The period between birth and the age of six is critical for children. However, in India, statistics suggest that only 50 percent of the population has access to pre-primary education.
Even fewer than that enrol in preschools. Estimates suggest that preschools have achieved only 20–22 percent penetration in India, as of the close of 2015.
This is despite the fact that the Government of India recognises the significance of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) through the amended Article 45 of the Indian constitution that directs that, “The state shall endeavour to provide ECCE for all children until they complete the age of six years.”
The preschool segment of the Indian education industry is dominated by the unorganised sector. The organised sector makes up only 17 percent of the industry. Additionally, thanks to a limited regulatory framework and minimal infrastructure required to setup a preschool, the segment has seen rapid growth in Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities.
However, while growth is welcome, everyone with some extra space in their house opens a preschool. This could be in the form of a daycare, nursery or crèche . The consequent lack of standardisation in what a preschool must deliver means that children suffer. So what is this standard that our preschools must achieve? Since the early years are brain development years, let us aim to standardise our preschools on brain-based learning centres so that focus is on developing the brain and not on rote learning and stress-based achievement scales.
ECCE and preschools cater to children in the age group of up to six years, the critical period for brain development. This period is also the window of opportunity for the development of language skills, social skills, emotional development, and many more.
Not many parents are aware of how the child's brain really works, and not many pre schools have a learning environment which will facilitate the brain development of a child. The brain is the only organ in the body that is shaped through its interaction with the environment.
Three things to keep in mind while standardising preschools as brain-based learning centres:
This means learning in the way the brain is naturally designed to learn — through interactions with the environment, use of the senses and stimulation. Preschools must create an environment rich in sensory resources. This does not have to mean fancy, expensive toys; inexpensive everyday materials available locally will do. The more a child touches, holds, throws, pinches dough, finger paints and understands textures, builds and breaks towers, runs, jumps, listens to stories, handles puppets and puzzles, the more the brain will be stimulated and nurtured. More neuron connections mean an active thinking, learning brain.
Research has found that the brain is social. Hence, cooperative learning or learning with peers will raise the child's achievement extensively, making it essential that preschool teachers include the pattern of talk-teach-group discussion in the classroom. Talk-talk-teach is to be avoided; learning happens when the brain is seated with other brains and able to talk to the teacher. “Keep quiet and listen to me” is not conducive for brain development. Songs in which children can participate and stories which have an element of repetition keep the brain involved and focused.
While negative actions such as screaming, shouting, threatening, punishing and comparing to other peers should be avoided, it is also not healthy to be overly protective of the child. Inflicting such stress on a child, intentionally or unintentionally, leads to a corroded and weak brain structure. Preschools must allow children to settle down, get comfortable and explore. Once they feel safe and loved, they will automatically take interest and learn more. Teachers should be trained in child development so that they are able to understand the stages of socio-emotional development and don’t push children to achieve, share and participate.
Early childhood education, care and nurturing determine how people turn out. Hence, access to standardised preschools that are brain-based learning centres is a necessary step towards building more balanced citizens of tomorrow. It’s time to create brain-compatible preschools rather than brain-antagonistic classrooms.