Early Childhood Education: Importance & India Perspective

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Early Childhood Education and Care: Growing up in India

India has a long tradition of valuing the early years of a child’s life, and a rich heritage of cultural practices for stimulating development and inculcating value system and social skills in children. Indians had realized very early on the importance of early childhood education and care. These early childhood education and care practices were primarily set in the context of joint families, through traditional childcare and child-rearing practices, which were commonly shared and passed on from one generation to another. However, there has been a major transition in the family structure as well as socio-cultural context in the last three decades in India. These changes have necessitated the need for us to re-evaluate our approach to early childhood education and care.

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In contemporary urban India, the concept of a joint family has become a statistical aberration. It is quite common to find families in which both the parents are working professionals. Parents raising their children in such nuclear families are increasingly dependent on child care centres, preschool programs and other community-based early learning settings for providing their children with a stimulating and nurturing learning environment. It is important to parents to take charge of their child’s early development. Blindly relying on support systems for your child’s early development is not a wise idea. Parents should remember that early childhood development and education largely happens outside of the walls of the playschool.

Whether you are sending your child to a formal institution like a preschool or you believe in the philosophy that early education is best imparted in a natural setting like home, you as a parent should be well informed about the broad objectives and methodology of early age education.

In this blog, we try to understand why the early childhood education is essential, analyze the development of the human brain in early years and its correlation with early age learning, lay down the core objectives of early childhood education and finally end with a list developmental goals for children under 3 years and 3-6 years.

Early Childhood Education in India: A brief history

Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhi, Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Gijubhai Badheka and Tarabai Modak were among the earliest and most influential thinkers in modern India who realized the importance of early childhood care and education and helped conceptualize a child-centric approach to early childhood development. They believed that education yields maximum benefits if it begins at birth.[1]

  • Tagore and Gandhi believed that children have a natural instinct to learn and they should be allowed to learn on their own from their natural surroundings.
  • Tagore also claimed that music, art and poetry are essential to the overall development of children and children should be encouraged to pursue these from an early age.
  • Gandhi developed the concept of ‘Nai Taleem’, which was the first major initiative towards early childhood education in India. He was against the textbook culture and an exam-oriented approach to education.
  • Tarabai Modak, a pioneer in pre-school education in India evolved a simple Anganwadi (a courtyard or open school) format for pre-school.

In more recent times, scholars in the fields of developmental psychology and child development have emphasized, based on scientific research, that playing and interacting is the child’s natural modes of learning and that living in multiple social and cultural contexts also positively influences children’s learning and development.

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Early childhood: different modes of learning

A basic tenet of early childhood care and education is that learning is an active and interactive process in which children learn through play and through interaction. When children are actively engaged in their social and cultural experiences, they constantly adjust and use new information to make sense of their experiences.

Importance of Early Childhood Education
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Positive environment for early childhood learning is important

Infancy and early childhood are important stages in brain development. From birth to six years children constantly develop the skills necessary not only for speaking, writing and walking but also for social interaction and self-awareness. According to one research, there are a few critical periods during brain development, particularly for the development of binocular vision, emotional control, habitual ways of responding, language and literacy, symbols and relative quality, all of which can impact on school learning and achievement. [2]

During these critical periods, a child must get the required stimulation from the environment which would help to establish the neural pathways for optimal development of these faculties. Stimulation in this context means, exposure to a positive environment for growth and development which is characterized by quality interactions with the primary caregivers that are developmentally appropriate, provision of opportunities for play-based problem solving with other children and development of a sense of security in the child. [3] Once these critical periods are passed, while it may be possible to still develop the brain’s capacity for those particular skills, it becomes difficult to achieve full potential.

Core Objectives of Early Childhood Care and Education

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Renowned American Pediatrician Dr T. Barry Brazelton said, “A Child’s experiences in the first months and years of life determine whether he or she will enter school eager to learn or not. By school age, family and caregivers have already prepared the child for success or failure. The community has already helped or hindered the family’s capacity to nurture the child’s development”. [4]

Early Childhood Care and Education should aim to facilitate optimum development of the child’s full potential and lay the foundation for all round development and lifelong learning.

Ira Resources To Set up Early Learning at Home

Below we post the core objective and developmental goals as mentioned in India’s National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) policy document.

5 Core objectives of Early Childhood Care and Education are: [5]

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  1. Enable a sound foundation for physical and motor development of each child- as per each child’s potential.
  2. Enable children for effective communication and foster both receptive and expressive language
  3. Stimulate intellectual curiosity and develop conceptual understanding of the world around by providing opportunities to explore, investigate and experiment
  4. Enhance development of pro-social skills, social competence and emotional wellbeing
  5. Develop a sense of aesthetic appreciation and stimulate creative learning processes.

Early Childhood Care and Education Developmental Milestone Goals:

It is not enough for parents to be only vary of the age-appropriate developmental milestones. Parents should also keep an eye out for the milestones goals related to early childhood education.

It can help parents to validate the efficacy of the program or to see if the environment at your home is conducive to learning, and take timely actions in case of undesirable outcomes.

