As a country, India (along with the rest of the Global South) is taking the criticality of foundational literacy and numeracy—popularly known as FLN into serious consideration. There is an urgency in achieving FLN skills for all children in the early primary grades, and this is evident in the focus on NIPUN Bharat across the nation. However, to actualise FLN goals, it is imperative to cast a similar spotlight on early childhood care and education (ECCE)—focused on stimulation and learning for children in the age group of three to six years, often known as the preschool stage.

Despite national frameworks stressing the importance of ECCE, it has been a slow journey to translate it into actionable policy, create a plan with sufficient budgets, and then further take it to execution. The time is nigh for the education community to push for universal, high-quality preschool education (either through Anganwadis or schools) by 2030, if we want to make use of our demographic dividend.

There are many factors in our favour that can help in effective implementation of ECCE, the key being the relative readiness of the important stakeholders. India has one of the world’s largest cadre of community-based childcare experts in the form of the Anganwadi workers (AWWs)—frontline workers who have been a part of the child’s life since childhood and, therefore, are closely involved with the child and their family. They are cognisant of the importance of play-based and activity-based learning/teaching—concepts that have been introduced nationally through initiatives such as the Jaadui Pitara, but have already been ingrained over the years in the AWWs. They also verbalise the desire to upskill and be known as ‘educators’. Studies show visible uptake in attendance, learning outcomes, and socio-cognitive skill building when play-based learning is implemented in Anganwadi centres or preschools.

What we need is a practical yet innovative approach to ECCE—simple ways to create a community-rooted education system that is scalable and effective from scratch, rather than having to embark on a bandage mission later. This can manifest itself in different ways.

Read the full article about early childhood care and education by Shreejita Shrivastava and Siddhant Sachdeva at India Development Review.