“For a small child there is no division between playing and learning; between the things he or she does ‘just for fun’ and things that are ‘educational.’ The child learns while living and any part of living that is enjoyable is also play.” ~ Penelope Leach
Early childhood basically defines the period from the birth till 8 years of age and this period is remarkable for the brain development. During this period, the environment and the surroundings that children live in, influences them to a great extent. Early childcare and education prepare a child more than the primary school education. It helps a child in holistic development that incorporates social, emotional, and cognitive and physical needs in order to build concrete and expansive foundation for lifelong learning and well-being. There is a realization that the children who lacks a proper and developmentally appropriate childhood education and care not only lag in the foundational stages of learning but also in the later stages of lives.
Currently, there are 445 million children in India and 158 million of them are under the age of six. Nearly about half of the India population, 47.9% of the total households consist of more than five children who are deprived of basic amenities like food, clothing, shelter, education health, water and sanitation. The government of India recognised the significance of Early Child Care and Education. With the amendment of the article 45, which focuses on, “The state shall endeavour to provide Early Child Care and Education for all the children until they complete the age of six years”. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) that has come into effect from 1st April 2010. This Right to Education Act also addresses to the Early Child Care and Education under section 11 of the Act says, “ with a view to prepare children above the age of 3 for the elementary education and to facilitate Early Childhood Care and Education for all the children until they complete the age of six years and the apposite government may make necessary arrangements for providing free pre school education for such children”. Early Child Care and Education has also received consideration from the National Policy for Children, 1974. Following the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) was also initiated on a pilot basis in the year 1975, with a vision of laying down a holistic and integrated development child and the caregivers. After the 11th plan period the ICDS programme was universalized.
The public channels have been the largest provider of the Early Child Care and Development. Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) is the largest programme that mandates for the childcare and development. The recent data says that in the umbrella of the ICDS programmes, it provides services to nearly about 80 million children under the age of six in India with the help of 1.4 million approved Anganwadi Centres. Despite the multiple service providers, there is no reliable data available about the actual number of children who avail the services of Early Child Care and Development. The quality of non-formal pre schooling and early childcare and education imparted through these multiple service providers is uneven and varies from a minimalistic approach to accelerated academic programmes. It is very important for all the service providers to take this responsibility as a mandate and work with utmost care for the children, to give them a healthy and developed upbringing.
By Shrishti Shankar