MAKING EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION (ECE) A LEGAL PRIORITY
Working on a legislative framework to mandate delivery of ECE and recognise it as part of formal schooling
It is widely recognised that Early Childhood Education ('ECE') or play-based education catering to children between ages of 3-6 years is beneficial to children's learning across their lifetimes. The National Education Policy, 2020 ('NEP') acknowledged this, and set the goal of universalising equitable access to ECE by 2030. Yet, India lacks a clear legislative mandate to realise this.
The Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 only briefly references the right to pre-school education (Section 11) without establishing norms or standards for implementation, while the National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy, 2013 does not legally mandate implementation. Even the existing implementation of ECE is split between the Ministry of Women and Child Development ('MWCD') and the Ministry of Education ('MOE'), where the former runs the programme through its anganwadi centres guided by the National ECCE Policy, 2013, while the latter runs ECE classes in existing government schools.
Against this background, there is a critical need to build a holistic understanding of the current landscape of ECE delivery and the proposed mandates of various actors involved in the process. This is where Vidhi has stepped in.
Addressing the gap through evidence
Vidhi's work in the last year focused on research and advocacy for an inclusive and comprehensive ECE legislation for India. Researchers conducted surveys and interviews with over 650 households and 55 teachers in urban Maharashtra to build empirical evidence in a study titled, 'Starting from Scratch', on the delivery of ECE through state facilities during COVID-19. This continues to be one of the only studies in the Indian context to highlight challenges faced by low-income families in prioritising ECE with limited support from the State during the pandemic.
The study finds that:
- Disadvantaged households, worst hit by the pandemic, struggled to prioritise education of their children due to economic and emotional distress. Further, education of older children was prioritised over that of children in ECE.
- A blended mode of teaching proved to be most beneficial in increasing engagement of children in ECE during school closures. Specifically, this included a 'structured technological intervention', complemented by 'structured teacher support' to guide parents in using technology and helping children learn at home.
In a second study, 'Passing the Baton,' researchers studied the implications of an inadequate regulatory framework for governance of non-state providers of ECE, through an in-depth analysis of centres run by NGOs (in partnership with the state), called 'balwadis' in urban Maharashtra.
The findings include:
- A lack of clarity on the division of roles and responsibilities within partnerships between state and non-state actors running balwadis resulted in many children not receiving entitlements such as mid-day meals. Parameters and mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation of non-state actors were also lacking.
- Absence of clear norms and standards for delivery of ECE meant that no clear provisions were mandated for creating inclusive classrooms for children with disabilities, including no corresponding training for teachers.
A strong legislative framework mandating delivery of ECE is an imperative
To recognise ECE as part of formal schooling, the RTE Act, 2009 must act as a precursor to an exclusive legislation or be amended and applied to all ECE centres in India, with a focus on:
- Clear norms and standards for delivery of equitable, inclusive and high quality ECE, in line with the definitions of 'inclusive education' provided in the RTE and RPWD (The Rights of Persons with Disabilities) Acts, and a clear recognition of the roles of key stakeholders involved.
- Supplementing household expenditure on education through appropriate government schemes and benefits to enable parents to prioritise ECE.
Ongoing studies by Vidhi on a framework for inclusive ECE for children with disabilities, and on strengthening the position of ECE educators in India continue to build on this evidence bank, with clear recommendations for policy reform.
Vidhi is committed to building a conversation on the need to legislatively mandate ECE delivery and continues to share its research with a diverse range of stakeholders, including parents, teachers, school administrators, NGOs, government representatives, advocacy groups and more.
For instance, leading organisations working in this field such as Brookings Institution, Central Square Foundation, Leadership for Equity, Akanksha Foundation, and Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad have participated in discussions on Vidhi's research.
Researchers have also taken these findings to conferences at the University of Michigan, Comparative Education Society of India (CESI), Jindal School of Government and Public Policy, Lisbon Economics and Statistics of Education, and IARIW in Luxembourg.
'That you have taken a deep dive in one area and one specific geography… allows for the emergence of details which we otherwise don't get to see and hear about. On that account it is truly a report that I think would make a significant contribution in this discussion around public private partnerships.'
— Prof. Ankur Sarin,
PUBLIC SYSTEMS GROUP, INDIAN INSTITUTE OF MANAGEMENT, AHMEDABAD (ON VIDHI'S REPORT, 'PASSING THE BATON')