Educationists opine that elementary education plays a vital role in charting the development of an individual. Through preschools, children get exposure to the world around and develop an affinity for learning. Social statistics demonstrate that children who had the opportunity to complete elementary education remain less likely to drop out from schools at any level.
Advocates of compulsory preschooling stress its role in creating the foundation for learning at an age when the rate of brain development is highest. There is no dearth of scientific data indicating that cerebral development in early years has a lifelong effect not only on mental development which manifests in learning, behavior, memory, emotions and mental health but also on physical growth.
Let’s look at how opinions have translated into policies for expansion of preschooling or elementary education.
Preschools do not find a place within the ambit of the RTE act which is effective for age group 6-14 only. Nevertheless, there is evidence attesting preschools’ contribution in meeting the RTE goals, hence in developing national assets.
Early schooling initiatives and policy interventions by the state, with regard to preschooling, are numbered. One of them, National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) policy with the declared objective of providing a developmental continuum from prenatal to primary schooling age. As far policy changes are concerned, The narrative of preschooling has always gets lost in the grand narrative of universal education and ECCE is no exception.
There are other schemes preceding ECCE that can be said to be having a significant effect on the societal attitude towards early childhood education. The one which is relatively better known is the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). It has completed four decades since its inception and under it there are around 10.25 lacs “Aanganwadi centers” spread all over India. The number of children that fall in the ICDS gamut is huge enough to make it one of the world’s largest state intervention in the area of child development. However, the impact it is having on early education scenario does not come even remotely to its scale. The fact remains that the quality of early education being provided through Aanganwadis of ICDS is sub-par for avoidable reasons.
Preschooling, its popularity, and potential have been demonstrated by urban India’s private daycare, preschools, and playschools. They are run by, or at least expected to run by, staff qualified in child care and early education. They have a structured curriculum and follow progressive educational philosophies guiding child education.
Unlike the private preschools, the ICDS centers or Aanganwadis are, at best, nutrition and daycare centers in popular perception. It is fair to say that they cannot be expected to be more than that given the staff with practically no qualification in childhood development. In addition to that, supplies that are indispensable in forming any preschool’s environment are simply non-existent in half of the Aanganwadis. So, what we have on the ground are so-called preschools for rural children with no books, pencils, drawing material, toys, puzzles to engage them in constructive activities.
We have a scenario where a huge state apparatus for early childhood education is failing to make the dent for some very specific reasons. Attempted solutions are faced by challenges rendering them irrelevant. For instance, the capabilities of staff of the Aanganwadis can be upgraded through training and direction, but the possibility of that becomes slim when we have a situation where more than 60% of the staff is simply denied guidance by the immediate superior or the supervisor.
Enter corporates with their trusts and think tanks. Tata Trusts and Copenhagen Consensus have recently issued a report outlining the strategy to change the state of elementary education. The significance and potential of corporate intervention in education have been well recognized and it is known that direct investment will undoubtedly change the picture of elementary education too.
There are some models to learn from, certain schemes of early education promotion. Conceptualization of some of the schemes is very unconventional, to say the least, yet they have some success to their credit in other developing countries. One of such schemes is to essentially hand out cash incentives to the parents who send their children to early childhood education centers.
In India, we have mid-day-meals that remotely resembles the aforementioned scheme. Now, this unprecedented incentivizing scheme is being contemplated upon by corporate houses backed by research and studies of some acclaimed think tanks. The ‘cash- incentive’ scheme has found its advocates who have already brought forth projections of costs and results for certain states. For Andhra Pradesh, the estimated enrollment figures predict a 35% increase in the current Aanganwadis enrollment.
An overview of the case of Andhra Pradesh provides a perspective. This cash incentive model or its variant essentially proposes a grant of Rs. 6000 to a family who sends their 3 or 4-year-old to the Aanganwadi center regularly. The projection cost of such an incentive for the recently bifurcated state is 333 crores and it is expected to bring 1.4 lakh children to the early childhood education realm.
The empirical fact that strengthens the case of cash incentive measure is its positive correlation with enrollment in higher education. In other words, the use of an unconventional method for the promotion of preschooling is worth it. That is so because, preschooling has repercussions in terms of national human resource asset and progressive knowledge economy.
The economic wisdom of this scheme is, from an individual perspective, the increment in wages in which preschooling will have played a decisive part.
Macroeconomic translation of the scheme can result is in excess of 2 lakhs for a preschooled workman which translates into 3,146 crores for the state. Going by this calculation, we find that for every rupee spent on the child’s preschooling a return of Rs. 10 is ensured for the society. Corporates like Tata Trusts are taking initiative in bringing about these estimates through dedicated studies and collaboration with international think tanks.
For ICDS centers, corporate investment would bring in tangible improvements. It will include hiring of teachers, upgrading learning environment, setting up of a curriculum, training of the Anganwadi staff and availability of uniforms and books for the children.
The efficacy of the entire project of promotion of early education, despite its omission from the RTE act, is fundamentally based on the success of the private preschools. The developmental environment provided by good preschools exceeds the one provided by Aanganwadis by miles. When we say miles, we mean 1183 crore rupees. That means to bring the Aanganwadis, catering to all 3 - 6 years old children currently, to the level of a good preschool will cost that much.
Corporates are incentivizing families to promote preschool education. The intervention is welcome and preschools must be made exemplary learning hubs in the urban areas too. The curriculum and teacher training must not be compromised with. Use of modern educational philosophies has a big role to play in realizing the potential of preschools.
Founder & Consultant - School Serv
Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.