Birth to Three Years
Sensory and Perceptual Development:  
  • Development of the five senses through visual, auditory, olfactory and kinesthetic experiences. Learning to control and coordinate their reflexes
  • Coordination of sensory perceptions and simple motor behaviours
  • Display awareness of location and spatial relationship
Physical, Health and Motor Development:
  • Developing coordination and control of large motor muscles
  • Developing strength and coordination of small motor muscles
  • Integrating the movements of many parts of their body
  • Developing a sense of balance in movement
  • Begin to display personal hygiene skills
  • Recognize the importance of safety rules
Language Development:
  • Begin to develop active listening skills
  • Use expressive and receptive communication skills
  • Develop vocabulary and use language to engage in conversations.
  • Develop verbal and non-verbal communication skills
  • Display emergent literacy skills (preparing children to read and write): such as identify and differentiate sounds, phonological awareness; print awareness and concepts; recognition of letters; letter- sound correspondence; building words and sentences.
  • Display the use of prewriting skills (scribbling, marking, drawing, etc.)
Cognitive Development:

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  • Development of object permanence (know that objects have substance, maintain their identities when they change location, and continue to exist when out of sight)
  • Development of perceptual categorization based on how things look, feel, and taste
  • Development of memory for objects, people and events
  • Begin to develop vocabulary and skill related (comparing, classification, seriation; space, quantity, length, counting etc.)
  • Develop skills related to observing, reasoning and problem solving
Development of Creative and Aesthetic Appreciation:
  • Begin to represent objects, events and ideas in the form of drawing, clay modelling and other art forms
  • Develop expression, enjoyment and disposition for music and movement
Personal, Social and Emotional Development:
  • Display awareness of their abilities, preferences and characteristics
  • Development of self-concept; self-control; self-help skills;
  • Develop initiative and curiosity; independence and autonomy;
  • Display awareness of behavior and its effects
  • Display increased attention span, engagement and persistence in daily activities
  • Emergence of pretend play and use of objects as representation
  • Develop a friendship with peers, show cooperation and participate in group activities
  • Development of attachment, and emotional bonding with adults
  • Develop empathy, learn to control feelings and express emotions in a relevant manner

Three to Six Years
Sensory and Perceptual Development:
  • Demonstrate the use of different senses (sight, hear, feel, taste, smell) to guide movements and recognize objects
  • Awareness of space and direction, distance, quantity etc.
Physical Health and Motor Development:
  • Developing coordination and control of large motor muscles
  • Developing strength and coordination of small motor muscles
  • Demonstrate the use of body with a proper sense of space and direction
  • Coordination of fine muscles with dexterity; eye-hand coordination
  • Developing sense of balance, physical co-ordination
  • Display healthy habits, personal care and hygiene.
  • Display ability to follow safety rules, make choices and avoid danger
Language Development:
  • Develop Listening and Comprehension skills
  • Use expressive and receptive communication skills
  • Develop effective verbal and non-verbal communication skills
  • Develop vocabulary and use language for a variety of purposes.
  • Display emergent literacy skills and love for reading (preparing children to read and write): such as identify and differentiate sounds, phonological awareness; print awareness and concepts; recognition of letters; letter-sound correspondence; segmentation, building words and sentences and early writing.
  • Demonstrate interest and ability in writing
Cognitive Development:
  • Development of various concepts including pre-number and number concepts and operations (knowledge and skills related to comparing, classification, seriation; understanding of space, quantity, length and volume, one to one correspondence; counting etc.)
  • Predicting patterns and making estimations in measurement; data handling;
  • Develop skills related to sequential thinking, critical thinking, observing, reasoning and problem solving
  • Explore the physical, social and natural environment by manipulating objects, asking questions, making predictions and developing generalizations.
Development of Creative and Aesthetic Appreciation:

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  • Representing objects, events and ideas in the form of drawing, clay modelling and other art forms
  • Develop expression, enjoyment and disposition for music and movement
  • Demonstrate creativity with materials
Personal, Social and Emotional Development:
  • Development of self-concept, self-control, self-help and life skills;
  • Develop initiative and curiosity in new experiences and learning
  • Developing a sense of independence and autonomy;
  • Display awareness of abilities and preferences appreciates similarities and differences in people and awareness of behaviour and its actions
  • Displays relevant and appropriate habit formation, increased attention span, engagement and persistence in daily activities
  • Develop interpersonal skills with respect to peers, family, teachers and community
  • Display behaviours of cooperation; compassion; social relationships; group interaction; prosocial behaviour; expressing feelings, accepting other feelings
  • Develop the ability to adapt and control emotions

Although the parents today have greater access to knowledge than ever before, they’re still susceptible to misinformation. This is especially true in the realm of early childhood education where untruths spread like wildfire from one parent to another. Many parents have multiple misconceptions about early childhood education programs like preschools, child care centres etc. [6]

Here is a brief write-up about what is Early Childhood Education Program and what it is NOT.

Early Childhood Education is:
  • A balanced play and activity based program which provides a stimulating environment for the language, intellectual, social-emotional and physical development of the child.
  • A child centred program catering to individual children’s learning and emotional needs through individual, small and large group activities and one to one communication.
  • Lays the foundation for the development of reading, writing and number work.
  • A school readiness program which ‘readies’ children for learning to read, write and do arithmetic later.
  • A program which indirectly promotes self-control and thereby inner discipline
Early Childhood Education is:
  • NOT a syllabus bound program for teaching 3R’s (reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic) nor ‘a song and a rhyme and go home’ approach.
  • NOT a teacher-centred program that follows formal classroom approach as in school
  • NOT a downward extension of the Primary Grades
  • NOT a program which demands unquestioning obedience or exercises strict classroom discipline
  • NOT a program to conduct tests to know how children are learning and developing.
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