Should pre-primary education be regulated?


Pre-primary education in India is largely unregulated and suffers with several
crippling issues such as poor quality education, absence of standardised curriculum, lack of accountability, fee structure, etc. It is time to address these issues, and we have a law on par with the rest of the world, writes Prachi Desai.

India is a fast-growing economy and a rapidly evolving one too. The changes in socio-economic conditions have transformed family structures to the extent that in most cases both parents are working individuals, especially in urban and semi-urban areas.

To cope with the perils of a nuclear family and the absence of a child-caretaker at home, parents have started sending their young children to day-care centres during the day and leave them in the supervision of housemaids at other times. In the last few years, thousands of day-care centres have mushroomed in cities – often doubling up as pre-primary schools.

Research studies conducted all over the world suggest that pre-primary education is critical to the development of young children even before they start their learning through formal education in primary schools. Pre-primary schooling helps prepare children for the next important phase of their lives in elementary education and also develop cognitive skills, necessary for the overall development of the child.

Pre-primary education is thus the first step for a child into the ever-growing realm of knowledge and provides basic skills to the child to find his bearing, become independent, gain confidence and ensure all-round development. Earlier, day-care centres, crèche or playschools (often used interchangeably) would be restricted to providing care and supervision to infants and young children during the day, particularly for working parents who had no help from family members to look after their children. However, with changing times and an increased demand, these centres gradually started providing pre-primary ‘education’ i.e. basics of formal education to prepare young children for primary education.

Preparing children for school

The main purpose of pre-primary education now is to prepare children physically, mentally, socially and emotionally for formal education. Studies suggest children who attend pre-primary schools learn faster in formal schooling set ups as they quickly grasp the structured curriculums.

The demands of the competitive world today have put immense pressure on parents and their children to perform better than others and excel in academics. Pre-primary education has now become important for children of the age group 3 – 6 years. And, with the lack of family support, in nuclear families of all socio-economic backgrounds, pre-primary schooling is a necessity.

So, Rakhi Talwade, a corporation communications executive working in a PR firm in Mumbai and her maid Shanti Parab, both drop their respective children to day-care centres before they leave for work. While Rakhi’s three-year-old daughter goes to a private nursery school that offers facilities of day care and pre-primary schooling, Shanti drops off her two and half-year-old son to a crèche run specifically for children of migrant workers. “The crèche is my lifeline and it ensures that my older daughter can go to school rather than look after her younger brother at home,” comments Shanti.

Rakhi, on the other hand, can afford a full-time nanny at home but sends her daughter to the nursery, primarily to prepare her for the admission process she will soon face. “I want to send my daughter to the best school in Mumbai and it is important to lay the right foundation at an early stage and prepare her for the demands in the future.”

In India, pre-primary education is also called ‘kindergarten’ (KG) which means children’s garden. So, pre-primary education includes playschools, nurseries, lower/junior KG and upper/senior KG. The structure, curriculum and activities vary in pre-schools vary around the world. In India, many schools have their own nursery and kindergarten facilities and the children directly get promoted to Class 1 (primary school) after completing their upper KG.

Competition triggers stress

However, the task of getting admission into a new school for primary education is a gruelling one. The competition among schools and limited seats make the admissions process extremely stressful for the parents who have high expectations from their children.

Pre-primary schools were originally meant for holistic development of children by involving and engaging them in creative works, art and craft, dance and music and sporting activities. Any kind of learning was done through interesting activities involving toys, stories, role play, rhymes, group activities, etc. Lately, formal education has been introduced in pre-schools where teachers, often untrained, ‘teach’ the basics of formal education to young children. Their lack of training means children who need special attention or care are devoid of the same and lag.

Need to regulate pre-school sector

There are private and public pre-primary schools in India. The former are mainly attended by children belonging to higher socio-economic groups while the latter belong to lower income groups. Education is a fundamental right but education of children below six years i.e. before primary school is not.

Consequentially, pre-primary education is largely unregulated and suffers with several crippling issues – absence of registration mechanism of pre-schools, unregulated fee structure, lack of trained and certified teachers, poor quality of education, dearth of safety, absence of standardised curriculum and, concurrently, lack of accountability by law.

The policy framework for pre-primary schools in India is not a concrete one. The National Policy on Education 1986 had placed immense importance on pre-school education but it is not fully managed by the central or state educational departments. The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) is responsible for elementary education but the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) looks at pre-primary education. A WCD report titled ‘National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Curriculum Framework’ states:
“The programme at the early childhood stage helps to ensure opportunities for holistic learning and growth. The ECCE programme needs to be determined by children’s developmental and contextual needs, providing for more need based inputs and an enabling environment. Given this need for an individualised approach, it was believed that a common ‘curriculum’ would not be appropriate for all”.

The WCD report has listed recommendations to regularise and improve the pre-primary education sector. “To ensure optimal development for all children, there is a need to create a planned curriculum framework, encompassing developmentally appropriate knowledge and skills, with flexibility for contextualisation and diverse needs of young children.

A curriculum framework is also required to ensure that important learning areas are covered, taking care of all the developmental needs of the young child. It also facilitates adoption of a common pedagogical approach to ensure a certain level of quality and address the widespread diversity in the ECCE programmes available for the young children in India.”

The Indian government adopted the National ECCE Policy to lay out ‘the vision for children below the age of six years’. The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE Act) 2010 also addresses the Early Childhood Education under Section 11 of the Act which states “with a view to prepare children above the age of 3 years for elementary education and to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years, the appropriate Government may make necessary arrangements for providing free pre-school education for such children”.

The Draft National Education Policy 2019 has strong recommendations on formalising pre-primary education in India and has tackled the issue with the seriousness it commands. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030 that the Government of India adopted states, “by 2030 to ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education”.

In a country where more than half the population is under 25-years-old, the demands of quality education for these youngsters and for their children are high. It’s time to take stock of things and bring in a much-needed law, on par with the rest of the world, for pre-primary education in India.

Prachi Desai

Prachi Desai is a Delhi-based researcher with Maverick – A DraftCraft International initiative to further reach, accountability and the law in Pre-Primary, Primary, Intermediary and Secondary Education.