“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” ― C.S. Lewis
India is one of the fastest growing economies of the world. A well-oiled engine of growth requires that sufficient significance is attributed to all the factors that would accelerate the growth of the economy as well as the individual growth of citizens of the country. In recognition of this, a noticeable emphasis has been laid on education. With the government launching several literacy drives and propagating the importance of education, the country has never been more alive to its relevance. This has led to an eruption of education institutions all over the country providing learning at various levels and through several modes. The basic level of the education pyramid is the pre-primary segment which has become crucial in the world of education as it lays the foundation of knowledge in a child and enhances their personality traits.
Early childhood development and pre-primary education have been recognised globally as having a significant impact on the performance of children in basic education programmes. Due to the intense competition that is prevalent today in every field, parents feel the necessity to give a good head start to children right at the beginning of their educational journey. This is where pre-primary schools come into the frame and provide the much needed support to parents to shape a child’s personality in the formative years of life. The increased competitiveness faced at the time of admission to primary school has made parents look for pre-school training to prepare their children for primary schools. They become the perfect pre-cursor to the primary schools and provide the required environment for the child to enter primary school, especially where both the parents are working and have limited time to spend with their children. Thus, the resultant spurt in demand for pre- schools. Figures from the Delhi Statistical Handbook, 2012, show that the number of students in each pre-primary school has increased from 1,919 in 2006 to 2,972 in 2012.
Pre-primary education is not only seen to prepare children to adjust to formal schooling but also kick-starts the process of instilling in them the basic essential values of life and grooms them physically, emotionally, socially and mentally for the road ahead.
STRUCTURE OF INDIAN SCHOOL EDUCATION
The Indian school education system consists of primary and secondary education also known as K-12. This is a regulated system with well laid out rules and regulations and also approval from the education department of the state in which the school is set up. An institution providing primary and secondary education needs to be set up either by a trust, society or a section 25 company under the Indian Companies Act, 1956 (or section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013.) Essentially it needs to be in the nature of a not for profit organisation. A school imparting primary and secondary education has the option to seek affiliation with a secondary education boards depending on the curriculum and method of teaching that the school prefers to adopt. Primary school formal education as regulated by the education department, in most cases begins at the age of 6 and goes on till the age of 18. However, from the age of 3 children are being prepared for a formal school regime through pre-primary education imparted by playschools and kindergarten.
This article attempts to present a brief overview of school education system in India and the place, role and position of the pre-primary schools.
In general, pre- primary education is provided by private schools as well as government Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS also known as Anganwadi) centres. However, it is largely an unregulated sector. Currently there is no uniform curriculum that is required to be used by pre-schools in India and most pre-schools design their own curriculum keeping in mind their ideology and motive. No formal affiliation to the educational board is required. Even the pre-primary wing in a recognised school which is affiliated to an educational board is not engulfed by such an affiliation and hence out of the purview of the rules of such an educational board.
Regulatory Environment for PRE-PRIMARY SCHOOLS
Even though there are several institutions providing pre- primary education all over the country, no legislative or regulatory framework applicable all over India has been formulated. In absence of a statutory requirement that pre-primary education institution must be run by a ‘not for profit’ organisation, the same can be imparted even by a ‘for profit’ entity.
The Union Cabinet of India has given its assent to establish a regulatory framework for pre-schools and early childhood care and education. However, it has directed the respective states to formulate regulations for pre-schools and playgroups.
Over a year and half ago a State appointed committee had recommended that pre-primary schools in the state of Maharashtra be brought under the ambit of the school education department and had submitted a report on the same. Pursuant to this report the State issued a circular in June 2013 inviting suggestions and objections from stakeholders. However, the Government of Maharashtra has yet not taken any action on this matter and the final policy, based on the report and suggestions, is yet to be issued. One of the key suggestions of the panel was to bring pre-primary schools under the ambit of the school education department, with a regulated fee structure, based on the facilities provided by the schools, uniform rules and curriculum. Due to the lack of scrutiny and regulations the fee structure of pre-primary schools can be exorbitant and the quality may not be commensurate with fees.
As the formal education for children is deemed to start from the age of 6, the education or training provided by pre-primary schools in the formative years of a child is not considered part of the formal education system. Hence there are no pedagogical guidelines. There are several players in this area who have a network of pre-primary schools and their own curriculum, methodology, structure and reputation to live up to. They are thus propelled by their own reputation to maintain their standard, but there is no standard prescribed. There is no requirement of registration. However, sometime back the Directorate of Education of Goa has registered approximately 345 preprimary schools in Goa alone after a three-year long effort.
A need has been felt and recognised to regulate this segment through appropriate guidelines and administrative measures to avoid misuse and exploitation.
INVESTMENTS IN PRE-PRIMARY EDUCATION
Due to the huge population of India and the increased efforts of the government to increase literacy in the country, the education sector offers huge potential for attracting investments opportunity. The government has opened up the sector for foreign direct investment by permitting 100% investment in this sector under the ‘Automatic Route’ under the foreign direct investment policy of the government of India.
Since pre-primary education is part of the unregulated segment, significant opportunity and scope for investment exist. As mentioned earlier, pre-primary schools are not yet mandated to be run by not for profit organisations. This enables normal foreign investment and collaboration as well as franchising of international methodologies easier. It is time for the relevant players to grab the huge opportunity and make a mark.
RIGHT TO EDUCATION ACT
Article 21-A of the Constitution of India pronounces that free and compulsory education for all children within the age group of six to fourteen years is a Fundamental Right. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (“RTE Act”) which came into effect on 1 April 2010 brings to reality the intention of Article 21-A of the Constitution of India. The RTE Act envisages compulsory quality elementary education in a formal school setting which would be free of cost for children between the age group of 6 – 14 years and which would be within the scrutiny and supervision of the Central and State Governments and the local authorities.
Key Features of the RTE Act:
The RTE Act provides for designing of a school curriculum in consonance with the principles of the Constitution of India. As per the RTE Act ‘free & compulsory education’ relates to the obligation cast upon the appropriate government to provide free elementary education and ensure compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education to every child in the 6 to 14 age group without any liability to pay any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may hinder the child from pursuing and finishing elementary education. It sets out specific responsibilities and duties of the Central and State Governments, local authority and parents in ensuring free and compulsory education for the child, as well as for the management and allocation of financials. It lays down the norms and standards relating to student teacher ratios, buildings and infrastructure, school-working days, recruitment of teachers, teacher-working hours and other aspects of school operations. The RTE Act prohibits any form of physical punishment and mental harassment. Further, it also frowns upon any screening procedures for admission of children, capitation fee, private tuition by the teachers and running of schools without recognition.
CONCLUSION- NEED OF THE HOUR
It cannot be over emphasised that in today’s world where there is an information explosion and children are exposed to unprecedented variety of impressionable events and incidents, especially in visual form, there is a crying need to ensure that they are carefully guided through this explosion with love, care and diligence. Pre-primary schools are just the place where this can be provided. It is an essential stage and in no way should a child be deprived of the benefits of this.
A structured and uniform pedagogy and system which ensures minimum standards throughout all the pre-primary schools with sufficient freedom given for innovative and creative ways of learning and teaching would be welcome by all. Providing sound education in a happy environment would result in achieving the desired objectives. Therefore, some amount of regulation and control in this segment seems inevitable. Care would need to be taken that overregulation should not ‘throw out the baby with the bath water’ (literally too!). One would like to end with a positive view that the pre-primary school segment of the education sector has tremendous potential and given the right environment, it will only grow by leaps and bounds.