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Getting the focus back on Early Childhood Education


Despite the importance of Early Childhood Education (ECE), little has been said about the continuance of ECE delivery during the COVID-19 school closures, reminiscent of its status quo even prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic.


GS-II: Social Justice and Governance (Issues related to education, Government Initiatives and Policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Importance of Early Childhood
  2. Role of home and parents
  3. Issues with ECE in India
  4. Steps taken by the Government towards ECE
  5. ICDS Scheme and its progress
  6. NEP 2020 on formal education
  7. Way Forward

Importance of Early Childhood

  • Early childhood, defined as the years from birth to age eight, is a critical period that sets the stage for a child’s growth and learning trajectory.
  • Research from neurobiology and cognitive development suggests that 90% of brain development occurs in the first six years of life.
  • During these years, vital development in emotional control, motor, cognitive, language, and number skills occur systematically, with acquisition of simpler abilities paving the way for more complex ones.
  • Therefore, when it comes to improving educational, socio-emotional and economic outcomes, early childhood offers a unique window of opportunity for policymakers to implement programs that can be more cost-effective and impactful than those targeting older age groups.

Role of home and parents

  • The overall development of a child in the early stages edicts a conducive home environment and parental involvement in addition to equitable access to the schooling system.
  • As such, the home environment and stimulation children receive within the household can contribute to their overall development. For example, studies have found that the act of making conversation with your child in the early years has significant gains on language skills they develop.
  • A crucial factor for households to be able to prioritise ECE is active parental engagement in their child’s education, especially for children in the age group of three to six years who spend a majority of their time within the household and rely greatly on parental assistance in the learning process.

Issues with ECE in India

  • The socio-economic background of households determines access to preschools and the ability to invest in ECE.
  • Worryingly, the lack of priority for ECE often means that households choose to forgo investing in ECE altogether.
  • Even for those who are able to overcome the initial barrier of access, the ability to engage in ECE at home remains dependent on time and ability. Households that have limited means have little time to invest in educational activities in the home.
  • Survey finds that job and income losses led to further de-prioritisation of education, and the need to invest in educational and digital resources for its continuance during school closures.
  • Even among households that are able to create the time for education, many parents lack the self-efficacy to support their child’s learning.
  • Those attending preschool are primarily enrolled in the nearly 14 lakh anganwadis spread across the country where ECE continues to suffer from low attendance and instructional time amid prioritisation of other early childhood development services in the anganwadi system.

Steps taken by the Government towards ECE

  • The RTE Act (2009), while does not include children below 6 years under its aegis, does include ECE and says, “with a view to prepare children above the age of three years for elementary education and to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years, the appropriate Government may make necessary arrangement for providing free pre-school education for such children.”
  • The 12th Five Year Plan also acknowledges the importance of Early Childhood Education. In 2013, the government of India also approved the National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy which also includes the National Curriculum Framework and Quality Standards for ECCE.
  • The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) is responsible for the policy on ECCE.  MWCD is in charge of a flagship programme introduced by Government in India for Early Childhood Education which is Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme.

ICDS Scheme and its progress

  • The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme, established over forty years ago to improve children’s health, nutrition, and education, boasts an enrolment of roughly 32 million children for preschool education.
  • Though private schools have offered pre-primary education for decades, many state governments, recognising the need to formalise early childhood education, have proactively initiated pre-primary grades in their schools in the past 3-4 years, broadening the access to formal preschooling, especially in underserved areas.
  • However, it is unclear how successful the ICDS education programs or preschools are in ensuring that children are school-ready.
  • The ASER Early Years Report (2020) indicates that while 91% of four-year-olds are enrolled in some form of pre-primary education, a much smaller proportion exhibit age-appropriate foundational skills to be able to engage effectively with schooling.
  • Many attribute this to the fact that the ICDS program tends to focus on health and nutrition to the detriment of education and socio-emotional development, while schools, both private and government, tend to focus almost exclusively on education but employ a developmentally inappropriate curriculum.

NEP 2020 on formal education

  • The most important change brought about by the NEP, therefore, is the inclusion of preschooling under the purview of the Ministry of Education.
  • Such integration will formalise preschooling and enable better alignment of preschool and school curriculum to support all children in acquiring the required cognitive, pre-literacy and numeracy, physical, socio-emotional skills to make the most of their schooling.
  • The current 10+2 system is to be replaced by a new 5+3+3+4 curricular structure under NEP 2020 which will bring the uncovered age group of 3-6 years under school curriculum, which has been recognized globally as the crucial stage for development of mental faculties of a child.
  • It will also have 12 years of schooling with three years of Anganwadi/ pre schooling.

Way Forward

  • Efforts must be taken to empower households with time and resources so that they have the ability to prioritise ECE and are not forced to choose between their children’s education. The provision of non-educational support to low-income households to alleviate income and food insecurities might be just as crucial in aiding parents to invest in education.
  • We must collect information about teachers’ experiences (on suitable modes of engagement with parents and children, delivery logistics, constraints of parents, etc.) and on innovations they have developed to increase parental engagement during school closures.
  • While teachers should remain at the centre of this effort we must also make sure they are not further overburdened, by providing adequate resources and institutional support.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023