Thu, 19 Sep, 2019

Commendable interventions in the ECCE

Though Goa has done well in early childhood care & education, it needs to provide good infrastructure to anganwadis, a major component of ECCE

12th September 2019, 02:51 Hrs

Dr Manasvi M Kamat

Through significantly notable and praise worthy actions, the Department of Women and Child, Government of Goa, has made significant strides in the area of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), that could serve as inspiration for other States.   

Goa State has done well when it comes to child education and development, thanks to the dynamic young CM Dr Pramod Sawant and equally competent Minister in his cabinet for Child Development and Health, Vishwajit Rane. Goa has now the distinction of being ranked among the top best-performing quartile along with Sikkim, Punjab and Mizoram on the recently released ‘Child Well-being Index’, published by World Vision India and IFMR-LEAD. This index rounded out health, nutrition and education facilities among all States and designed to track children’s well-being through three dimensions of healthy individual development, positive relationships and protective contexts.   

The ECCE in India is understood as the care and education of children from birth to eight years including Early Stimulation Programmes (ESP) through preschool/nursery/play schools stimulation for 0-3 year olds, flowed by Early Childhood Education (ECE) programmes for 3-6 year olds as seen in anganwadis/balwadis/kindergartens/preparatory schools and including the Primary Education Programmes (PEP), as part of schooling for 6-8-year olds.   

It is scientifically established that the first eight years of a child’s life is a period of tremendous growth and development. It is found that a child’s brain connections multiply exponentially in the first three years and the potential for ensuring optimal development is very high up to age eight. It is thus imperative that this true ‘window of opportunity’ is between 3 and 6 years. If the capacity of this group is fully strengthened one can ensure long-term benefits not just for each individual child but also for the larger community as well. It thus goes without emphasising that ECCE must be best designed based on the fact that young children respond best when ECCE educators are bestowed with equipped infrastructure, appropriate resources and needed financial and psychological stability.   

The able administration of Goa State has well realised that a challenge for designing a qualitative ECCE is providing adequate infrastructural space. This is a great challenge across lengths and breadth of the country. The important component of the ECCE, the anganwadis in the country look after the children till they attain school-going age and are boon for busy working and mostly migrant parents who drop their children for around four hours daily. The problem, however, is that they are housed in small poorly-ventilated rented rooms and mostly function without the supply of electricity, basic amenities, lack toilets and kitchen to cook food. Moreover, instead of teachers, the helpers are often found attending the children.   

The problem of ill-infrastructure is also true for Goa as well, though not as acute as in many other Indian States. The discussion on online platform, http://goa.panchayatraj.net for instance, on the 17th of December 2018 cites an interesting story of the 177 anganwadis among the 30 villages in the coastal taluka of Salcete. It was found that out of 84 among the total were attended by two to six-year-old children but housed in small rooms, often rented ones and pushing anganwadi teachers and workers to explore different options to answer nature’s call.   

Even if the above example might have been a reality of the past and things improving now, one could easily extrapolate the situation in other States of India. Anganwadi structures with crumbling walls, damaged floors and open ceilings are a common sight around the country. The conditions are further worse if such centres are run from rented private premises with low rent paid to the owners and kitchens and with toilets more conspicuous by absence.   

On a welcome note, Goa Government has proposed to build 100 new aganwadis equipped with the best of the facilities required to provide children with a healthy environment to develop and grow. The Goa government has rightly realised that some anganwadis do not have their own independent premises, operate from primary government schools and that some do not have teachers or helpers very often operated by a single person. Minister Rane has also declared his intentions of providing better facilities in these anganwadis on par with private play schools, so that children of all sections have access to better facilities. Also, there are plans to introduce e-learning facilities in these centres to enable teachers impart education to children with new techniques.   

Towards facilitating use of the e-learning resources, smart phones were recently distributed to the anganwadi workers in Goa to enable creation of a database of children, their nutrition and other landmarks in child development. This initiative intends to create synergy, ensure better monitoring, issue alerts for timely action and to encourage the State to achieve the targeted goals as per the vision of Prime Minister in stipulated time period.   

Taking yet another step ahead, the Goa State government has also recently announced that about 2,300 anganwadi teachers will benefit from five additional years of service with the retirement age being raised from 60 to 65 years. This step on par with Maharashtra and Karnataka will certainly pave way in financially empowering the humble teachers and motivate them to play a key role in the all round development of children, which is a basic foundation in the education sector.   

The other recent and important intervention for ECCE in Goa is the State’s Directorate of Women and Child Development taking a lead to implement a systemic capacity-building initiative called as ICDS Leadership Programme (ILP) for the anganwadis. For this purpose the State Government has recently signed a MoU with a Pune-based voluntary organisation, Centre for Learning Resources, having experience active in the area of ECCE for more than three decades. This intervention is planned for all staff across the State for 1,250 anganwadis, with an aim to develop their leadership skills and enhance the quality of educational inputs delivered to children of 3-6 years of age in Goa.   

It is hoped that the four major interventions by the Government of Goa to improve the quality of ECCE in the State will not only impart quality education to the children at grassroots level, but also eliminate discrimination regarding educational facilities in rural and urban areas.   

Well done Dr Sawant, and Mr Vishwajit Rane!   

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