It’s not just the educationists who are thinking about education. Leaders in every realm, politics, technology, welfare, and of course historians are thinking actively about education. That’s really how important it is.
I’m going to begin by connecting a few dots. Let’s begin with Yuval Noah Harari’s new book ‘Unstoppable Us’, which is his version of ‘Sapiens’ for children. He says in the book that “ we (humans)are unstoppable. But what made us so? Well, we have the most amazing superpower: the ability to tell stories. Fairy tales have led us from imagining ghosts and spirits to being able to create money (yes, really!).”
If we extend this idea of storytelling to the ‘stories’ we tell our children- the potential and power of ECCE begin to emerge. And the responsibility of it too. This excites me enormously.
Here in India, as I visit various states and meet the implementers who are serving the people, I am delighted to see that they are conscious and cognizant of this responsibility. Connect this with the principle of universality: ‘Leave No One Behind’ that sits at the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by 193 Member States at the UN General Assembly Summit in September 2015- and you have a prescription for creating a new generation that both honors its past and imagines a new future. This will drive economic growth driven by fair and equal societies.
When I partnered with India’s top administrators to write the Pencil Power Report, we took a solution-centric approach. Because no one needed to be reminded of just the problems. The report contains key recommendations on how to make ECCE inclusive.
Let me highlight three of them here:
- ECCE must be made a constitutional right: ECCE must be made a constitutional right to care, assist, and education for all children, including those from birth till the age of six (and now early learning continuum unto age 8.)
In addition, given the fragmented framework and issues of lack of universality in standards, monitoring, and coordination, the creation of a statutory body that will lay down ‘minimum universal standards for quality of services, facilities and infrastructure to be put in place across all schemes (including Creche) and provisions relating to early childhood. The same must be examined and adopted with appropriate accommodation on diversity in context and cultures.
- Use more technology in ECCE: I cannot emphasize this enough! In all three areas- the training of teachers and other staff, imparting lessons to children as well as auditing the performance of the system itself, technology is the BIG enabler. All States/UTs must upload the essential ECCE materials on their website (in the appropriate language) and simultaneously must approve, print, and provide the same in each ECCE center.
Further, every state can monitor and grade its preschool education centers ( govt, NGO, private -all) and fulfill and monitor the ECCE standards and key indicators. The center in turn can audit states on whether they have filled up all vacancies, critical being teacher, helper, and supervisor, and also on whether they have trained them.
- Social upliftment of ECCE: ECCE centers must focus exclusively on early childhood education and development programs. Neither the teachers nor the caregivers must be involved in other unrelated works. Every preschool unit must have a separate helper and a separate teacher.
There is a need to rationalize pay structures for all levels of ECCE staff and teachers to recognize them and also to motivate and enhance their commitment. They must also enjoy social support and the respect of the community. Such a vibrant ECCE center would enhance women’s participation in work and help in their empowerment and also that of veterans who can be an excellent assistance framework.
The above imperatives will set the wheels in motion for inclusive ECCE. After all, an inclusive education model encompasses more than just focusing on children with disabilities or specially gifted children. It also means finding the right tools for learning and incorporating different ways of teaching to keep children actively engaged. Every child is different and so are their learning capabilities, it’s vital to care for every child – regardless of where or to whom they have been born.
Like most really important priorities, education is also a systemic one. There are cultural, infrastructural, social, and emotional aspects to it. This multiplies the challenge because an entire ecosystem has to see this as a priority and understand its role in it. That would be truly inclusive.