Educationist Reeta Sonawat on why the focus needs to shift to early childhood education

Coimbatore: Suwarna had only studied up to Class 7. She lived in a village in Maharashtra, but had to move to Mumbai after her marriage, where her husband was a peon at a restaurant. They lived in a slum, and Suwarna found it difficult to fit in, as she spoke a different dialect of Marathi. She then did a crash course in Early Childhood Education (ECE) and became a teacher in the slum where she lived. She soon became the supervisor of 12 schools, then a trainer and a master trainer. Today, she shares the stage with experts.

According to the 2001 census, 158 million children fall in the early childhood category (0-6 years). One can only imagine what it must be like in 2014. The education of these children is of utmost importance to the country’s progress, says Reeta Sonawat, a pioneer in Early Childhood Education, who was in Coimbatore recently. She has published over 50 research papers and numerous books on this subject. “There aren’t enough qualified teachers in this segment for there to be visible improvement. And, having a degree in education is not enough when dealing with younger children. Only a teacher who has had at least 700 hours of training in the physical, cognitive, aesthetic, social and emotional aspects of early childhood education, is qualified enough to teach,” maintains Dr. Sonawat. She says policy makers and educationists must understand the significance of this field and allow only those qualified to teach.

She cites Suwarna’s case. “Teachers now look up to her,” says Dr. Sonawat with pride.  

Points to ponder

Parents

Go for holistic education of the child. Today, parents focus too much on academic excellence. This prevents necessary growth in other areas. Parents who hold their children’s hand and make them write, are slowing the development of their motor skills. A child who naturally begins writing at the age of four-and-a-half will pick up things a lot faster than a child who is forced to start writing at two-and-a-half. This is because the older child will have a conceptual understanding of things. Parents need to also work with teachers. In their early years, children have a lot of energy that needs to be channelised in a positive manner. Hence, the learning and growing environment at home is as important as that at school.

Teachers

Go prepared to class. Read as much as you can, and attend in-service trainings. Dealing with children isn’t only about teaching them alphabets or numbers. It is about going beyond the Three R’s (reading, writing, arithmetic). Teachers must ensure that children explore their creativity, and begin to use their emotions and thinking. Teachers should be mere facilitators of activities, without being imposing. Teaching children is not easy; it needs to be treated like a serious profession.

Educationists

Take the early years seriously. As of now, only three Universities in India offer a Masters in Early Childhood Education (SNDT University, Jamia Milia Islamia, and Ambedkar University).

This is the right time to begin focussing on early years’ development. No marked improvement can be made until every university offers this course and gives out the appropriate training. We have enough schools; now, we need to invest in teacher training. A study has shown that proper care and education given to children at a young age leads to lesser crime during adolescence.