Most 4-year-olds attending preschool in rural areas: Study

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New Delhi, July 28 (IANS) Majority of four-year-olds in rural areas of Assam, Rajasthan and Telangana are attending preschools, either private or government-run Anganwadi centres, a UNICEF study revealed on Friday.

The study, which highlighted that even one year of participation in a quality early childhood development programme leads to higher school readiness levels and thus better learning outcomes in the early primary grades, however, noted that most of these children had low readiness levels for schools.

The five-year longitudinal research followed a cohort of 14,000 children from age four to eight.

The “Indian Early Childhood Education Impact study” was launched here by UNICEF in partnership with the Centre for Early Childhood Education and Development (CECED), Ambedkar University Delhi and ASER Centre.

The study said that the children do not necessarily participate in preschool and primary school at the ages and in the order that policies prescribe and, therefore, there are children below the age of six in primary schools and children above age six in preschools in some states.

“Early childhood education is critical in laying a strong foundation for lifelong learning and holistic development,” UNICEF Deputy Representative Henriette Ahrens said at the launch.

“This research provides robust evidence that investments in promoting quality early childhood education are essential to achieving better learning outcomes in the early primary grades,” she said.

However, a key concern emerging is that most children in the study entered primary school at the age of five with school readiness levels which were far below expectations.

They were thus “unequipped” to meet the demands of the curriculum and had low learning levels. The study concludes that these low school readiness levels in children are clearly related to the quality of preschool education.

Existing models commonly available across the country do not use age and developmentally appropriate curriculum, methods and materials to engage children. The study identifies formal teaching of the three Rs — reading, writing, and arithmetic, as detrimental to children’s development.

Given the impact of preschool education on children’s outcomes in primary education, the study recommends the inclusion of pre-primary education as an integral part of the Right to Education (RTE) Act.

Since age is a significant factor in influencing children’s school readiness and learning levels, the study further recommends ensuring that children begin primary education only when they are developmentally ready, adhering to the norms of school entry as per the RTE Act, which requires that children begin grade one at age six.

It emphasises the importance of a flexible, play-based foundational curriculum for three-to-eight-year-olds along a continuum, for a seamless transition from pre-primary to primary education.

–IANS

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