The implications of the National Education Education Policy on Early Childhood Education
Ninety percent of the brain’s neural connections happen by the age of 6 years and therefore focussing on Early Childhood Education is vital not only to the proper cognitive, emotional and physical growth of kindergarten children, but also to help create responsible citizens which in turn will change the moral and social fabric of society as a whole.The National Education Policy focuses on the role of elementary education, comprising schooling for the age group 3 to 6 years. Here’s more on this.
One of the most defining agencies of change in society is education. Many western governments have recognized this fact and invested heavily in education very early on. After about 34 years India reassessed its educational policy and formulated the National Education Policy (NEP) in July, 2020.
A review that was long overdue
The National Education Policy of India 2020 is a significant policy document laying the national-level strategy for the new millennium. It is ambitious and claims universal access to quality education as its key aim, keeping with the Sustainable Development Goal 4 of the United Nations Agenda 2030. One of the highlights of the NEP is its emphasis on mother tongue education at the primary levels in both state and privately owned schools. This policy focuses on both rural and urban education in India and seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for students across India.
One of the most redeeming features of this policy is that for the first time it includes Elementary Education in its folds; an area that was hitherto completely neglected.
Although the policy has been widely debated and a well-defined plan or structure of implementation is missing, the focus in this article will be on the role of elementary education, comprising schooling for the age group 3 to 6 years, which has been highlighted in the policy.
Importance of Early Childhood Education
That a nurturing and scientifically planned curriculum in the Early Years is paramount to the holistic development of children has been overlooked by government agencies as well as parents in India is a disconcerting truth. Ninety percent of the brain’s neural connections happen by the age of 6 years and therefore focussing on Early Childhood Education is vital not only to the proper cognitive, emotional and physical growth of kindergarten children, but also to help create responsible citizens which in turn will change the moral and social fabric of society as a whole.
Time and again, the importance of Early Childhood learning has been accentuated by educationists like Maria Montessori and Friedrich Froebel, yet it remains an area that has been vastly undermined. The National Educational Policy reiterates the importance of Early Childhood Education and recommends focusing on the development of literacy and numeracy skills in children of the Early Years.
Currently the schools in urban areas focus on teaching English and/or the regional language alphabet, but there is no common structure or curriculum followed and is vastly planned by individual schools in alignment with the aspirations of the parent community. The rural anganwadis stick mainly to rudimentary songs and stories and little is done to keep children motivated and engaged.
NEP recommendations for the early years
Taking into cognisance the importance of a structure in the pre-primary and primary years of education, the NEP envisages a five year programme which includes grades one and two in the plan. In structure, Nursery, LKG, UKG, Grade 1 and Grade 2 will be considered part of a comprehensive five year plan for Early Childhood. In practice this means that grades one and two, which normally see a steep curve in content delivery, will see a more child friendly approach. On paper this is a potentially powerful plan, but the secret lies in its implementation.
Implementation of ECE
The NEP has submitted a plan to include the three R’s viz. reading, writing and arithmetic in its Early Childhood Education policy. A planning committee has been constituted and curriculum development planning is underway.
The NEP has submitted a plan to include the three R’s viz. reading, writing and arithmetic in its Early Childhood Education policy. A planning committee has been constituted and curriculum development planning is underway. There is need for speed however, as India’s sustainable development goal 4 pertains to providing quality pre-primary education by the year 2030 to children in the age group 3 to 6 years. This seems like a rhetorical umbrella statement now as current discussions on education still do not include ECE. Some of the major misconceptions that exist is the idea that kindergarten is not important, it is easy to teach kindergarten students and no formal training is required. Many believe that the memorization of the alphabet, tracing standing lines, sleeping lines,curves and simple reading by rote is all that comprises education at this level. But at a deeper level it encompasses a lot more. Children should be taught to make connections with the written word and the context. The phonic approach to teaching English and the association of quantity with numbers are concepts that must be ingrained very early on. Sounds have symbols which in turn join to form words and words make sentences which have meaning is an essential understanding kindergarten children must have.
Early Years education is not to be viewed casually and training of teachers must be given due impetus before kickstarting the programme.
Inclusion of grades one and two in the ECE plan
In more ways than one, including classes one and two along with the Early Years is beneficial as the results of various surveys have shown that there is a drop in motivation levels due to a huge gap in content and teaching styles when students move from kindergarten to grade one. The teachers expect miracles from these students in terms of the knowledge quotient, when the focus must be on developing self-management, communication and thinking skills. Student agency,free expression and meaningful learning engagements must take precedence in the classes.A national research institute for early teaching and learning practises must be set up immediately; the NEP council’s ECE plan must incorporate inputs from various studies and move ahead with a sense of urgency and responsibility. The need of the hour is to create awareness among all stakeholders-teachers, parents, planners and government agencies about the crucial nature of early childhood education and its far-reaching impact on India’s future.
Ajitha Radhakrishnan is Early Years Coordinator at Trivandrum International School, Kerala. She is a passionate teacher with more than 20 years’ experience teaching in schools across India in various capacities. Although she began her career teaching high school students, she found herself gravitating towards the lower classes as she felt that to build a responsible adult, a strong foundation is the most vital requirement. A true-blue International Baccalaureate person, she advocates learning by doing, providing agency to students and creating a stress free environment to draw out the best from her proteges.