Early childhood education

For school readiness and to build a foundation for lifelong learning.

Children play with toys at the Anganwadi Children’s centre in Gandhigram Village.
UNICEF/UN0150107/Vishwanathan

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.

UNICEF, in partnership with the Centre for Early Childhood Education and Development (CECED), Ambedkar University Delhi and ASER Centre produced the Indian Early Childhood Education Impact study, a five-year longitudinal research study that followed a cohort of 14,000 four year olds from age 4 to age 8 in rural areas of three states of India: Assam, Rajasthan and Telangana.

The report highlights that even one year of participation in a quality early childhood development programme leads to higher school readiness levels, which in turn lead to better learning outcomes in the early primary grades.

A key concern emerging from the research is that most children in the study entered primary school at age five with school readiness levels which were far below expectations. They were therefore unequipped to meet the demands of the curriculum and had low learning levels. The study concludes that these low school readiness levels in children are clearly related to the quality of preschool education. Existing Models commonly available across the country, do not use age and developmentally appropriate curriculum, methods and materials to engage children. It identifies formal teaching of the 3 R’s – reading, writing, and arithmetic, as detrimental to children’s development.

In India many children attend Anganwadi centres, that provide spaces for children to learn, play, eat nutritious food and develop the skills that they will need for a lifetime of learning. Attending pre-primary education, such as at an Anganwadi Centre, improves children’s school readiness when it ensures quality learning through interactive, play methods and with qualified instructors.

When children gain a quality pre-primary education – where they can play, imagine, create, socialise and gain the foundations of learning – they are more likely to develop skills that can help them succeed in school, complete primary education and transition to higher levels, transform into productive citizens and thus ensure they are better able to contribute to peaceful and prosperous societies and economies when they reach adulthood.

When children are enrolled in pre-primary education, their parents or other caregivers can go to work, knowing their children are in a safe learning environment, making early childhood education even more of a catalyst for economic growth.