The best interests of the kid must be made a national goal and priority. There are two parts to this: what to do and how to do it. The 'what' is a policy issue, whereas the 'how' is a technological issue. Let's have a look at both.

THE ‘WHAT’ OF ECCE

In order to keep the child at the centre of the discussion, and ensuring that Early Childhood Children Education or ECCE receives due attention from all sectors and government departments, the primacy of child development has to rest at the highest echelons of government.

Here are a few thoughts:

• ECCE as National Duty: Child development and child rights must be categorised as National Duty. The primacy of DUTY in national and social consciousness will ensure that adequate time, care, involved attention and liberal investments are channeled towards child development, including all relevant ministries, MNREGA, crèches, state government health schemes, labour welfare, etc.

• Implement the FLN Index: The fragmented framework and issues of lack of universality in standards in ECCE monitoring and coordination can be addressed by laying the groundwork for the Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) Index. Implementing this would also necessitate the creation of a statutory body to lay down ‘minimum universal standards for quality of services, facilities and infrastructure to be put in place across all schemes and provisions relating to ECCE.’ Radical structural changes have to be called for to fill existing fault lines.

• Set the Right Expectations: Execution of this comprehensive approach can also be applied to the broader context of the ECCE ecosystem by launching a massive awareness and understanding of ECCE and pre-school amongst parents, community etc. with a focus on nature + nurture. Along with parent-family and community mobilisation, traditional knowledge which has a scientific basis must also be documented. Existing systems can be used better.

For example, the revised Mother and Child Protection Card is the tool which simply explains the care and development milestone so that the workers can use it for counseling caregivers on ECCE days, during home visits or while conducting a session on ECCE at the anganwadi centres once a week for 0-3 years, during monthly village health, sanitation and nutrition days, and for sessions on ECCE for 3-6 years as platforms of parental engagement.

• Standardise Elements: The time period clearly specified for Early Childhood Children Education is the foundational learning continuum of 0 to 8 years and this must be commonly understood by the entire sector. ECCE is cumulative and continuum, we must remove linearity in the curriculum, and emphasise that learning is spiral in nature; else it would lead to a cumulative deficit in learning. The present crisis in reading, comprehension and understanding among children, as indicated by ASER, is but a reflection of this. Across the board, the ECCE delivery ecosystem must implement playful and invigorating methods and implement a competent curriculum that propagates and promotes knowledge, capability and practices with supportive and enabling provisions.

• Involve Senior Citizens: A community we tend to ignore are the elderly. They have so much to offer in terms of time and knowledge and seek nothing but companionship in return. They can be involved in a range of child care practices such as storytelling, folk and familiar songs, stimulating graphics, involving folk artists and crafts persons and natural scientific phenomena to play, enthrall and enjoy together with each child, in the spirit of ‘no one to be left bereft.’ By interacting with the elderly, children can also learn good values and become responsible citizens.

• Build Capacity: ECCE is a service provided by a system of educators and caregivers. Strengthening institutional capacity, partnerships and voluntary action groups with a network of ECCE resource platforms/centres at national and state levels and/or piloted at district level can go a long way. Parental counseling services must also be enhanced and invigorated with the use of IPC tools and technology.

(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in News 18. The original article can be found at https://www.news18.com/news/opinion/getting-every-indian-literate-by-2030-the-roadmap-for-reaching-this-milestone-4906388.html )