The Importance of Early Childhood Care and Education in India

Be it parents or educators, there are many who are aware about Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) at a broad level, but there are very, very few who have a clear understanding about the importance of early childhood care and education in India.

In this article:

  • What is Early Childhood?
  • Importance of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) in India.
  • The historical foundations of ECCE in India from conventional to contemporary philosophy.

What is Early Childhood?

Early childhood refers to the early stage of growth or development of a human being. It refers to a period of a child from the pre-natal stage to the age of 8 years.

Early childhood comprises four periods. Together, they are considered to be the most critical period in the life span of a human being. They are:

  • Pregnancy to Perinatal (until the day before the day of delivery)
  • 0 to 3 Years
  • 3 Years to 6 Years
  • 6 Years to 8 Years

The National Policy on Education however considers early years to be the period from 0 to 6 years only. Following its guidelines, the course on early childhood care and education (ECCE) also considers early years to be from 0 to 6 years.

Importance of Early Childhood Care and Education in India

The need to focus on children of 0 to 6 years has to be looked at from two perspectives:

The Demographic Perspective

  • As per the Indian census of 2011, there are 165 million children aged between 0 to 6 years.
  • About 1/4 of them (41 million) are in need of immunization and maternal health care services.
  • The remaining 3/4 of them (124 million) require preschool education services.
  • Around 1.83 million children under the age of 5 died in India.
  • 46% of them within the age of 3 are found to be underweight.

The dropout rate at primary education level is very high, as no strong foundations are laid on 3 important domains during the early years. They are:

  1. Physical
  2. Social
  3. Cognitive

The Developmental Perspective

The earliest years of a child’s life is said to be a crucial stage, as the survival rate of a child gets determined at this stage.

Most importantly, the foundation of his or her learning gets laid by developing physical, social, cognitive and emotional skills, four skills which are needed for successful living.

Now let us understand the significance of the early years by comprehending the developmental facts:

The Human Brain Development

  • Human brain completes 85% of the development by the end of 5 years, during which the synaptic connections are at its peak.
  • 50% of a child’s cognitive development is determined by his or her environment.
  • Optimum brain development equates to 1000 neurons connecting every second.
  • Developing the brain during the early years serves as a precious window of opportunity to accomplish development during that specific period, as optimal development of the brain after the window period becomes extremely difficult (but not entirely impossible).

Now that we have seen why the need to emphasise the importance of early childhood care and education in India, let us now look into the historical foundations of ECCE with particular reference to India.

Also Read | 7 Important Contributors and Founders of Early Childhood Care and Education in India

The Historical Foundations of ECCE with Reference to India

The significance of early childhood period of the period 0 to 6 years has gained a huge importance over the last few decades, owing to the fast-changing social, economic and demographic context.

To understand the rationale behind it, you need to trace the origin of early childhood care and education, whose framework was designed with the objective to foster holistic development of every child born in India.

The Conventional Philosophy

India’s heritage dating back to thousands of years clearly acknowledges the period from 0 to 6 years as the period when the foundation needs to be laid for the inculcation of fundamental values and social skills.

The basis for this was that these values can be effectively imbibed through the child’s family environment. What is important to note is that engagement with the child was the popular and desired mode of parenting and not the disciplinary approach.

The learning experiences provided were highly informal and was done primarily through storytelling, especially grandmother stories, traditional infant games and lullabies.

The Social Revolution Philosophy

As the family structure slowly changed from joint family to nuclear family due to rapid urbanization and industrialization, the responsibility of nurturing the child was no more a family responsibility and became a kind of delegated responsibility.

For children from higher economic background, the responsibility was transferred to paid caregivers, and for children from lower socio-economic background, care was invariably given by their older siblings.

This was when the seed for the concept of daycare in the form of early education was sowed.

Maria Montessori, Mahatma Gandhi, Gijubhai Badheka and Tarabai Modak are the four eminent personalities who together pioneered the movement of having an organised initiative to foster early learning and experiences in children under 6 years of age in India.

Preschool education was thus made available to a large number of children, even in the rural parts of the country. To start with, this movement got initiated as a full-fledged voluntary effort.

The Digital Revolution Philosophy

In 1953 Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB) granted aid for the voluntary organisations working for children.

About two decades later in the year 1975, India successfully developed a supportive policy framework for CSWB by launching a major initiative called the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). Early Childhood Education (ECE) is one component of ICDS.

This program targeted the all-round development of a child by adopting the life-cycle perspective. It is called life-cycle perspective, as it involves pregnant women, lactating mothers, children from 0 to 6 years and adolescent girls.

The National Policy on Education (NPE) 1986 recognized the importance of his ECE and mad a key emphasis on joyful way of learning and discouraging the formal instruction of what is called the 3Rs (Reading, wRiting and aRrithmetic).

The National ECCE policy 2013 aimed to reach out the targeted population of nearly 170 million, both at the state and at the central level through the Aanganvadis.

Conclusion

Though ECCE policy was able to put the broad policy into perspective, its implementation could not be carried out as expected, therefore resulting in many gaps during execution of the policy.

The gaps in execution of the policy gave room for the private sector to play a massive role. The enormous role of private industry in early childhood care and education (ECCE), popularly branded as Preschools or Kindergartens, are run by individuals, institutions or as a franchised chain of preschools.

However the private sector’s dominance on the preschool education system has necessitated, from a wider context, the setting up regulatory policies governing the functioning of preschools by the government of India.

Also Read | The Important Role of a Teacher in Problem Solving Learning in Children

Disclaimer: The content in this page and across this website are for informational and educational purposes only. In case of any concerns about your child’s growth and development, please contact your professional child healthcare provider.