Aims and Objectives of the National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy
The Union Cabinet recently approved the following proposals of the National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy. The policy covers children under six years of age. It has three principal objectives, which are:
- To implement and monitor of the Policy through National and State ECCE Councils;
- To develop National Early Childhood Care and Education Curriculum Framework and Quality Standards and circulate to the States/Union Territories for preparation of Action Plans and implementation by States /uts; and
- To delegate of power to the Ministry of Women and Child Development to make necessary changes
The Policy aims to help 158.7 million Indian children under six years of age who need holistic and integrated early childhood care. In particular it would enable preschool education inputs for their optimum development to realize their potential.
The Union Ministry of Women and Child Development is the nodal Ministry to implement the National ECCE Policy.
Provisions of the National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy
The vision of the National ECCE Policy is to promote inclusive, equitable and contextualized opportunities for promoting optimal development and active learning capacity of all children below 6 years of age. The Policy focus is on early preschool learning for every child below six years.
This ECCE policy will cover all early childhood care and education programmes and related services in public, private and voluntary sectors in all settings across regions. These services include anganwadis (AWC), crèches, play schools, preschools, nursery schools, kindergartens, preparatory schools, balwadis, and home-based care.
The key areas of this policy are:
- Universal access with equity and inclusion,
- Quality in ecce,
- Strengthening capacity,
- Monitoring and supervision,
- Research and review.
More specifically, the policy also includes standards like:
- An ECCE programme for three-four hours
- One classroom for a group of 30 children measuring at least 35 square meters and with the availability of a minimum outdoor space of 30 square meters
- Separate space for cooking nutritionally balanced meals and nap time for children
- Caregiver and student ratio of 1:20 for children between three-six years and 1:10 for under three years
- Primary medium of instruction will be mother tongue or local language
The curriculum framework mandated by the policy provides the broad guidelines to develop age and developmentally-appropriate curriculum suited to local needs and focussed on non-formal preschool learning as against rote learning. Each ECCE programme is expected to develop its own curriculum to meet the needs of its children, their families, the specific setting, linguistic culture and local community.
Plans are afoot that the National ECCE Council will be created, to implement and monitor the policy, within three months of the policy’s notification. The ECCE curriculum framework and quality standards will be developed within six months.
Significance of the policy
Early childhood is acknowledged as the most crucial period in a person’s life, when the rate of development is very high and foundations are laid for cumulative lifelong learning and human development. There is growing scientific evidence that the development of the brain in the early years is a pathway that affects physical and mental health, learning and behaviour throughout the life cycle.
The National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy lays down the way forward for a comprehensive approach towards ensuring a sound foundation for every child. India has 158.7 million children in the 0-6 age group as per the 2011 Census.
Broadly, the policy focuses on re-structuring the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme and integrating early childhood education with the Right to Education Act to ensure a smooth transition into formal schooling.
Despite the existence of multiple service provisions, there is no reliable data available about the actual number of children attending the existing ECCE provisions and their break-up as per the delivery of services. Of the 158.7 million children in the below-six-years category, about 75.7 million children — 48 per cent — are reported to be covered under the ICDS scheme. Broad estimations indicate that a significant number is also covered by the private sector, besides some limited coverage by the NGO sector, for which there is no data available.
The quality of non-formal preschool or early childhood care and education imparted through these multiple channels is uneven, and varies from a minimalist approach to a mushrooming of accelerated academic programmes. This is largely an outcome of an inadequate understanding of the concept of ECCE, its philosophy and its importance among all stakeholders. This — coupled with inadequate institutional capacity in the system and an absence of standards, regulatory norms and mechanisms as well as a lack of understanding of the basic premise of ECCE — has aggravated the problem.
It may be hoped that the ECCE Policy will help improve the present situation and standardise the quality of ECCE available to children.