Early Childhood Care and Education is included in Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which advocated on , “Inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, it is specifically mentioned in target 4.2,“ By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education”.
Integrated Child development Services (ICDS) Scheme is a central sector scheme which is implemented by State Governments Preschool Education for 3 to 6 years of children is an important component of ICDS. These scheme was launched by Government of India on 2nd October 1975.
Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) guaranteed the right to education to every Indian child till 14 years of age. Subsequently, the area received a major thrust in the National ECCE Policy, 2013 which stipulates Government of India to implement multi –pronged approach to ensure developmentally appropriate practices of ECCE. The aim of the Policy is to strengthen the Anganwadis as “vibrant ECCE centres” through revised package of services with early childhood learning as one of its focus.
As per available data of March 2019, 30191978 children are being benefitted from Preschool Education across the country among which 15236017 are boys and 14955961 are girls.
From the year 2013 in Assam and West Bengal the PSE is upgraded to Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) with the introduction of annual theme based contextual curriculum. The Anganwadi centres are upgraded with child friendly interior and ECCE kit containing TLMs along with training of Anganwadi Workers. Other Stats like Manipur, Mizoram, Ngaland has also given emphasis in this context.
Pre-primary children’s continuity of learning has been influenced because of the closure of AWCs in view of the unprecedented situation of COVID-19 pandemic maintaining social distancing in reducing the impact of spread. In any pandemic crisis children are the worst victim of the situation. The priority is beyond the food, cloth and shelter; it expands to care, protection and learning. Therefore, in the present pandemic situation it is important utilize the time at home meaningfully for the children and families which adds to psychosocial wellbeing of both children, adolescent and parents.
Few States could take a very progressive steps towards the management of COVID 19 with the timely innovation of some transformative steps which are proposed for the early learners of Anganwadi at home. Engagement of children through activities lessens the impact of uncertainty and promotes happiness and healthy development. parenting has lifetime effects on all aspects of children’s development during early years.
ICDS centres have been suspended since 17th March 2020 in the state of West bengal. Although, in case of supplementary nutrition raw ration of food grains are distributed as take home ration instead of hot cooked meal, but initially alternative programme for ECCE was not easy to develop.
On this backdrop to continue the ECCE for children of 3 to 6 years WCD&SW Department of West Bengal developed an alternative programme in the name of “Home Based ECCE and Parenting” just to extend the ECCE at every doorstep. Home Based ECCE and Parenting emphasises on empowering all parents to provide ECCE at home with the use of all household materials they have. The programme has earned popularity and acceptance within the course of only three months.
Home Based Parenting programme consists of all voice modules containing instruction to parents how to utilise the full package of programme within the week. There are stories and rhymes activity-based games which the parents can reproduce with the kids in their own way. The programme is initially developed in Bengali and Hindi.
These weekly packages were sent to all parents through the ICDS network up to anganwadi worker at village level spread throughout the state. The parents were requested to send their feedback on the package after practising the same. For ease of transmission anganwadi workers at village level formed whatsapp group with the parents or neighbour of parents for quick transmission.
Few challenges were faced during implementation. Due to complete lockdown, having least fun time and no friend along with, children were becoming restless at home. All adult family members also staying at home, often getting irritated was becoming rude to children. According to a report of unicef children are getting at least 30 types of punishment during lockdown. So, it was primary concern how to involve parents in to some joyful learning activities so that both of them can get involved in some meaningful activities and have some quality time together.
Keeping the constraint of access to online facilities,the programme was not designed as online version of AWC level activities of ECCE. pre-schoolers are not ready to attend online classes.This programme is intended to empower parents to undertake the programme with the children.
It is easy to adopt and replicate following voice messages. Anganwadi Workers serve as mentor to the parents where the parents are of first generation learner. Every AWW undertake home visit to follow up the parents regarding implementation of the programme.
A strong feedback system has been developed to ensure not only the quantity but also quality. a centre wise report is generated and sent to state. In turn state analyse the report and share all issues to the District administration to work on the bottlenecks and feedbacks accordingly.
Although we are expressing coverage in terms of number of pre-school children who are practising ECCE activities from his / her parents or care givers, but here it is a great encouraging fact that before the programme we could cover only very few parents with the ECCE at anganwadi centre except dropping the children in Centre. Parents who have hardly even attended monthly meeting on ECCE, are now participating weekly voice modules. Before the programme on monthly ECCE day meetings, we would have been able to record attendance of only 4,50,669 no of parents. Whereas, as on July 2020 we have been able to send voice modules to 11,58,687 parents or caregivers. These parents have utilised the voice modules with their wards. Aong them 705656 parents have sent their feedback
Till July 2020 report the coverage reached to 12,78,304 children out of 26,69,440 regular students enrolled with Preschool in anganwadi centres. Gender differential in children is no of boys is 6,55,663 and no of girls is 6,22,641. We expect to cover all the enrolled beneficiaries in near future and towards this end other means are in process.
State is also planning to collaborate with Doordarshan, All India Radio, Community Radio and local cable channels to broadcast the package from next month to reach maximum number of children.
All macro and micro level machinaries of Goverment of West Bengal are involved to make the programme a success.
Within this short span, positive impacts are visible. Although the programme has been developed considering COVID19 pandemic situation, yet it has proved that throughout the year this programme can ensure participation of parents. Before the programme in many families the children did not have any back up support at home from parents while he or she was getting lessons under ECCE at centre. But this programme has brought a perfect balance of lessons to be practiced at centre and home.
Earlier Supplementary nutrition programme was prime attention of monitoring of ICDS programme at any level, now this programme has come to fore at all levels. The programme has empowered parents in delivering ECCE to the children. Thus, the skills of parents in handling and understanding children have increased.
There is a specific, visible rhythm in the daily activity process and a clear progress can thus be seen in children’s participation and learning. Caregivers’ specially grandparents’ ability to hold conversations, storytelling, giving instructions, rule setting – have improved.
Impact-Increase in Children’s Attendance: In Urban ICDS projects, parents usually end their children to private formal education preschools and come to AWC for supplementary nutrition only. Even families from lower socio-economic status like home-maids, migrant labourers also send children to low cost English medium or local medium private schools due to lack of knowledge. Now, due to lockdown, these schools are all closed for last 6 months and being low cost, have no innovation on any home-based service. Now ICDS team have targeted these people. Having such an excellent option, they readily adopted the programme. According to ASER study on ECCE 2019, this community is not less than 30% of all preschool child population. Among this a larger part are from poorer community. This large chunk, which we could not bring to our preschool service in last few decades, could be engaged in holistic approach of ICDS. And most amazing thing is this parents are admitting that the home-based ECCE is far richer than the rote learning method at private school.
A mother from Behala ICDS project informed that she works as a house-maid at some household and not having internet connection. On first week she could not arrange to download the audio materials and sadly informed her employer. From the next day the family has taken responsibility to download the materials and transfer it to her.
Very few states have taken measure to fight Corona situation in preschool sector. Some state has given video messages which are mostly unreachable. Some state has asked projects to print calendars and provide it with take home ration with no mentoring support. In some north-east states we found that they have only transferred the activity books from AWC to parents to practices at home. The novel idea of West Bengal programme is “Minimum Materials with Maximum Support”.
The Writer is Senior Consultant, Early Childhood Care and Education