Many activists want play homes to come under the RTE

Thrilled that your neighbourhood has a new day-care centre to which you can send your toddler without much stress? If you are a parent looking for the nearest day-care centre to admit your child, look carefully. Among the unchecked, unregulated number of private play homes are those that are being run by persons with no clue about childcare.

With the absence of any norms for standardisation or certification, or an Act or a single agency in place, child rights activists are a worried lot. So much so that now, a significant number of them want the Government to include play schools within the ambit of the Right to Education Act (RTE).

The argument is that if RTE has to come into force fully, compulsory early child education has to be enforced. For this, RTE has to include the three to six age group too.

The Public Affairs Foundation, supported by United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), has conducted a study on the present scenario for the Karnataka Child Rights Commission. The yet-to-be-released study, meant to be a baseline to support this demand , only reaffirms the facts.

Piush Anthony, Social Policy Officer, UNICEF, said that in Karnataka, there are nearly seven different departments and agencies running day-care centres. “There is no standard curriculum, and absolutely no standardisation. Most are seeding centres with no early education,” she said.

Nina P. Naik, chairperson, State Child Rights Protection Commission, said no approval or registration is required to start play homes, which is why there is no form of monitoring.

Sita Shekhar, Executive Director of the Public Affairs Foundation, explained that in the course of the year-long study (2010-11), they did a mapping of centres run by the Women and Child Development Department, Social Welfare Department, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), anganwadi centres, and those under the Factories Act, 1948, among others. Bangalore Urban and Kolar districts were covered. Of them, they discovered that very few catered to the below six months age group — the one that really requires such centres.

In addition, most of them are more accented towards providing nutrition and day care, not education.

Meena Sivaraman, Director of Bright Vistas Day Care, has been in the business for 19 years, and has five corporate companies among her list of clientele. With no norms in India, she has been following the standards set by U.S.-based National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

“One of the prescribed standards is that of child-to-care giver ratio. For children aged less than one, the ratio is one care giver for every three babies, plus a helper. For ages one and two, it is one is to four. In India, even in high-end chains, the ratio is one is to 10 or even 20 children.”

The fee charged is whimsical too. In some high-end centres, the monthly fee is as high as Rs. 8,000.

“Some centres want the entire fees to be deposited at the time of admissions. So, dissatisfied parents cannot even pull out their children from them,” Ms. Sivaraman pointed out.