Early childhood education
For school readiness and to build a foundation for lifelong learning.
The early years (0 to 8 years) are the most extraordinary period of growth and development in a child’s lifetime. The foundations of all learning are laid during these years. Getting the foundations right carries huge future benefits: better learning in school and higher educational attainment, which results in major social and economic gains for society.
Research shows that good quality early learning, early childhood education and early childhood development (ECD) programmes help to reduce the chances of dropout and repetition and improves outcomes at all levels of education.
Pre-primary education gives children a solid foundation upon which all learning depends on, making every stage of education that follows more efficient and more productive.
The Government of India’s main delivery platform for pre-school education is the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), a centrally-sponsored and state-administered early childhood development programme, with pre-school education as one of the six basic services provided (in addition to immunization, health check-up, referral, food supplementation, growth monitoring and health and nutrition education) through 1.37 million anganwadi centres.
In 2013, the Government of India adopted the National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy in recognition of the importance of investing in early childhood development – including early childhood education (ECE) -- and its impact on lifelong development and learning and breaking the intergenerational cycle of inequity and disadvantage. A National ECCE Curriculum Framework and Quality Standards accompany the Policy.
Surveys have indicated high level of enrolment almost 8 out of 10 children 3-6-year-old are enrolled in some ECCE programme, there are wide variations across states (Uttar Pradesh with the lowest participation at 43.7 per cent and Karnataka with the highest participation percentage of 86.6 percent).
Of those enrolled nearly half of the children are enrolled in private sector, this being much higher in urban areas. Most children from the lowest wealth quintile (51 per cent) attend anganwadi centres while most children in the highest wealth quintile (62 per cent) attend private facilities.
In July 2020, the Ministry of Education released the new National Education Policy, where schooling begins with the inclusion of ECCE from age 3. The policy states "Universal provisioning of quality early childhood development, care, and education must thus be achieved as soon as possible, and no later than 2030, to ensure that all students entering Grade 1 are school ready."
The three years of ECCE and early primary grades (Classes 1 and 2) are proposed as a continuum of learning and referred to as the foundational stage of school. The NEP 2020 recommends four models for implementation of quality ECCE, these are anganwadi centres in communities; anganwadi centres located within school premises, pre-primary sections in schools and standalone pre-schools.
As ample evidence globally shows, when children enter primary school directly without quality pre-primary education – and thus, without school readiness – it increases the likelihood of them dropping out and not learning to their potential.
Evidence from the Indian Early Childhood Education Impact Study (IECEI) 2017, demonstrates that when children have been through a quality early childhood education programme, they are more likely to have higher learning levels, especially in the early primary grades.
Since March 2020 anganwadi centres have been closed due to COVID-19. During this time anganwadi workers have reached out to parents, using social media platforms, made home visits and while distributing supplementary nutrition and shared resources like monthly calendar of activities, video of songs, stories ad rhymes for parents to ensure continuity of learning through play.
In the context of COVID-19, the importance of the role of parents in supporting the early learning of young children has emerged as a critical area for supporting families. This increased engagement of parents in playful activities needs to be sustained.
UNICEF’s focus will be on strengthening systems to improve on the provision of quality ECE in line with the National Education Policy 2020 and the National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy adopted in 2013, which calls for the promotion of inclusive and equitable development and learning opportunities for all children from 3 to 6, as well as SDG 4, Target 4.2.
This would include support for school readiness (covering all three dimensions including children’s readiness for school; schools’ readiness for children; and families’ and communities’ readiness for school by supporting learning through play activities at home and getting children ready for school), and transition from ECE to early grade learning.
UNICEF will support the implementation of recommendation under the NEP 2020 to support children’s access to quality foundational learning from pre-primary which includes the revision and development of an early childhood education curriculum and school readiness programme in partnership with NCERT, civil society and private sector.