Early Childhood Care and Sustainability
Dr P K Anand,
Visiting Fellow, RIS
A T20 side event was jointly organized by RIS, New Delhi; Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC), Argentina; Dublin City University (DCU); African Network of Early Childhood Education (AfECN); and GIGA Institute for Latin American Studies on 4th November 2020.  The event was spurred on the T20 deliberations carried out through various task forces that evolved Policy Briefs on both the development and finance track. Notably, the early childhood care and sustainability has already become an integral structured part of T20 work programme since 2018.
The criticality of early child care and education in averting deepening of inequalities by giving fair chance to a vulnerable family to catch up with the mainstream cannot be overstated. The challenges of early childhood systems as a G20 priority area, need closer collaboration on the aspect of ‘leaving no child behind’. The first six years of life are critical, since around 90% of brain development takes place in these years influenced not only by health, nutrition, informal education and quality of care but also the quality of psycho-social environment a child is exposed to. As an offshoot of the pandemic led virtual coverage, big data can play a critical role to ensure that each child is tracked. On the issue of the stage at which tracking should be initiated, the issue of initiating it even before birth of a child during pregnancy of the mother was stressed. Tracking and monitoring of her parameters, like anaemia, and going a stage earlier the enabling factor of how well a society undertakes universal monitoring of adolescent girls was emphasized. A related issue is whether a birth is in an institutional facility and thus by trained medical attendants, and is it then electronically captured into a monitoring framework so that it can be helpful in tracking each child born in such a facility.
On the issue of education community led pre-school education, alongwith health and nutrition education; commensurate with the development of cognitive abilities; steered by G20 exchange of good practices, translated into the local languages, can be of immense help and is another plank to collaborate. Further, the community interventions should be comprehensive and in line with the social cohesion. These should cover, besides the education components, supplementary nutrition, immunization, health check-ups, growth charts and need based referral services. In addition, how to reach out during the pandemic remains critical towards which provision of take home rations remains an essential step.
Coming to the Indian situation, as per the UN population projections India has around 186 million children in the age group of 0-6 which is the highest in the world. Socio–economic as well as cultural and linguistic diversity while encountering inequities and vulnerabilities based on gender, social identity, disability, city/ rural divide are major prevalent challenges. India has taken a slew of policy initiatives implemented through various actors to address early childhood development (ECD) and early childhood education and care (ECEC) at local, sub-national and national levels to provide much needed support and care for children.
On the aspect of Indian institutional set-up for early childhood development and education an important pillar is Anganwadis (community-based pre-school centers), administered by the Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD) as part of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). Pre-school education is imparted in anganwadis, leading to schooling administered by the educational set up. The focus of the policy manifested through the umbrella ICDS encompasses core ICDS, PM’s Maternity benefit scheme, National crèche scheme, Nutrition Mission, and Child protection scheme. Notably, ICDS is conceptualized as community based for improved service delivery as well as raising awareness and behavioral changes in child care practices at household level, while the nutrition mission is envisioned to be ‘Jan-bhagidaari’ i.e. a people’s movement, alongwith ‘save the girl child, educate the girl child’ campaign. To strengthen the institutional set up there is need for making comprehensive institutional frameworks of Early Childhood Development, Education and Care (ECDEC).
In this direction as a recent vital step the national education policy (NEP) 2020 emphasizes a lot on pre-school education terming it, ‘The Foundation of Learning’. It covers major reconfiguration of curricular and pedagogical structure for early years as an integral part of foundational stage. Its synergy with the National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy demands to nurture and promote holistic development and active learning capacity of all children below 6 years of age by promoting free, universal, inclusive, equitable, joyful and contextualised opportunities for laying foundation and attaining full potential.
Importantly, to face the COVID-19 led shocks the institutional resilience manifested to the fore through take home rations under ICDS for children, pregnant and lactating women; promotion of kitchen gardens; virtual learning with the help of parents utilizing the wide mobile telephony coverage alongwith DBT supported by unhindered supply chains should be scaled up. Towards this end International dialogue, research and collaboration on policy questions and policy choices, especially in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic led new constraints and its disproportionately higher and widespread impact on early childhoods, need to be shared and holistically addressed, to timely achieve SDGs. To attain it investment in quality institutions, educators and infrastructure, deeper involvement of parents, educators and providers is needed, alongwith increased access to digital technology. For instance, in the South Asian context, the need for proper WASH facilities and serving of hot cooked meals to kill all bacteria and virus, can’t be overemphasized, these being high rainfall countries. Undoubtedly, in the Post-COVID world too alertness against a new pandemic can’t be undermined. In totality the early childhood care, development and education should be treated as a public good and investments made in it and hand-holding should be steered by G20 on all its aspects especially for the vulnerable and poor with focus on less developed and developing countries.
 RIS team led by Director General, Prof. Sachin Chaturvedi included Dr. Beena Pandey, Mr. Krishna Kumar and Dr. P.K.Anand, and was represented in the side event by Dr. Anand.