“Change happens with baby steps; you can’t beat the system but you can change it,” encouraged Dr Swati Popat Vats, Director, Podar Jumbo Kids, during her welcome address at the Podar Early Childhood Education Conference. Titled, ‘Bringing the Past…Present and Future Practices Together for Quality in ECE’, the conference saw ECE experts, special guests and participants from across the country and overseas converge on January 5, 2018 at the Hotel Sea Princess, Mumbai. Dr Popat Vats especially highlighted the efforts of ‘the Father of Kindergarten’ Friedrich Froebel in the realm of ECE via her Master Class titled, Froebel’s Gifts and the Future of Coding. Her presentation explained how coding in kindergarten is not about computer programming but about laying a foundation, training children’s brains to think and understand systems, patterns and instructions through role play, games, puzzles and board games.
Speaking on the relevance of the Montessori method, Sonal Singh, Director – Academics, Nehru World School, discussed the aspects of the system including Prepared Environment, Child-Centred Learning, Multi-Age Classroom, Planes of Development, Self-regulation, Fostering Creativity, Self-Assessment and Intrinsic Motivation, Enquiry based Learning and Mentorship, Community and Co-operative Play. She also hypothetically discussed how Maria Montessori would view technology, gadgets and apps – the view was that she would have largely approved!
There was less consensus when it came to discussing ‘How much is too much technology for children?’, with the panellists weighing in with their opinions during this discussion moderated by Arunabh Singh, Director – Nehru World School! From 20 minutes to a couple of hours, the views were diverse. Other points thrown up by panellists Kusum Kanwar, Ruchita Dar Shah, Ritu Mittal Nukherjee, Namrta Sharma and Dr Swati Popat Vats, was that not just the quantity but the quality of screen time should be monitored, along with the importance of early setting of routines regarding usage.
The youngest speaker at the conference also happened to win the loudest applause – Pragyanshu Dhyani, a student of Podar, shared with honesty and wit, the challenges he faces as a student while using technology. From information bombardment, to excessive screen time, and less real-life experience, young Pragyanshu made several relevant points to which the right answers are hard to come by.
Underlining the importance of making lifeskills an integral part of the curriculum, be it early years, primary or secondary years, Fatima Agarkar relayed the results of a research personally conducted to show the importance of lifeskills over technical knowledge. Ironically, while more than 90% business leaders focussed on lifeskills when responding on what they look for when they hire, school principals mentioned that they first look for qualifications and salary expectations, and then “bother” with the rest of the “soft” skills.
The day drew to a close with sessions by Dr Sarika Kewalramani (Australia) who held forth on the role of technology in developing children’s critical thinking and creativity through early years STEM education, followed by Jyothi Senthil (India and USA)’s presentation on the role of enquiry-based learning to integrate STEM practices in the early years.
The early years are key and every effort is required to ensure that every child receives quality ECE. Kindergarten after all does translate as a garden of children and not the abbreviated KG, as Dr Swati pointed out, which many equate as burdening the child with heavy and unnecessary practices.
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