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India set to unveil new guidelines for Anganwadi centres

Jul 28, 2017

Preceding the new guidelines, a new UNICEF report recommends a regulatory system for early childhood education in India.

New Delhi: India is all set to unveil new nutritional guidelines for its mother-child care centres (Anganwadi centres) by the end of this month. Anganwadi centres are part of the Integrated Child Development Scheme under the department of Women and Child Development.

Rakesh Srivastava, Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, said that the new nutritional guidelines being launched for Anganwadis will also give an option to the Anganwadi centres to prepare food recipes from the locally available food like coarse grains for better providing better nutrition to women and children at affordable rates.

Srivastava also spoke about shifting Anganwadis working from rented accommodations to primary schools. He said that most of the Anganwadis don't have their own buildings and work out of rented premises. “Anganwadi workers will work out of primary government schools. It is a kind of convergence model where headmasters or principals will oversee these Anganwadis. This will help Anganwadis in overcoming the challenge of infrastructure,” he said.

Srivastava was responding to media queries at the launch of of a new report on the Indian Early Childhood Education Impact, a five-year longitudinal research study that followed a cohort of 14,000 four year olds from age 4 to age 8 in rural areas of three states of India: Assam, Rajasthan and Telangana.

The report was launched by UNICEF, in partnership with the Centre for Early Childhood Education and Development (CECED), Ambedkar University, Delhi, and Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Centre.

The report reveals that a majority of four-year-olds are attending preschool, either through government-run Anganwadi Centres or private preschools. However, they do not necessarily participate in preschool and primary school at the ages and in the order that policies prescribe, and therefore there are children below the age of six in primary school and children above age six in preschool in some states.

According to the report, even one year of participation in a quality early childhood development programme leads to higher school readiness levels, which in turn lead to better learning outcomes in the early primary grades.

However, a key emerging concern is that most children in the study entered primary school at age of five with school readiness levels that far below expectations. They were thus unequipped to meet the demands of the curriculum and had low learning levels.

The study concludes that these low school readiness levels in children have an obvious relation to the quality of preschool education. Existing Models commonly available across the country, do not use age and developmentally appropriate curriculum, methods and materials to engage children. It identifies formal teaching of the 3 Rs – reading, writing, and arithmetic, as detrimental to children’s development.

Given the impact of preschool education on children’s outcomes in primary education, the study recommends the inclusion of pre-primary education as an integral part of the Right to Education Act.

Since age is a significant factor influencing children's school readiness and learning levels, the study further recommends ensuring that children begin primary education only when they are developmentally ready, adhering to the norms of school entry as per the RTE Act, which requires that children begin grade first at the age of six.

The report underlines the importance of a flexible, play-based foundational curriculum for three to eight-year-olds along a continuum, for a seamless transition from pre-primary to primary education. To ensure quality, the study recommends that activities conducted in preschool programmes be age and developmentally appropriate, with well-trained frontline workers and teachers practicing child-centered pedagogy.

There must also be adequate and appropriate learning materials available, and outreach to parents and families to support their children’s learning. The study further recommends that a regulatory system be instituted for early childhood education, to ensure quality standards are adhered to across all providers, including in the private sector.

UNICEF Deputy Representative, Henriette Ahrens said “Early childhood education is critical in laying a strong foundation for lifelong learning and holistic development. This research provides robust evidence that investments in promoting quality early childhood education are essential to achieving better learning outcomes in the early primary grades.”

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