Social activist Shabana Azmi has always believed that ‘children’s issues must not remain invisible and unrecognised.’ Her presence to inaugurate the Early Childhood Association (ECA) conference, is to underline issues facing India’s children- and therefore the ecosystem of Early Childhood Care & Education in India.
At the event, Azmi along with Dr. Swati Popat Vats, President of ECA Dr.Reeta Sonawat, Executive Director of ECA, Dr.Kamini Rege, Treasurer of ECA, Asha Varma Secretary of ECA and Rekha Shahani, Joint Secretary of ECA, launched the following;-
1. The Early Childhood Association Comprehensive Quality Audit tool for Preschools/ Kindergartens / ECE centres.
2. Teacher Training Module for Early Childhood Care and Education
3. Early Childhood Education Teacher Training Enrichment App
Speaking at the event, Shabana Azmi said, ” I grew up in a humble background, and my mother and father both worked hard. Once when I got a zero, in my report card, my mother said, ‘she’s not dumb, she’s protesting.’ How many parents listen to their children today- like mine did? I run a school in Mizwan, Azamgadh. I have seen that we need to reach our children, compassion, mindfulness, emotional intelligence and the ability to work with people around them.”
Dr Swati Popat Vats clarified the purpose of the conference and said, ” The government should be able to have “one nation one policy” for curriculum, age of entry, teacher training and assessment for early years. I humbly request Shabana Azmiji to represent us to the powers that be.”
The following were the key discussions of the day- by the National Committee of The ECA and over 600 participants in the hall.
1. Schools from grade one have a board affiliation (though the boards in India affiliate only from grade 7 or 8) but the preschool is without any affiliation except in the case of IB (International Baccalaureate) that affiliates from Nursery onwards.
2. So with no affiliations or accreditations in place how can one be sure of quality of curriculum or safety or other developmentally appropriate standards that affect the development of young children? Can we have affiliation board/s for Early Childhood Education.
3. We have a well drafted Early Childhood Policy and Curriculum by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development? Our problem is that one ministry at the state level does not handle education. Early childhood care is handled by WCD but early childhood education is not looked into by anyone at the state level!
4. This leaves no choice- so preschools have to make their own curriculum or become ‘preparatory centers’ for first standard . And here in lies our problem, because Toddlers as young as two years are made to hold pencils and go over dotted lines in worksheets. Three year olds are made to recite rhymes in front of a class and then graded and marked on their ‘performance’. Children are taught number 1 and then number 7, skipping the rest in between because standing line numbers should be taught together! Completely overlooking the fact that letters need not be taught in the A to Z format but numbers need to be taught in the order of counting or else children will not have a foundational base of what number comes before, after etc. This is the confused state of preschool curriculum.
5. If you ask the preschools they blame it on parents, it’s the parents that want their child to read and write at an early age.
6. Having an affiliation board for preschools in our country would be a logical solution that would benefit all three stakeholders- children, parents and preschools. The government can still license the schools or take care of the NOC requirements but the curriculum, philosophy and other important aspects can be done by the affiliation/accreditation board of ECE
7. So what would be the parameters of this affiliation of ECE centers? Globally the largest association that affiliates most of the preschools in USA is naeyc.org (National Association for the Education of Young Children). Our preschool Quality audit is in line with the naeyc 10 quality standards that are:
- Assessment of child progress
- Staff competencies, preparation and support
- Community relationships
- Physical environment
- Leadership and management
Their process of affiliation/ accreditation is as follows:
1. A self-study,
2. An application (and fees),
3. A validation visit to verify information,
4. And yearly certification through written documentation.
5. Upon receiving official accreditation, the provider receives a certificate that verifies status.
Early Childhood Association (www.eca-india.org) now has a quality audit tool and has quality audited more than 400 private preschools in India, so definitely they can take it up on a larger scale. An updated version was launched at the conference today. (attached)
In addition to these discussions, several awards were given away today at the Early Childhood Association recognizing the exemplary contributions of personalities doing exceptional work in the field of early childhood education whether it is safety, inclusive education or overall contribution.
1. Felicitating the author – Ms Neeha Gupta- youth ambassador Kailash Satyarthi Childrens Foundation.
2. Most Committed NGO in Early Childhood Education – CANKIDS, Childs rights foundation, Life Trust
3. Most Committed journalist in Early Childhood Care and Education- Ms Vinaya Patil – Sakal News – Pune and Ms Jhinuk Mazumdar – The Telegraph – Kolkatta
4. Exemplary contribution in Early Childhood Care and Education – Ms Zarin Malva and Ms Lina Ashar
5. Exemplary contribution towards Safety in Early years- IPS Ms Aparajita Rai and Betterplace
6. Most committed CDPO – Preeti Ben ( Bhavnagar)
7. Most committed supervisor from ICDS – Laxmi Bai ( Telangana)
Clearly the ECA wants to achieve the point where all preschools (private or government) are meeting or exceeding quality and safety standards.
But the goal has to be real and have sustained improvement, not knee jerk reactions, nor quick fixes and that is possible with affiliation boards that are established by associations or universities that have early childhood experts on board and the research and man power to sustain this in the long run.
The Early Childhood Association is set up with the vision that all the preschools, balwadis, N.G.O’s, children’s activity classes, parents, student teachers, media houses, companies that deal with children’s products, in short everyone connected to young children can all come together to advocate, discuss and bring about a change in the quality of care, development and learning in early childhood in India.
The Early Childhood Association is a registered body and has three levels –
1. Honorary Advisory Panel led by eminent educationists, politicians, doctors and experts from various fields.
2. A working committee.
3. Panel Members – invited principals of schools, media and N.G.O’s.
4. General members.
ECA has grown to be a body that comprises over 6500 life members, 30 NGO members, 50 Corporate members spanning 18 states with active territories and work, thereby making it the largest representative body, advocating the concerns of Early Childhood Policy and Curriculum in India.
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