Dedicated to shaping nascent minds

Lack of instruction in English, status consciousness, hobbling public Early Childhood Education institutions

December 16, 2016 01:45 am | Updated December 04, 2021 10:49 pm IST - Kochi

A scene at an anganwadi in Kochi.

A scene at an anganwadi in Kochi.

Three-year-old Rohan switches between Hindi and Malayalam. Born to parents who hail from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, Hindi is his mother tongue but it is Malayalam that he uses to communicate with his peer group in the Kochi city Anganwadi that he attends for pre-primary education.

Reassuring to him is the presence of his grandmother Geetha sitting in a corner of the rather nondescript classroom. For someone who had settled down in Kochi three decades ago and had sent all her seven children to the same Anganwadi, Malayalam comes as easily as Hindi.

In fact, the Anganwadi of the Integrated Child Development Services programme based in the Gandhi Nagar area in the heart of Kochi city has, over the years, introduced generations of children of both migrant and local families in the vicinity to learning.

There was a time when it attracted about 50 children in a single batch before the number plummeted, thanks to mushrooming private English-medium pre-schools.

“It has got nothing to do with the quality of learning and teaching or the content but everything to do with people’s false notion of status,” observed teacher Girija V.K., at the Anganwadi.

She must know, as the ease with which she took the children through various concepts and themes through song and action packed session reflected all her experience spanning over 30 years. Keenly watching her grandchild being taken through lessons, Kausalya would vouch for the quality of teaching at the Anganwadi. Anupriya was the fifth of her grandchildren to learn at the same Anganwadi like her two children years ago.

“We are happy with the progress made by our child here. It’s not for monetary reasons alone we have chosen the Anganwadi over numerous private preschools,” said Reena, Anupriya’s mother.

A curriculum calendar listing three separate themes to be taught each month has been published and teachers are given training on how to go about it. For instance, the themes for November are Children’s Day, insects and birds, all of which would be taught through action songs and stories.

To further assist the learning process, the government this year distributed a workbook by the name 'Anganapoomazha,' incorporating all the themes for Anganwadi students to learn and practise what they learned.

Nevertheless, some apprehensions remain over the lack of English learning at Anganawadis as confided by Suresh V. Shenoy, who was otherwise satisfied over the overall development of his son Navadarshan. That concern was also a reason he has decided to send his son to a CBSE school once out of the Anganwadi.

“We teach them alphabets and words but stop short of giving them writing practice since our methods may differ with the methods to be adopted by schools,” said Ms. Girija.

The absence of English, however, was not the sole problem. An even more pressing issue was the lack of funds and decent pay to staff.

Funds for organising various programmes are often raised through donations. For instance, the Anganwadi at Gandhi Nagar got a facelift and was upgraded from a mere shed to a concrete building in the early 1990s thanks to the support of people.

For spending quality time grooming the next generation during their most formative years, an ECE teacher is paid Rs. 7,800 collectively by the Central and State governments in a month and the teacher’s helper Rs. 5,550.

Ms. Girija will retire in April taking pride in her wealth of students over three decades. But the pay for performing such a noble service is unlikely to be something she would be proud of.

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