Every society is responsible for the health and well-being of its children. It is a well-known fact that the early years (0-5) in a child’s life are crucial. These years shape a child’s growth, physically, mentally and emotionally, and lay the foundation for their learning and holistic development. The maximum brain development of a child happens during this stage. Hence, the quality of early childhood education (ECE) plays a critical role in their holistic development.
To reach out at the grassroots level, the Government of India, in 1975, started the Anganwadi Programme, as part of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), which has since been renamed Anganwadi Services (AS). It works with the objective of improving the child’s nutritional and health quotient by effective implementation of policies of various departments. It educates the mothers on matters of basic health and hygiene, nutrition, and pre- and post-natal maternal and childcare. In addition to this Anganwadis are also the first centre of learning for children under the age of 6 years.
The Anganwadi services scheme provides six services viz. Supplementary Nutrition (SNP); Pre-school Non-formal Education; Nutrition & Health Education; Immunization; Health Check-up, and Referral Services.
AS targets approximately 8.36 crore children (6-72 months), and pregnant and lactating mothers through its 13.78 lakh Anganwadi centres. These facilities have ensured lower school dropouts and optimal development of children, especially social and cognitive skills. Furthermore, it leads to high social returns as it lays the foundation for a conscientious and accountable citizen, thereby lowering the crime rate.
While a lot of focus has been given to nutrition in Anganwadi Centres in India, a few programmes focus on early learning. To strengthen ECE, the CII Foundation (CIIF) is constantly collaborating with state governments, corporates and NGOs, and women and child development agencies to move beyond the nutrition of children and mothers and encouraging ECE in the Anganwadi Centres. The aim is to create model learning centres for young minds and make them school-ready. To promote ECE, CIIF is using ‘Building as Leveraging Aid’ or BaLA in transforming infrastructure to create learning spaces in Anganwadis.
The main focus of most Anganwadi workers is to ensure the health and well-being of children. It is equally essential to skill and train the workers accordingly. CIIF provides training and organises workshops for Anganwadi workers to achieve the same. It also engages with the community to ensure parents play a more active role in their child’s development.
By renovating and giving infrastructure support like painting the walls and doors, and constructing toilets, CIIF educates people about hygiene and sanitation. They are provided with ECE kits, which contain child-friendly toys.
In addition to providing quality ECE, CIIF also seeks to provide nutritional support to children, pregnant, and nursing women. Efforts are undertaken to supplement government-supplied meals with a protein-rich diet, thus ensuring better quality of food. Training has been provided on nutritional assessments, ECE, use of educational kits, and monitoring of development.
With 67 Anganwadis in Ramban, J&K, and Kolkata, West Bengal, and targeting more, the CII Foundation is preparing several children for school. The lockdown has meant that the children are unable to reach the Anganwadi centres. In these circumstances, CII Foundation, through its partners has made videos that are being shared with parents, instructing them on activities that they can do with their children to stimulate their brains and help them learn. Efforts are also being made to evaluate how local village communication channels can be used to provide information to the children and maintain their learning and growth.
It is crucial to remember that today’s child is tomorrow’s decision maker. Governments, corporates, and the community need to work together to enable a conducive ecosystem for their holistic development, especially in their formative years. Strengthening the foundation for a child’s development will go a long way in securing them a life of dignity and ensuring finer citizens for the country.