Building a supportive bridge between EARLY YEARS and PRIMARY SCHOOL

Firdaus F Lalkaka
Building a supportive bridge between EARLY YEARS and PRIMARY SCHOOL

Going to school is an exciting as well as a challenging time for young children and their families. Moving from early childhood education to an elementary school can be a positive and rewarding experience that sets children up for a happy and successful academic pathway. It can also be a period of vulnerability for many children. Effective transitions are critical to the development of children’s self-worth, confidence and resilience, and ongoing success at school. This is a time to build relationships, maintain excitement for learning and ensure children experience continuity in their learning. Ensuring continuity of learning poses quite a challenge while children move through preschool, elementary school and beyond as children are required to become familiar with new people, practices and expectations. Unless the “learning” that the children have achieved during their preschool years seamlessly transfers to and is built on, in the next stage of elementary school, it will get interrupted and cause impediments in their progress and achievement. A smooth transition can only be achieved through a combined effort of all the stakeholders namely, the government (through a robust policy framework), the schools (preschools and elementary schools) and the parents.

In order to better achieve the objective of “inclusion” under RTE for ensuring a smoother transition especially for children coming from disadvantaged families, rather than laying emphasis on preparing the “child to be ready for school,” India would greatly benefit by considering a shift of emphasis to making the “schools ready for a child”.

A. Government Policy: Suggestions

1) The 25% quota of admissions u/s 12(1)(c) of RTE Act should be made applicable beginning from the lowest section of preschool i.e. from nursery onwards instead of from class as is presently being done. For a disadvantaged child to enter schooling from class 1 without a preschool education is as risky as attempting to board a speeding bus - it’s a surefire recipe for FAILURE!

2) Need for a robust monitoring and evaluation system to handhold disadvantaged children who are admitted to an English-medium school to ensure that such children don’t get disillusioned and ultimately drop-out.

3) Need for a “One-Nation-OnePolicy” for ECCE: This involves:-

-Fixation of common “Age-atEntry” norms and a common “cutoff ” date

* (PG @ 2+, Nur @ 3+, Jr.KG @ 4+, Sr.KG @ 5+ & Std-1 @ 6+)

* With the academic year commencing in June, cut-off date should be May 31.

Designing of a developmentally appropriate ECCE and Elementary School Curriculum that is in alignment with the learning milestones to ensure a smooth transition sans any overlaps.

Defining minimum infrastructure specifications for preschools

Defining child safety norms, etc

Defining the maximum number of children per class

Scientifically designed progress reports of children that are focused on capturing the achievement of learning milestones

Leveraging technology to ensure full compliance under RTE and ensure that no child is left behind

Ensuring timely re-imbursement of fees of admissions done under RTE

4) Bearing in mind the recent instances of assault and abuse of preschoolers, it would be in the best interest of children for the government to consider drafting of a policy which makes it mandatory to run a preschool from an exclusive premise rather than from within the premises of a primary/ secondary school.

5) Priority should be given by “neighbourhood” elementary schools while granting admission in class 1 to children enrolled in neighbourhood preschools.

6) To uphold the Right to Equality (guaranteed under the Constitution of India) of all children to secure admission in class 1 regardless of whether they are doing their preschooling in a standalone preschool or a preschool run by a recognised school, the government MUST ensure that admission is granted on either first-come-first-served basis or on draw of lots (as is already approved by the Education dept.).

7) Pressing need for building an evaluation model that promotes children based on achievement of learning outcomes rather than on an examination-based model which encourages rote learning.

8) Isn’t “nation building” everyone’s responsibility?: There is no logical reason why provisions of RTE Act should not be applicable to Minority Institutions for admitting disadvantaged children under the 25% quota. If they believe in the Indian Constitution which confers upon them special rights and privileges, I fail to understand why they are unwilling to shoulder the responsibility of admitting disadvantaged children under RTE and contributing towards nation building.

