It’s no secret that education forms the foundation of any country. At the recent Global Citizen Festival, we pledged to support the cause. However, it is imperative for us to know when a child's education actually begins. No, it's not when the child begins school. It actually begins right after birth. Early childhood education is critical for a person's development and experts tell us why it needs our focus.
Early education The early years of a child’s life are most important for his mental development. Priyanka Patel, one of the co-founders of Samait Shala, an inclusive institution in Ahmedabad believes that the first five years of a child’s life are of critical importance. "This is the time when children develop fundamental skills, which will prepare them to be active learners when they enter the classroom," she says. "At this age, children are growing and learning more quickly than they will at any other time and that is why it is important that they are exposed to developmentally-rich environments.”
Most of the child's brain development happens in the early years, agrees Tanudeep Bhattacharya who is in research and analysis at Teach for India. The educational gap begins way before the child enters school and over the years, the incremental gap becomes almost unbridgeable, he explains. “There is an urgent need of a focus shift now. We need to prioritise early education so that we can close the gap before it widens its monstrous mouth.”
Tarun Joshi, education programme manager at Save the Children India, based in Mumbai, explains that 90 percent of a child’s brain grows till the age of six years. "That's why early childhood education should start right after the birth, wherein development in all areas - physical, social, emotional, cognitive and linguistic - are necessary. This would ultimately lead to the holistic development of a child.”
As they say, children’s minds are like raw clay. Parents are the first and foremost teachers, who can help in inculcating good attributes for life. Bhattacharya reiterated, “In a supportive parental set up, the brain is already learning so much everyday that it is set for the first day of formal education. However, in the absence of such an ecosystem, these children are already lagging way behind their peers.”
However, as Joshi points out, most families these days are nuclear families and there is a lack of guidance from grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc. Early childhood education or pre-schools have just become a way for parents to keep their kids engaged while they go to work.
Often parents leave the complete burden of a child’s early education on the shoulders of preschool teachers. That's why it's necessary for parents to understand that these preschools have an important role to play. “A good pre-school method these days is not concentrated on making the child learn, but making them 'prepared' to learn through activity-based and play-based approaches involving free-plays, prayers, rhymes, stories, sharing with other students and concept learning," says Joshi. "This also helps children imbibe the importance of nature, community, family, etc.”
While the importance of early childhood education cannot be denied, this field is still not getting the attention it deserves due to several factors.
As Patel explains, “In India, there is a lack of awareness about developmental stages in early childhood and proper learning centers. Due to this, young children are not getting the environment and support needed to thrive.”
The government is not helping matters either, says Joshi. “There is no such thing as compulsory pre-primary education in the Right To Education Act and thus no separate funding for early childhood education from the central government. The teachers are not paid appropriately and most government schools do not even have a pre-primary classroom.”
Teacher training is another major challenge, according to Srimonti Guha, a former preschool teacher from Ahmedabad who is currently pursuing a master's degree in clinical and health psychology in the United Kingdom. “There has to be some beginning for the end to be amazing," reasons Guha. "A lot depends on the art of teaching. A teacher can be good only if he/she makes the life of students easier and guides them to nurture their development.”
Certainly, children are our future and investing in the holistic development of a child can do wonders for any country as a whole.
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