Early Childhood Association India strongly appeals to the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the HRD Ministry to not ignore the country's youngest citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worse crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his/her bones have been formed, his/her blood is being made, and his/her senses are being developed. To him/ her we cannot answer ‘Tomorrow’, his/her name is today”, said Gabriela Mistra, the Chilean poet-diplomat, educator and feminist.
This quote perfectly surmises the need of the hour in terms of Early Childhood Education and this letter is an attempt to find a solution and bring clarity on the raging confusion today, among parents, schools and policymakers, regarding lockdown and post-COVID planning for our young children and about the necessity of ensuring that young children stay connected to their preschools and Anganwadis even if remotely.
Preschools and Anganwadis are closed. Children are missing out on their inoculations, their one mid-day meal, their nurturing and stimulation that they receive with activities like singing, dancing, physical development and socio-emotional skills. We can understand that children below the age of 10 should be kept safe at home but why are we trying to keep them away from all the activities that they thrive on? Parents are busy at home with dual responsibilities- working and taking care of the home, as there is no support staff now. How much time do you think they would be able to give to the young child? Children are watching all kinds of inappropriate content on television and mobile phones.
Our National ECCE Policy conforms to the vision of holistic and integrated development of the child with a focus on care and early learning at each sub-stage of the development continuum in order to support the all-round and holistic development of children. The policy recognizes that young children are the best care for their family environment but in a country of widespread diversity and stratification, many families need supportive measures for the optimal development of the child, especially during this Covid-19 pandemic.
Let us now throw away the baby with the bathwater, just because a few schools made a mistake of copying what is done for older children and using it for younger children without thinking of its consequences. It is important that young children of our country get their cognitive, social, emotional and language stimulation that they require. It is not always easy or possible for parents today to provide the same, due to many issues like living alone, struggling with too many responsibilities and the new fear of Corona.
In this scenario if there is an edutainment program on television for children or if the preschools or Balwadis arrange for a video chat with the children and engage them in age-appropriate activities it would have a positive impact on the mental health of the children and would be a support to the parents too.
Neuroscience has proven that 90% of the brain develops in the first five years of life. What does that mean? It means it’s the first five years that lay the foundation for life and Children go through a period of rapid learning in the first five years. Our children since the last two months and for the next six months will be cooped up at home with very little stimulation. Their brains are making new connections that will one day become the blueprint for their life. And during this period, if they don’t receive the right kind of care or learning, they will grow up with a few life and learning deficits….and that is something that we need to work together to avoid.
Every year, the Annual Status of Education Report highlights abysmal student learning outcomes in primary schools in rural India. The root cause of this is the lack of quality of Early Years Education. When our entire Early Years' population will not attend preschools and Anganwadis for a whole year, can you imagine the impact on their mental, physical and cognitive health? We are depriving them of a ‘head start’ in life and learning.
Today we are planning for every sector..except the early childhood sector. We say, “children are the future” – and that’s true – but there’s a fundamental problem with that idea. It suggests that... they’re just kids now, but later, when they become the future, we can start taking care of them...with a better economy, a better job climate. But that’s wrong. Their brain development is happening NOW. The most embedded parts of their personality – their attitudes and moral values, their emotional tendencies, their learning abilities, how they will deal with people, how they will deal with situations, good or bad – they are all a product of experiences that our young children will receive now…during this Covid-19 pandemic. Its time that policymakers and government officials realise that we cannot let the foundation of our future be deprived of the required stimulation and connection that they were receiving from their preschools or Anganwadis.
Early Childhood Association strongly recommends that preschools and Anganwadis should use a developmentally appropriate and healthy way of connecting every day with the young children. Sing songs, narrate stories, play games, teach yoga, laugh, exchange smiles, count objects, name colours, guess letters and so much more can be achieved through just one hour of ‘face-time’ on a video chat platform.
Early Childhood Association strongly recommends that the connection between the teacher and the child should continue even during the lockdown and till preschools or day-cares open. This is important because teachers can convey many messages and educate them about:
Teachers can help engage children in socio-emotional and physical activities:
An engaging video chat like this, for an hour every day, is not harmful to children.
(Ref: Website kids health medical experts- Time spent with screens (like a TV, tablet, or smartphone) can be an opportunity to reinforce learning and promote creative play) Even the American Academy of Paediatricians and W.H.O recommends introducing only “high-quality programming” to children 18 to 24 months of age. Children between the ages of 2 to 5 years should watch only one hour per day of approved programming.
Early Childhood Association urges all state governments to please ensure that our ‘littlest citizens’ are kept actively engaged through ‘face-time’ video chats by their preschools or Anganwadis. This one hour of video chat with the children by a trained teacher will achieve and contribute immensely to the foundation of life and learning of our young children. We also recommend that the preschools and Anganwadis must also involve the parents by sending them activities that they can do to spend quality time with their children during these stressful times of the Covid-19 pandemic. These activities should not be academic or stressful in any manner but should be supporting parents to tell stories, talk to their child, bond with their child and ensure that the child’s brain is not deprived of the most essential, ‘serve and return’ interactions, crucial for brain development.
Early Childhood Association further recommends to preschools and day-cares to give the home-school connection in three parts:
Early Childhood Association is absolutely against a formal, teaching for early years on any remote learning platforms. This is not the time to stress on academics, academic achievement or assessing children academically. The focus should be on talking to children about topics that help nurture their thinking skills, emotional skills and social skills. But the connection with children should continue…even if remotely.
This kind of engagement will also keep teachers actively engaged and partner with parents.
The Early Childhood sector needs to be taken seriously if we want to come out of this pandemic with happy, resilient children and a robust economy. These video chat engagements are helping children be happy, keeping the teachers employed is contributing to the economical revival of the country. If thousands of preschools around the country close down, it will mean millions of jobs lost of teachers and will lead to economic chaos in many households.
Also attached are Safety Guidelines prepared by the Early Childhood Association for the reopening of preschools and day-cares.
“Sab bachcho ka bhala… desh ka vikas”.During this pandemic, let us not ignore our future, our littlest citizens.
Dr. Swati Popat Vats
On behalf of
ECA National Committee
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