9) Caught between a rock and a hard place: Rather than accepting their complete failure in discharging their constitutional responsibility of providing quality public education to its citizens and taking concrete steps to improving the quality of public education in government schools, the government is introducing laws to impose restrictions on what fees private schools can charge on one hand and forcing them to admit disadvantaged children to the extent of 25% on the other. If the government is genuinely interested in bringing quality private school education at affordable rates, they should consider giving land for free and loans for school infrastructure at special rates with long moratoriums and/or allow private enterprise to manage the existing government schools and fix a value to their services which is based on the attainment of learning outcomes in children.

B. Preschools and primary schools The ground realities have been beautifully captured in the introductory paragraphs in chapter 1 of the Report of the Committee on Pre-Primary and Pre-School Education in Delhi dated 31- 03-2007 reproduced below:

1.1 Early Childhood Care and Education has globally been recognised as critical for human resource development. The first 8 years of a child’s life are the most crucial years because during this period of early childhood the pace of development is extremely rapid, determining the cognitive and physical growth and laying the foundation for shaping the social and personal habits and values. There is a growing body of research evidence to prove that the synoptic connections in the brain that are critical for the full development of the brain’s potential take place during the early phase of childhood.

1.2 Early Childhood Development includes two main aspects, i.e., care and education. Care is a comprehensive term that includes proper nutrition, medical attention particularly in regard to immunisation, security and safety and emotional support. The ‘education’ component includes pre-school education programmes aimed at 3-6 year-olds and extends to class 1 and 2 to cover children up to the age of 8 under the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE). However, it is to be clearly understood that ECCE is an integrated programme that takes into account the synergistic and interdependent relationship between health, nutrition, intellectual, social and emotional development and education, addressing the imperative of holistic and all-round development of the child.

Thus, it can be seen that any discussion on pre-primary education cannot exclude other aspects of early childhood development. On the contrary an examination of issues relating to pre-primary education should necessarily focus on the developmental paradigm so that the cognitive, affective and psychomotor issues are comprehensively addressed in the context of education.

1.3 Changing socio-economic conditions have also thrown up new challenges. The changes in family structure brought about by transition from joint families to nuclear families coupled with the increasing propensity of both parents going to jobs have put greater pressure on Early Childhood Education especially in urban and semi-urban areas. As parents face the compulsion of keeping their children in ‘safe custody’ when they are out on work, they invariably turn to crèches, kindergarten and play schools. Parents are taking their children out of the home environment much earlier than ever before. While sending children to crèches by parents who are both employed with no elders to take care of their children cannot be faulted, the growing tendency on the part of overenthusiastic parents to initiate their children into ‘education’ much before the children are ready for it is a cause of great concern. So, the first question that is to be answered is: What is the suitable age for a child to begin pre-schooling? The other important question is about what is going on in the name of pre-schooling in a majority of schools in Delhi.

1.4 The enormous demand for preschooling facilities has led to a mushrooming of play schools, nursery schools, kindergarten, preparatory schools etc. indicative of a veritable boom in the ‘Alphabet Industry’. A majority of ‘big schools’ (schools which have classes up to 12) run not only nursery and kindergarten or preparatory classes before class I, some of these schools also have pre-nursery. Thus, a child of 2-2½ years of age enters into a system which also has adolescents of 17-18 years of age. Parents’ wish is to put their children early on into such a system so that they need not worry about their children’s future schooling up to class 12. It defies all logic of ‘child-centric’ education. Instead, the prevalent system has become either ‘parent-centric’ or ‘schoolcentric’. It is seen that, barring a few exceptions, these schools are nothing more than mere downward extension of the formal and structured education at the level of class 1 and above. The unrealistic expectations of parents for early stimulation of their children and the inappropriate learning environment offered by schools staffed by either untrained or unsuitably trained teachers have resulted in a confusing and often chaotic situation. To compound the matters further, preschooling by whatever name, does not come under any regulation.

