It focuses on re-structuring the Integrated Child Development Services scheme
With the aim of providing integrated services for the holistic development of all children from the prenatal period to six years, the government has proposed a National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy that 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. All service providers will have to be registered with the State governments to ensure quality of services provided.
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.
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, observes the draft policy put out by the Ministry of Women and Child Development Ministry.
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 policy seeks to universalise the provision of ECCE for all children, mainly through the ICDS scheme in the public sector and other service provisions across systems. The Anganwadi Centre would be repositioned as a “vibrant child-friendly Early Childhood Development Centre” with adequate infrastructure and resources for ensuring a continuum of the ECCE in a life-cycle approach and child-related outcomes. Conversion of AWCs into AWCs-cum-crèches with a planned early stimulation component and interactive environment for children below 3 years will be piloted. Young children with different abilities would be reached out to. Service-delivery models will be experimented for family, community, and NGOs.
To standardise the quality of ECCE available to children, basic quality standards and specifications will be laid down valid across public, private and voluntary sectors. A Regulatory Framework for the ECCE to ensure basic quality inputs and outcomes, across all service providers undertaking such services, will be progressively evolved at the national level and implemented by States in the next five years.
A developmentally appropriate National Curriculum Framework for the ECCE will be developed. It will promote play-based, experiential and child-friendly provision for early education and all-round development.
To sustain the multi-sectoral and inter-agency collaboration, a thematic ECCE Committee with experts will be formed under the ICDS Mission Steering Group initially and later formed as a National ECCE Council, with corresponding councils at the State level, and later at the district level. The council will be the apex body to guide and oversee the implementation of the policy as well as keep ECCE programmes consistent with the National ECCE Policy.