New Early Childhood Education Report Explores Opportunities for Improving Curriculum and Classroom Resources

Key Highlights:

Study conducted across 200 ECE Classrooms in seven States in India

The Report examines causes behind low learning outcomes in 3-6 years age group of children

The low priority given to ECE is reflected in budgetary proposal and outlays

Report highlights lack of consistent on-ground support to deliver quality ECE across the country

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The limited utilisation of play-based materials and workbooks impacts student learning opportunities

Central Square Foundation (CSF), a leading non-profit in Indias primary and pre-primary education sector released a report titled Building Strong Foundations: Examining Early Childhood Education in India. The report stems from an in-depth Situational Analysis Study conducted across 200 Early Childhood Education (ECE) classrooms in India aimed at validating existing research data and identifying opportunities for enhancing ECE programmes, shed light on crucial aspects that call for urgent and immediate action.

Early Childhood Education (ECE) in India Report by Central Square Foundation

Recognising the imperative need for research on programmatic factors affecting the quality of ECE, CSF delved into the intricacies of the ECE ecosystem across select States. The primary and secondary research looked at aspects of ECE delivery including curriculum design, teaching-learning time, effectiveness of learning, teacher training, monitoring quality, and parental perception.

The report advocates for prompt remedial actions to address these gaps and ensure a robust learning foundation for young students. It further aims to understand the current models of public provisioning of ECE in India, study different aspects of delivery that affect learning in the classrooms and outline the way forward for other stakeholders within the ECE ecosystem. For this Study, CSF reached out to a mix of Anganwadis, co-located Anganwadis, and pre-primary sections in government primary schools (either as 1-year or 2-year pre-primary programme) between March – May, 2023, across seven states – Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Telangana & Uttar Pradesh. The survey analysis was partly supported by Key Education Foundation, a non-profit working in the space of early childhood education, which conducted research on classroom curriculum analysis on pedagogy, ease of use and teaching-learning resources.

The report recognises the global outlook and progressive nature of India’s ECE policies while at the same time it observes that the country’s early learning outcomes are sub-par. The Report recognises the need for “Play-based learning” as a fundamental curriculum for children to learn faster & effectively. The Report also reveals the need for classroom resources to be more user-friendly to promote their usage among children.

Among the key “classroom-based observations“, it was found that time spent on ECE activities was low. Zero ECE activities were observed in 23% of the ECE classrooms that were sampled. In classrooms where an ECE activity took place, it was found that these activities accounted for only an average of 35 minutes out of a two-hour observation period. There was also very little time for hands-on activities and practice by children. Only 14% of the observed ECE activities followed the recommended approach of carrying out age-appropriate and student-led small-group interactions. Interviews with monitoring stakeholders and teachers suggest that officials face competing priorities and don’t have access to reliable ECE data.Strengthening monitoring protocols for ECE is crucial, as few officials observe teachers, indicating a need for enhanced ECE-specific feedback.

The report recognises that the onus of delivering pre-school education rests with two government ministries (the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Women and Child Development) which has led to diffused responsibility, ownership, accountability, collaboration and support in the sector. This approach has often resulted in duplicated efforts that have proven counterproductive, adversely affecting ECE quality and learning outcomes.

It also underlines the low priority given to ECE, reflected in the budgetary proposals and outlays by both ministries.This is also evident in the availability of dedicated teachers for ECE classrooms, especially in government primary schools. Further, the utilisation of the funds also remains low.

Speaking at the release of the report, Shaveta Sharma-Kukreja, CEO and MD of CSF, emphasised, “The future of ECE in India hinges on addressing systemic challenges and operational hurdles to effectively implement well-crafted policies. Despite their forward-looking nature, these policies struggle to translate into optimal student learning outcomes and school readiness. Elevating the status of ECE and allocating increased financial resources are critical steps in that direction. Enhanced policy implementation aligns with Sustainable Development Goals and the NIPUN Bharat Mission, ensuring improved learning outcomes for all children.”

Key recommendations from the Report:

Synergy between Ministries: To achieve ECE-specific goals in the country, collaboration between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Women and Child Development is vital.

Increase Funding: There is a need to increase ECE-specific funding with clear priorities for yearly expenses, and incentivise states to meet their ECE goals.

Strengthen data systems and build a robust monitoring framework to get reliable data on critical ECE indicators for Anganwadis and Balvatikas/ pre-primary classrooms in government schools.

Promote parental awareness and encourage them to actively champion for quality education. Equip parents with essential tools, resources and guidance to actively engage in at-home learning activities.

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