a huge role in determining how early education nourishes the child better than the ones who are unable to receive such education. Some of the well knows results of such studies are that children with good early education perform better on various levels such as their cognitive, physical and social skills that they require to achieve success in their lives. James Heckman, one of America’s top economists studying human development, conducted a study which came out with surprising results. He conducted cognitive tests on several 3 years old’s and re-conducted them at a later stage in their lives. The results, he conceded were surprising as the difference between the cognitive abilities of some of the 3 year old’s were the same when they reached the age of 18 years. He argued that once that crucial age passes away, not much can be done even by schools. Thus, more focus needs to be paid on toddlers in improving their cognitive abilities, traits like sociability, self-esteem, motivation etc. especially in children from disadvantaged class. Also, outside of such studies, it is quite common knowledge that children with early exposure to quality learning, healthy lifestyle and rich experiences fair far better than the ones left out of all such privileges.
Legal appreciation of early childhood education
As stated in the beginning, early childhood education is one such field where governments around the world have acknowledged its importance that has resulted in formulation of various laws. These laws provide legal protection to the idea of early childhood education and bind the government and society to fulfil this dream for its own betterment. India too has not been left behind in appreciating the importance of such education and multiple laws have come up as protection. One of the fundamental rights provided under Article 21A of the constitution include the right to free and compulsory education for children in the age group of 6-14 years. Also, as a part of directive principles of state policy, the constitution under Article 45 urges the state governments to ensure early childhood education for all children up to the age of 6 years compulsorily. Further the Right to Education Act enacted in the year 2010 urges the states to provide compulsory education to all children up to the age of 3 years. Other than all the legal and constitutional measures, governments from time to time have made efforts to reach out to children to encourage and educate them. However, despite of all these measures, lack of political will and various disadvantages & discriminations in society have ensured that we are still far from achieving our ultimate goal.
Sociological perspective of early childhood education
EH Sutherland, a very famous sociologist, enumerated the importance of education in children by providing his theory of social disorganisation. He provided that society functions in two groups; one group comprise of people that favour crime and justify it while the other group comprises of people that are against it and seek a peaceful society. He stated that people forming part of the first groups that favour crime are often people who grew up in not a very favourable environment with any education, parental or societal control. This group includes similar children with no protection by any institutions or no exposure to healthy ways of living a life, who get influenced by people in this group and end up being criminals. On the other hand, the second group consists of people who get good education, have parental control and a protective environment where they learn the important craft of living worthy lives. Thus, his theory provides an obvious conclusion that early childhood education is the key to transformation of society especially for children who have no one to look up to and can be termed as destitute.
Looking from all these perspectives, it becomes amply clear that early childhood education plays an essential role in the development of children and the society needs to reach out to the various sections of society to make this growth inclusive. Educational institutions play a great role in providing this education but a holistic approach requires the contribution of parents, government and the society at large. A rather simple looking concept is the key to the development of the entire society and it is high time we start looking at it with the seriousness that it requires.