Early Scope

Are we preparing our children for the 21st century?

Every morning, 32 million children wake up and get ready to go to the nearest anganwadi centre - a place meant to help them develop skills to prepare them for school and for life.

Conceived in 1975 as an initiative of the government for providing early childhood care and development, the anganwadis remain the largest system in India, promising to unlock the potential of millions of minds.

As the director of Sesame Workshop India, where our mission is to help children grow smarter, stronger, and kinder, I embrace the promise of the anganwadi.

The truth is, though, that all of this human capital, all of this rich potential for a better future, is entrusted to a system that is not delivering. Multiple studies over the years and, most recently, the report by the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies and UNICEF, based on a survey of anganwadis in Karnataka, confirm that children are not receiving education in these centres, let alone receiving high-quality education.

If this is not worrying us yet, it should be. As we hurtle towards a world where the workforce will need skills far beyond just reading and writing to succeed in the 21st century, it seems we are not investing nearly enough to prepare our kids for the future.

Numerous studies have proven that early childhood, used to describe the age range between 0-6 years, is the most critical period of learning for children as the foundation of brain architecture is built during these earliest years, when most rapid brain development occurs, with 700-1,000 new neural connections forming every second.

Children receiving quality early childhood education are believed to be better able to acquire the 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity, and on the whole be ready to become productive members of the society. Providing children with age and development appropriate stimulus during these early years is critical to their well-being and lifelong learning.

Conceived in 1975 as an initiative of the government for providing early childhood care and development, the anganwadis remain the largest system in India, promising to unlock the potential of millions of minds.

The government’s regard for the pre-school sector is clear from the recent Budget. We witnessed a meagre rise in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) budget, but it was disappointing to see that early education was a neglected vertical.

In 2016, the government raised its target of building AWCs by 100 per cent, thereby increasing the number to 1 lakh annually. The attention now needs to move to “bringing” children to these learning centres and improving the quality of the preschool education offered here.

In order to improve the existing conditions at the AWCs and to undertake intensive capacity-building, we need a buy-in from several stakeholders. Backing the education tools with creative, engaging, and high-quality content is critical to ensure motivation among parents to send their kids to AWCs.

Most importantly, the anganwadi educators need to be empowered to become early childhood educators, tasked with the responsibility of laying a strong foundation for our young learners.

A commitment to early childhood education is imperative to meet the sustainable development goals of eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, achieving universal primary education, and combating diseases.

We must, as a nation, invest aggressively in improving the quality of our children’s early education, so that kids can grow up smarter, stronger and kinder.


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