While the provisions of Article 21A and 45 of the Indian Constitution coupled with the provisions in Sec. 3 and 11 of the RTE Act, 2009 have correctly defined the “suitable age” as being 6+ for Class-1 and 3+ for beginning preschooling, despite a specific provision in law, the government is yet to come up with a developmentally appropriate preschool curriculum that doesn’t overlap with the elementary school curriculum! The high expectations of parents coupled with elementary schools interviewing children and rejecting them for failing to have mastered advanced numeracy and writing skills in their preschool years are the two key reasons that are primarily responsible for most preschools (barring a few), succumbing to the pressure and being reduced to nothing more than a mere downward extension of the formal and structured education at the level of class 1 and above and overburdening the child and forcing him to learn and grasp concepts ahead of their time (i.e. before they attain their mental and physical milestones). This completely defeats the purpose!

And, as reiterated earlier, in order to better achieve the objective of “inclusion” under RTE for ensuring a smoother transition especially for children coming from disadvantaged families, India would greatly benefit by considering a shift of emphasis from preparing the “child to be ready for school” to making the “schools ready for a child”. And preparation of scientifically designed reports of each child would go a long way in building the bridge between the preschool and elementary school.

Hence, to ensure a smooth transition, three critical issues need to be dealt with: Defining the suitable age for a child to begin pre-schooling.

Designing of a developmentally appropriate ECCE and Elementary School Curriculum that is in alignment with the learning milestones to ensure a smooth transition sans any overlaps.

Preparation of scientifically designed reports of each child that enable the elementary school teachers hand-hold the child on and from the milestones that he has achieved

C. Parents

In my view, the parents cannot be faulted for having very high expectations from preschools because of the following reasons:

a) Not being experts in early childhood education, parents are clueless about the learning milestones or the learning outcomes expected of a child in his preschool years. Their expectations are primarily built based on what their child is being taught in his preschool as compared to what another preschool is teaching their neighbour’s child. They are also distressed by the fact that if their child hasn’t mastered the advanced numeracy and writing skills as expected by the elementary schools, then their child would fail to secure admission in a reputed school.

b) While on one hand, the government has failed to draft a standardised preschool curriculum, on the other, the elementary schools interview children and reject those who have failed to master advanced numeracy and writing skills! As a result, finding themselves between a rock and a hard place, most preschools not only have to design their own curriculum but have to design it in a manner that meets with the expectations of the elementary schools. As a result, most preschools (barring a few), land up being nothing more than a mere downward extension of the formal and structured education at the level of class 1 and above that force children to learn a curriculum that is age inappropriate and ahead of their time.

Hence, in conclusion, creating a supportive bridge between early years and primary school and beyond is critical to ensure a smooth transition to enable children to continue their progress and achievement uninterruptedly and excel in this journey called life.

The process to ensure smooth transition from preschool to primary school especially to children coming from disadvantaged families admitted under u/s 12(1)(c) of RTE Act

A class 1 primary school teacher who has worked as an ECE teacher is better equipped to bridge the learning experiences from ECE to primary school.

A class 1 primary school teacher can find out about each child’s interests, strengths, culture and capabilities through:

(a) talking with the child’s preschool teacher and parents, (b) referring to the child’s portfolio/journal, (c) ongoing observations and discussions with the child’s parents and (d) formal and informal testing.

Tweaking and tailoring aspects of the primary school curriculum based on the identification of the child’s interests, strengths, culture, capabilities, will greatly help in engaging, challenging and motivating the children

The needs and aspirations of a child with special needs would be better served if there was co-ordination between the preschool teacher and the primary school teacher.

A deeper partnership between the primary teacher and the parents too, would be very supportive.

Having a senior student as “buddy” for every child joining primary school also ensures a smooth transition through companionship in school.

Holding “remedial” classes coupled with regular parent-teacher meetings.

Having a “transitory” class is necessary to bring RTE children up to the mental level of the other children who have done preschool.

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