Pre-schools play a crucial role in laying the foundation for the proper psychological, physical and social development of children. The closure of schools and other institutions that provide early childhood care and education continues to pose an immense threat to their holistic development potential. This will, over time adversely affect the economy and social wellbeing of the country and the world at large.
Even though remote learning strategies aim to ensure continued learning for all children, it is well known that the most marginalized children may not be able to access these opportunities. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of affordable child care for working parents across the globe, as parents struggle to balance the demands of child care while working from home with shuttered schools.
The urgency of restarting economies has accelerated efforts already underway in many parts of the world to move towards systems that ensure universal access to high-quality child care. Just last week, Canada’s finance minister announced the creation of a long-promised national child care programme with a huge investment over five years.
Quebec has recently promised universal access to public childcare. Singapore has been steadily expanding its early childhood care centers. Japan announced a goal of universal child care by 2027. UK is expanding free child care as of Aug 2021 for all 3- and 4-year-olds and 2-year-olds from low-income families to 30 hours per week.
The Government of India in July 2020 approved the New Education Policy (NEP), which aims at universalisation of education from pre-school to the secondary level. Unfortunately, we are seeing a contradiction as the funding for education has been reduced despite the goal of universalization. Overall, the budget for the Education Ministry has been reduced by Rs 6,086.69 crores – from Rs 99,311 crores in 2020-21 to Rs 93,224.31 crores in 2021-22.
The Week magazine (Sept16, 2020) report by Sravani Sarkar (based on the policy analysis done by CRY and CGBA), highlights the substantial resource allocation gap between this budget, from both Union and state governments, and what is needed to meet the need of universalisation. As an academic, I would like to propose a solution for realising universalisation of Early Childhood Care and Education.
It is high time that the process of universalization effectively leverages (in a phased manner wise) resources from private organizations, corporate offices (as CSR activity), mature workers (those who are volunteers from retirement age, sabbatical, not interested in stereotypical jobs etc, youth volunteers, and NGOs, providing them with enough functional freedom and few controls. The Ministry of Education and State Government should provide guidelines on using the local language as the medium of instruction, with English as a transition language and support these teams with affordable educational materials.
Additionally, incentives and salaries of ECCE teachers must be revised and at par with Postgraduate teachers, so as to attract strong and motivated individuals to take the course and become self-employed. In order to realise these efforts, I strongly believe that the Indian Government and State financial departments support private organisations and NGOS in the reopening of pre-primary schools and target the universalisation of child care by 2025.
No child should be left behind without numeracy, literacy and nutrition right from the beginning of life. India is a growing economy and we can secure a highly evolved future for all of us if we pool and mobilize the assets of human resources that we have effectively.
Dr. Sudha Turaga
Director, Delhi Public School and
Pallavi Educational Institutions